I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Shares of Infosys (Nasdaq: INFY ) are just too darn pricey.
One need look no further than the company's forecast for fiscal-2011 earnings per American depositary share, which, in the most optimistic case, puts the stock's current-year price-to-earnings ratio at a whopping two-and-a-half times expected EPS growth. Meanwhile, shares of competitor Wipro (NYSE: WIT ) , which arguably boasts stronger fundamentals, change hands at a P/E that's less than twice analysts' estimated fiscal-2011 EPS gain.
Is there anything that could possibly justify Infosys' growth premium?
I'll concede that top-line performance in fiscal 2011's first quarter was strong. Revenue of $1.36 billion marked a nearly 5% gain from the previous quarter, and year-over-year growth of 21%. Volume, too, was impressive, advancing 7.6%.
Profits weren't so hot, though. At $0.57, earnings per American depositary share represented a single-digit sequential decline, and a meager 3.6% advance from the year-ago period. For hopeful investors, the unsettling fact is that those results actually beat management's prior guidance by a penny.
The disconnect between the top and bottom lines owes to several factors, including adverse currency swings, softer pricing (a follow-on effect of 2009 renegotiations), and wage increases, the latter of which we pretty much saw coming.
Also, while Infosys added a gross 8,800 employees, the net addition amounted to only 1,000. Attrition at this level has to negatively impact margins, as searches are conducted and new employees are put through training. As long as the Indian IT market remains in recovery, I'm doubtful that employee movement will meaningfully settle down, even though management thinks that the worst is over.
But I'd be remiss if I didn't mention some of the standout positives. For one, management noted increased client interest in digital marketing and mobile e-commerce, which, incidentally, bodes well for Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL ) and Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG ) mobile-focused initiatives. Specific to Infosys, anything that diversifies the company away from the financial services sector is, in my book, a big win for shareholders.
On a different front, Infosys is enjoying greater demand from the energy and utilities sectors, despite the disaster that BP (NYSE: BP ) -- a major Infosys client -- has visited upon the industry in recent months. With drilling costs generally rising and economic uncertainty setting the stage for volatile commodity prices far into the future, I expect that oil and gas companies will increasingly look to names such as Infosys in order to cut costs.
In the end, though, it all comes down to earnings momentum. With management predicting flat-to-down operating margins and full-year EPS growth of roughly 5% to 10%, I see no reason to get excited about a stock that fetches a current-year P/E of 24. In fact, investors might even consider taking some money off the table here, and redeploying it into shares of a global competitor that's anything but a sell.