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Infosys' Improved Results Could Be Meaningless

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Business continues to pick up for IT-services and consulting shop Infosys (Nasdaq: INFY  ) , but the good news may already be priced into the company's shares.

Revenue for the fourth quarter of fiscal 2010 was $1.3 billion, beating management's previous guidance, and representing 15.6% year-over-year growth. For the year, revenue inched up 3%, to $4.8 billion.

Earnings per American Depositary Share was $0.61, marking a nearly 9% gain versus the year-ago quarter (excluding special items, EPS came in at $0.59). Similar to revenue performance, the full-year EPS improvement was more muted, reflecting weak results in the first half of fiscal 2010.

Other metrics, however, present a mixed picture.

Sequentially, volume increased about 5%, but pricing fell slightly during the quarter. Meanwhile, operating margin contracted by one percentage point from Q3 -- mainly the result of a stronger rupee. Describing its client base, Infosys management reported that IT budgets, which are now mostly closed, are "flat to marginally up." Not bad, but not great either.

Questioning the bull case for Infosys shares, I previously cautioned investors about wage inflation. That concern was well founded. Infosys recently boosted offshore wages by an average 14%, coupled with a 2%-3% increase for onsite workers. As a result, management expects fiscal-2011 operating margin to take a hit of 1.5 percentage points.

Nonetheless, the broad market for IT solutions is flashing positive. For instance, Infosys' client spending on discretionary services such as consulting and enterprise upgrades showed healthy gains from the previous quarter. Similarly, global competitor Accenture (NYSE: ACN  ) recently offered an encouraging outlook on consulting demand, and business software provider SAP (NYSE: SAP  ) is forecasting 2010 revenue growth, following improving fundamentals across recent quarters. Moreover, UPS (NYSE: UPS  ) just released blowout quarterly numbers which suggest that worldwide economic activity is surging.

Yet at best I see Infosys shares as flat going forward, for two key reasons. One, if the banking sector were to take another bath, Infosys, with much of its business tied to financial services, would likely suffer. Think I'm crazy to even speak of such an event? Have a look-see at the article not long ago penned by my colleague Morgan Housel, in which he detailed the recent (and possibly ongoing) shenanigans of financial institutions such as Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS  ) , Citigroup (NYSE: C  ) , and Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC  ) .

Two, Infosys is forecasting 2011 EPS growth of roughly 5%-10%, excluding a one-time gain in fiscal 2010. At the high end of that range, that puts 2011 EPS at $2.53, for a price-to-earnings ratio of nearly 25.

Even considering non-earnings factors such as free cash flow and balance sheet health, I still can't justify that kind of premium to expected growth. But if you can, let me know in the comments section below.

Accenture is a Motley Fool Inside Value selection. United Parcel Service is a Motley Fool Income Investor pick. Try any of our Foolish newsletters, free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Mike Pienciak holds no financial interest in any company mentioned in this article. The Fool has a disclosure policy.

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