Accenture plc (ACN) reported third quarter fiscal 2012 earnings per share (EPS) of $1.03, handily beating the Zacks Consensus Estimate of 99 cents. Earnings increased 11.3% from the year-ago quarter aided by higher revenues and margins, lower share count, partially offset by a higher tax rate as well as foreign-exchange headwinds. Shares gained 2.95% in after-hour trade.
Accenture reported third quarter net revenue of $7.2 billion (including a 3.0% negative foreign exchange impact), up 6.5% from $6.7 billion in the year-ago quarter. Net revenue was roughly in line with the higher end of the company’s guided range of $7.05 billion to $7.25 billion and the Zacks Consensus Estimate. The meaningful growth in net revenue was mostly driven by a favorable business mix, wide acceptance of its products and services and solid growth in Outsourcing revenues.
Among the operating segments, Health & Public Services generated double-digit year-over-year growth, while Communications, Media & Technology, Financial Services and Resources generated single-digit year-over-year growth, with Product securing a high single-digit growth rate. Other revenues growth was negligible.
Consulting revenue remained unchanged at $3.97 billion. However, Outsourcing revenues increased 16.0% from the year-ago quarter to $3.19 billion.
Geographically, year-over-year increases of 10.0% and 18.0% were seen in top-line contributions from the Americas and Asia Pacific, respectively. Accenture’s performance in the EMEA region amidst the prevailing debt concern lacked luster, with a fall of 1.0% year over year.
Total new bookings for the third quarter were $7.29 billion, reflecting a negative 4% foreign-currency impact. Consulting bookings were $4.05 billion and outsourcing bookings were $3.25 billion.
The third quarter gross margin dropped 130 basis points year over year to 33.1%. The utilization rate was 87.0%, up from 85.0% in the prior-year quarter. The decrease in gross margin was due to higher subcontractor costs, recruiting and training costs as well as an increase in annual compensation. The attrition rate fell to 13.0% from 15.0% in the year-ago quarter.
Total operating expenses fell 3.7% year over year due to a decrease of 13.7% in general and administrative expenses and modest growth of 2.7% in sales and marketing expenses. The operating margin was 14.8% compared to 14.1% in the year-ago quarter.
Accenture reported net income of $752.4 million or $1.03 a share, up from $692.0 million or 93 cents in the year-ago quarter. One-time items in the quarter were insignificant. The effective tax rate was 28.5% as against 27.0% in the year-ago quarter. The higher tax rate was primarily due to a net increase in reserves and a change in the geographic mix of income.
Balance Sheet & Cash Flow
Operating cash flow was $1.22 billion in the reported quarter compared to $857.8 million in the prior quarter. Net property and equipment additions were $90.5 million, up from $85.4 million in the prior quarter. Total cash balance increased to $5.6 billion from $5.5 billion in the preceding quarter. Accenture carries a total debt burden (long term plus short term) of $5.4 million, down from $5.9 million in the prior quarter.
Share Repurchase and Dividend
During the third quarter, Accenture repurchased 10.7 million of its common outstanding shares for a total value of $653.0 million. The activity includes 9.8 million shares repurchased in the open market. As of May 31, 2012, Accenture had roughly 697 million shares worth $4.8 billion outstanding under the current authorization.
Accenture also paid a semi-annual cash dividend of 67.5 cents per share in the reported quarter.
For the fourth quarter of fiscal 2012, Accenture expects net revenue in the range of $6.60 billion to $6.85 billion, reflecting a bleak sequential comparison. This figure was arrived at after considering a 7% negative foreign-exchange impact. The company did not provide any fourth quarter update on EPS, but the Zacks Consensus Estimate is pegged at 95 cents.
For full fiscal 2012, management updated its previous expectations. But net revenue growth is still projected in the range of 10.0% to 12.0%. Expectation for new bookings is skewed toward the higher end of the previously guided range of $28.0 billion to $31.0 billion.
The company continues to expect operating margin in the range of 13.7% to 13.9% and the annual tax rate between 27.0% and 28.0%. Diluted EPS expectation is between $3.80 and $3.84, lower than the prior expected range of $3.82–$3.90. However, the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $3.86 is higher than the company’s guidance range, reflecting a possible upside.
Accenture also forecasts operating cash flow in the range of $3.55–$3.85 billion; property and equipment additions of roughly $350.0 million; and free cash flow in the range of $3.2 billion to $3.5 billion.
Accenture’s fiscal year outlook assumes a foreign-exchange impact of negative 2.0%, which is worse than negative 1.0% guided previously.
We find Accenture’s third quarter results decent, as the top and bottom lines beat the Zacks Consensus Estimates. The operating cost optimization was encouraging too. But the sequential and fiscal projections were disappointing due to the Euro zone debt-issues and currency headwinds.
Despite a weak sequential revenue outlook, Accenture maintained its fiscal expectations, which indicate stable bookings growth. But management’s commentary at the conference call to continue investing in priority industries (such as Communications), emerging markets, geographical expansion as well as boosting its brand value could act as catalysts for the stock.
Accenture’s deal prospects look bright. Moreover, the company’s endeavor to expand in Asia is encouraging. With the continuous emergence of hi-tech innovations in Asia, Accenture could ink deals in technology services, as well as outsourcing and consulting services.
We are encouraged by the steady flow of new business and believe that the trend will continue. However, increasing competition from IBM Corp. (IBM), a strained spending environment and Accenture’s broad European exposure (roughly 40.0%) may temper its growth prospects to some extent.
Currently, Accenture has a short-term Hold recommendation, denoted by the Zacks #3 Rank.Read the Full Research Report on ACN
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