Image source: Splunk,

Investors have grown accustomed to Splunk (SPLK) exceeding expectations each quarter, and that didn't change with the operational intelligence specialist's fiscal fourth-quarter 2016 report Thursday evening.

More specifically, Splunk announced quarterly revenue climbed 49% year over year to $220 million, including a 44% increase in license revenue to $141.4 million, and 59.4% growth in maintenance and services revenue to $78.6 million. Trending toward the bottom line, adjusted operating income was $14.7 million, good for adjusted operating margin of 6.7%. Based on generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) -- and keeping in mind Splunk currently opts to forego bottom-line profitability as it invests for top-line growth and gaining market share -- Splunk turned in a net loss of $79.3 million, or $0.61 per share. On an adjusted (non-GAAP) basis, which adds perspective by excluding items like stock-based compensation, Splunk's net income came in at $14.4 million, or $0.11 per share.

For perspective, three months ago Splunk told investors to expect significantly lower Q4 revenue between $200 million and $202 million, and adjusted operating margin between 5% and 6%. And though we don't typically lend much credence to Wall Street's short-term demands, analysts' consensus estimates predicted fourth-quarter adjusted earnings of just $0.08 per share on revenue of $203 million.

This mark's Splunk's fifth consecutive quarterly earnings beat.

Digging deeper
Cash flow from operations climbed 49.5% year over year to $77 million and, after accounting for roughly $26.8 million in property and equipment purchases (up from just $2.8 million in last year's fourth-quarter), free cash flow rose around 2.9% to $50.2 million. For the full-year 2015, cash flow from operations rose 49.7% year over year to $155.6 million, or around 23% of revenue, well above the company's long-term target for maintaining operating cash flow margin of at least 20%. Full-year free cash flow came in at $104 million, up "just" 15.8% from $90 million in 2014, albeit primarily reflecting incremental capital expenditures related to the build out of a new office in San Francisco. Excluding that build out, free cash flow would have climbed around 50% year over year.

As far as operating expenses and with Splunk's top-line/market share growth goals in mind, Splunk wisely continued to plow resources into both sales and marketing (up 49.9% to $161.4 million), and research and development (up 39.7% to $66.1 million).

These investments continued to yield fruit, as Splunk added more than 600 new enterprise customers in the fourth quarter to end the year with over 11,000 customers worldwide. Among notable new and expanded customers during the quarter are Bloomberg, Boston Scientific, eBay, Expedia, the Federal Reserve, Fox News, GEICO, NASDAQ, and the U.S. Army.

Splunk also continued to roll out new and improved versions of its products to keep its growing customer base happy, including:

  • A new version of Splunk App for AWS for operational, security, and economic insights in Amazon Web Services environments
  • Launching the Splunk App for Akamai, enabling Splunk Cloud customers with operational insight into the performance, availability, and security of their cloud applications
  • A new version of Splunk Amm for ServiceNow, for insight into incident, change, and event management in ServiceNow instances

Splunk also enjoyed deeper integration with strategic partners. Cisco, for example, released a new version of its AnyConnect Network Visibility App for Splunk to help customers support capacity planning, troubleshooting, advanced threat detection. And Splunk teamed with Verizon to integrate Splunk Enterprise and Splunk ES into the telecommunications giant's Managed Security Services platform.

Looking forward
Splunk CEO Doug Merritt added,

Our record results, customer adoption and expansions reaffirm that we are truly differentiated in the market. We ended the year with over 11,000 customers who recognize that the more data they put into Splunk, the more value they realize. We are confident in our future growth and long-term strategy and are raising our outlook for FY17.

For the current quarter, Splunk expects revenue between $172 million and $174 million, and adjusted operating margin between 1% and 2%. By comparison, analysts' consensus estimates called for lower revenue of $170.8 million, and an adjusted loss of $0.01 per share. Given Splunk's history of outperformance, it seems safe to expect Wall Street will once again raise its expectations in kind.

Finally, for the full-fiscal-year 2017, Splunk expects revenue of roughly $880 million, good for 31.7% growth from fiscal year 2016 and an increase to prior guidance provided last quarter for fiscal 2017 revenue of $850 million. Full fiscal-year adjusted operating profit should be around 5%. Here again, Wall Street was hoping for lower fiscal year 2017 revenue of $854.2 million, and adjusted earnings of $0.23 per share.

In the end, it's hard to argue with Splunk's relative strength and value proposition as it continues to accelerate customer additions and build market share in these early stages of growth. With that in mind, it's no surprise shares currently sit almost 10% higher Friday as of this writing.