Accentuating the positives of Accenture
The company's stock should command a fair market value of $90 over the next 12 to 18 months.
By Richard Saintvilus
NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Hardware and software companies like Oracle (ORCL) and Cisco (CSCO) that rely predominantly on the strength of enterprise spending have had a difficult time convincing the Street that even near-term "moderate" growth is possible.
This makes Accenture's (ACN) performance, which included better-than-expected revenue growth in the IT consulting space, all the more impressive. Unfortunately, it just wasn't enough. Fearing that this industry is still some way from returning to its once-robust levels, the Street wasted no time selling off the stock.
While I don't have a problem with the Street's half-glass-empty approach, I do believe there's been an overreaction to the company's guidance. Management has seen what's going on at rival companies. It's not as if the results from IBM (IBM) and Infosys (INFY) have been overwhelmingly positive.
It's true that the unsettling macro environment makes this a tough sector to model, but unlike Infosys and to an extent Cognizant (CTSH), which have hurt themselves with questionable decisions and weak margins, Accenture has always demonstrated a solid business plan. I believe investors who are looking for a rebound in the consulting space can still do well here.
For the quarter, the company earned $1.01 in earnings per share, which was in line with Street estimates. Revenue, meanwhile, climbed 4% year over year to $7.1 billion, beating the expectations by 3%. Unlike the June quarter, Accenture posted a 2% year-over-year growth in consulting revenue, while outsourcing revenue advanced 6%.
I'm not telling you this was a breathtaking quarter. Nor did management try to convince analysts that it was. But I don't believe anyone who has a good grasp on this industry should have expected a blowout. Given that virtually all of Accenture's key metrics such as margin and cash flow were at the high end of the company's targets, we have to agree the numbers were solid enough.
Basically, management was able to reverse a brutal June quarter, during which the company (then) issued guidance that was roughly 7% below prior expectations. In actuality, when you consider the company just posted $8.4 billion in new bookings -- of which 54% will go towards outsourcing -- it's tough to see how the Street's negative reaction can be justified.
Plus, let's not forget the Street used similar language following the last quarter's downbeat guidance, citing "weak underlying business trends." Yet, there were no signs of any erosion. I'm not suggesting that investors should ignore the company's guidance. But I don't believe management's revenue range of $7 billion to $7.3 billion for the December quarter is that far off from consensus estimates of $7.39.
I also want to point out that Accenture CEO Pierre Nanterme, who, in my opinion, is a very underrated leader, talked about how the company plans to invest in growth areas like digital marketing, mobility and business process capabilities. The company is looking for ways to differentiate its offerings, while building better leverage.
Unlike Infosys, which has been somewhat "reactionary," Accenture is not waiting for the market to dictate its next course. To the extent that management can adequately respond and execute on these initiatives, not only will Accenture continue to secure more market share from its rivals, the company's analytics and cloud goals will immediately open up new markets against the likes of Oracle and SAP (SAP).
As I've said, no one really knows when IT consulting services, which was once a dominant industry, will regain the Street's confidence. For Accenture, though, which just grew revenue 8% and 2% in the Americas and Europe, respectively, the company has earned the benefit of the doubt.
Make no mistake, there is still plenty of work to be done. I'm encouraged by management's commitment to not only grow the company but also return value to shareholders. With indicators suggesting the underlying market conditions are beginning to stabilize, I believe Accenture deserves a long look. If the company can grow its free cash flow at a reasonable rate of 5% to 6%, this stock should command a fair market value of $90 over the next 12 to 18 months.
At the time of publication, the author held no position in any of the stocks mentioned.
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