Technology consulting giant Accenture (NYSE:ACN) reported third-quarter results Thursday morning. The report beat analyst estimates on both the top and bottom lines, and Accenture shares jumped more than 2% (to a new record high) on the news.
In the third quarter, Accenture's sales rose 0.4% year over year to $7.8 billion. The analyst consensus pointed to just $7.5 billion. On the bottom line, adjusted earnings spiked by 3% to $1.30 per share. Again, that was ahead of analysts' $1.21 target.
Stronger operating results provided $0.02 of the year-over-year earnings-per-share improvement, and $0.03 rested on Accenture's share buybacks. On the downside, a slightly higher effective tax rate took earnings down by $0.01 per share.
If the 0.4% revenue increase looks paltry, remember that these figures are reported in U.S. dollars. Backing out the effects of the rising value of the dollar, Accenture's sales rose 10% when converted to local currencies.
Both consulting services and outsourcing operations reported double-digit local-currency sales growth.
Among Accenture's five operating groups, the resources segment lagged with a 6% increase in currency-adjusted sales to customers in the energy and natural resources industries. On the flip side, communications, media, and technology sales led the way with a 17% local-currency revenue jump.
In geographic terms, Europe underperformed while North America and growth markets surged.
Accenture spent $518 million to buy back 0.8% of its shares during the third quarter. Its current share repurchase authorization still holds $3.2 billion.
Looking ahead, management expects net sales of roughly $7.6 billion in the fourth quarter, assuming the currency-exchange impact remains near a negative 10%. Management raised its guidance for adjusted full-year earnings by $0.04 per share.
"We are clearly benefiting from our recent investments across the different dimensions of our business in digital services, where we grew more than 30 percent in local currency in the quarter," said Accenture Chairman and CEO Pierre Nanterme in a prepared statement.
Accenture investors can look back at a 21% one-year stock gain, or 24% when adjusted for dividend reinvestments. In both cases, Accenture is beating the S&P 500 benchmark, mostly due to a strong second-quarter report three months ago.
So Accenture is treating its investors well right now. However, those share prices are improving faster than the underlying business results. The stock trades for a pricey 19 times forward earnings today, and Accenture's enterprise value amounts to 12 times trailing EBITDA profits.
Compare and contrast these figures with chief rival International Business Machines(NYSE:IBM), which trades at 10 times forward earnings and a meager 8 times trailing EBITDA today. Throw in the fact that IBM offers stronger net and operating margins, as well as a far superior return on equity, and it becomes difficult to support Accenture's soaring prices.
I'm not saying that the stock is doomed to a harsh price correction, but the disconnect between share prices and business fundamentals does raise Accenture's risk profile.
In other words, I'd much rather own IBM than Accenture today. There's just a lot more runway ahead of Big Blue, with potential returns to match.