Global consulting powerhouse Accenture (NYSE:ACN) released its fiscal Q4 and full-year earnings results last week. Investors responded with the market equivalent of... crickets chirping. One week after the news came out, Accenture's stock price sits still within mere pennies of where it traded pre-earnings. But was the news really as uneventful as that?
At first glance, it almost looked that way. For fiscal Q4, Accenture achieved only a 1% increase in revenues to $7.9 billion. That was a marked slowdown from the company's full-year rate, where Accenture showed 3% revenue growth. Earnings-wise, the company posted 6% growth for the quarter ($1.15 per diluted share) and 5% for the year ($4.76).
In other words, Accenture wasn't exactly burning any barns in Q4 -- or at any time in fiscal 2015, for that matter. And yet, behind the scenes, business may be better than the headline numbers made it look.
Backlog's the thing
Yes, sales growth in Q4 was anemic at just 1%. But Accenture added $8.8 billion to its backlog during the quarter, 11% more than the revenues it pulled out of backlog. That suggests that a turnaround in sales could be imminent.
Indeed, guiding investors on what to expect over the course of the coming year, Accenture suggested that in 2016 revenue could rise as much as 5% to 8% -- roughly twice the pace set in 2015. Earnings per share, too, is expected to grow at a respectable pace, ranging between $5.09 and $5.24. At the midpoint, that suggests an 8% year-over-year increase in profits per share -- again, ahead of the pace set in 2015.
Looking farther out, analysts who follow Accenture, polled on S&P Capital IQ, suggest even stronger growth for Accenture in the years to come. Expectations for growth average out to 11%, continuing to the ramp up from 2015 levels. But is even that good enough to justify the stock's price after Accenture's gains earlier this year?
After a strong performance in early 2015, Accenture shares now sell for nearly 21 times earnings. That's a high price to pay for 11% growth, even with its respectable 2.3% dividend yield. Granted, free cash flow at Accenture has historically been strong. It remains so today, with the company generating $3.6 billion FCF over the past year, or roughly 20% better cash profits than its reported "net income" under GAAP.
Even so, this leaves Accenture shares trading for 17 times free cash flow today, which is a bit high for analysts' hoped-for 11% growth, much less the 8% growth, which is the best Accenture is promising us today.
So long story, short? Even if last week's earnings report wasn't as bad as it seemed, Accenture stock is still no bargain. Value-seeking investors would be best advised to look elsewhere.
Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of, nor is he short, any company named above. You can find him on Motley Fool CAPS, publicly pontificating under the handle TMFDitty, where he's currently ranked No. 249 out of more than 75,000 rated members.
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