Few stocks have have ever defied doubters as well -- or as consistently -- as Salesforce.com (NYSE:CRM). A six-bagger over the past decade, Salesforce has become the poster company for cloud computing while multiplying revenue from just $176.4 million in fiscal 2005 to $5,373.6 million last year, a 30-fold increase, according to S&P Capital IQ.
Yet this growth story is far from over. CEO Marc Benioff is dead-set on getting to $10 billion faster than any other company in the history of the enterprise software market -- an industry that includes names such as Microsoft and Oracle, among others.
He's making plenty of progress. As the chart below shows, both revenue and cash from operations have improved steadily over the trailing 12 months, leading the stock up more than 20% over the same period. The S&P 500 is off more than 7% in that time.
The open question is whether the rally can continue. History says yes: Salesforce has topped analysts' consensus revenue estimates in each of the past four quarters, S&P Capital IQ reports. The company also exceeded profit targets in three of those four periods, usually by $0.02 per share.
With that in mind, it's tough to see how anyone would presume Salesforce will disappoint investors in 2016. But if it happens, it'll because of one of these three dreadful outcomes came to be:
- CEO and co-founder Marc Benioff leaves or takes a diminished role in the business. The wort-case scenario. Benioff is the visionary for Salesforce, and its chief cheerleader. He's also the top executive shareholder with a 5.5% stake in the business. Were he to leave, it would signal an uncomfortable transition that would torpedo the stock for a time.
- The long-term contract pipeline dries up. Salesforce likes to tout "unbilled deferred revenue" as an indicator of the sustainability of its business. The theory is simple: The more long-term deals the company signs, the more predictable its growth and cash flows become. By contrast, if unbilled deferred revenue remains flat or starts declining, it could indicate saturation. Salesforce's pricey valuation would unwind in a hurry in that scenario.
- Management fails to meet or top estimates in two consecutive quarters. Benioff and team have a habit of setting a low bar and finding a way to leap over it, pushing the stock to higher highs. That's the power of momentum; when you have it, you just keep winning. Lose it, and you'll suffer harsh consequences. Here, a one-quarter revenue and earnings miss might be brushed off as an anomaly. Two misses would be a signal and the beginning of a new narrative -- "Salesforce has peaked!" -- and could unleash a run on the stock.
Now it's your turn to weigh in. Do you see Salesforce winning or losing in 2016? What other potential gotchas could snare investors? Keep the conversation going in the comments section below.
Tim Beyers owns shares of Salesforce.com. The Motley Fool owns shares of Oracle. The Motley Fool recommends Salesforce.com. 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.