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Accenture-ate the Positive

"You've got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
And latch on to the affirmative
Don't mess with Mister In-Between"

-- "Accentuate the Positive," by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer

Pursuant to instructions, Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation Accenture (NYSE: ACN  ) had no truck with Mister In-Between when reporting earnings yesterday. To the contrary, the news was about as positive as these things get:

  • Net revenue grew 20% year over year in fiscal Q3 2008.
  • Profits nearly doubled that performance, rising 36% to $0.74 per share.
  • Operating margin hit 14.1%, up 70 basis points year over year. Year-to-date, that lifts operating margin 10 b.p. above last year, to 12.8% -- still far behind IBM (NYSE: IBM  ) , but still way, way ahead of BearingPoint (NYSE: BE  ) , EDS (NYSE: EDS  ) , Computer Sciences, and HP (NYSE: HPQ  )

Accenture also made an effort to "eliminate the negative." In his pre-earnings Foolish Forecast, fellow Fool Anders Bylund worried aloud over Accenture's "downward trend in cash flow margins." But with cash flow up in Q3, and capex down, the company's cash flow is certainly healthy.

Thanks, but what have you done for me lately?
And that's just what has already happened. Accentuating the positive still further, Accenture went on to sketch out for us what may well happen in the future. Namely, the company recorded new orders booked of nearly $6.8 billion in the quarter. Because that's more than the $6.1 billion in revenues that Accenture took in during the quarter, it promises further sales growth ahead.

Speaking of promises, Accenture raised its guidance on promised earnings this year. The company now expects to earn between $2.63 and $2.65 per share for the fiscal year -- and you can probably take those numbers to the bank. With just a few weeks left to go in said year, you'd expect management to have a pretty firm grasp on the actual number by now.

Cue soundtrack
You've got to spread joy up to the maximum
Bring gloom down to the minimum ...

OK, OK. Enough with the soundtrack. So here's where we get to spread a little joy. Based on the earnings guidance, we're looking at about a 15.5 P/E on this stock -- which doesn't look super attractive against analysts' anticipated earnings growth of 14% going forward. However, as of today, Accenture's free cash flow for the first nine months of fiscal 2008 is about 22% higher than its reported profits. To this Fool, that suggests there's still potential upside remaining in this stock.

Accenture Ltd. is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of any company named above. At The Motley Fool, we have a disclosure policy.

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