Accenture (NYSE:ACN) is well known as a consulting giant, with an emphasis on financial and risk management services, IT consulting, and outsourcing. But the reach of Accenture's business goes well beyond what many investors are familiar with, and Accenture stock has benefited from the wide range of opportunities that the company has capitalized on. Let's take a closer look at Accenture to find out what's driving its growth story forward and what it'll take for the stock to keep moving higher.
How Accenture does business
Accenture isn't the only major consulting company in the world, but it's one of the largest. The emphasis on human capital over physical assets in generating the company's profits leads to highly attractive returns on invested capital, and the company's corporate culture has produced a strong reputation both within the industry and among potential clients.
One of Accenture's biggest areas of growth has been in technology-related consulting, with the company having become the No. 2 IT consulting company in the world, trailing only rival IBM (NYSE:IBM). Accenture's ability to take advantage of diversity in its employee ranks comes from its lack of a physical corporate headquarters, allowing employees to work in their home countries, and thereby attracting the most talented workers available in a given area. In particular, Accenture has focused much of its attention on India, with more than a quarter of its employees hailing from the subcontinent.
Lately, Accenture stock has benefited from the consultancy's move toward Big Data initiatives. Just earlier this week, Accenture joined with General Electric (NYSE:GE) to create a strategic global alliance to help companies better utilize the data they collect in their business operations. With the goal of helping clients reduce downtime and costs while improving efficiency in supply chain operations, the venture combines strengths from both GE and Accenture in delivering joint solutions to customers.
In addition, Accenture's purchase of Acquity Group last month helped the company expand its presence into the e-commerce realm. With Acquity's emphasis on digital marketing and strategy to improve the effectiveness of clients' online sales, Accenture hopes to use the company's capabilities in conjunction with other business services in its Interactive division.
Going beyond pure technology
But Accenture isn't just a pure technology consultant. Recently, the company's Health & Public Services segment has produced the fastest growth among its divisions, with increasing margins and double-digit revenue gains being driven by just 6% of its total workforce. Although the company has to face IBM in health care as well, with services such as data analytics and artificial intelligence, Accenture has done a good job of holding onto its market share and expanding its reach around the world.
Accenture has also turned to energy as a key element for growth. Its Utilities group works with three-quarters of the top utility companies in the world, helping put together business processes and related services to handle certain key areas, such as capital project planning and smart-grid technology. There, Accenture goes up against GE, which has also worked hard at boosting its presence in the rapidly growing industry.
Can Accenture stock still climb higher?
Since the depths of the financial crisis four years ago, Accenture stock has tripled while paying a lucrative dividend that currently yields more than 2%. Although the company's earnings multiple has expanded somewhat, expectations for roughly 10% growth in net income don't leave its trailing P/E of about 18 unreasonably high.
Investing in Accenture stock essentially involves making a bet on the health of the global economy in general and on the prosperity of the business community more specifically. If clients can afford to use Accenture's services, then it can usually provide solutions that not only improve its clients' business but also leads to greater profits that could push Accenture stock even higher in the years to come.
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Fool contributor Dan Caplinger has no position in any stocks mentioned. You can follow him on Twitter @DanCaplinger. The Motley Fool recommends Accenture. The Motley Fool owns shares of General Electric and IBM. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.