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Can Splunk, Inc. Keep Its Earnings Streak Alive?

By Steve Symington - May 24, 2016 at 3:39PM

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The operational intelligence company has beat expectations for five straight quarters.

Image source: Splunk, Inc.

Spunk Inc. (SPLK 3.96%) is set to release fiscal first-quarter 2017 results after the market close on Thursday, May 26, 2016. And with Splunk stock having rebounded nicely from its February lows following its fifth consecutive earnings beat three months ago -- but still trading around 8% lower for the year as of this writing -- you can bet the operational intelligence specialist would like to sustain that momentum by making it six straight.

But what, exactly, should investors be watching when Splunk's report hits the wires?

First, note Splunk's guidance calls for fiscal Q1 revenue between $172 million and $174 million, and adjusted operating margin between 1% and 2%. But given Splunk's history of under promising and over delivering, the market won't be terribly surprised if it outperforms once again.

Delving deeper, we should also see Splunk maintain healthy operating cash flow and free cash flow, which is crucial for providing the flexibility for Splunk to continue forsaking bottom-line profitability in favor of investing to drive revenue growth and take market share in these early stages. Last quarter, operating cash flow climbed nearly 50% year over year, to $77 million, representing roughly 35% of revenue. And after accounting for property and equipment purchases during the quarter, notably related to the build-out of Splunk's new office in San Francisco, free cash flow climbed a more modest 2.9%, to $50.2 million, or 23% of sales. For the full-year fiscal 2016, Splunk's operating cash flow rose 49.7%, to $155.6 million, or roughly 23% of revenue. But that was also well above Splunk's stated long-term target for consistently generating operating cash flow margin of at least 20%.

Next, look for Splunk to continue investing heavily in both sales and marketing (up 49.9% year over year last quarter, to $161.4 million), and research and development (up 39.7% last quarter, to $66.1 million), both of which are equally important to enabling Splunk to maintain its competitive edge.

Splunk will also highlight notable new product launches and announcements from the quarter, including its recently formed Adaptive Response Initiatives unveiled at the RSA Conference 2016 in March. It should also detail new and expanded customer relationships, notably including Zillow's move to expand its adoption of Splunk Cloud to its Trulia and Retsly brands. As for specific numbers, Splunk added more than 600 new enterprise customers last quarter to end its fiscal year 2016 with over 11,000 customers worldwide, and we should expect to see similar momentum with overall additions this quarter.

Finally, depending on the gravity of any top- and bottom-line beat (or miss), investors should keep a close eye on any revisions to Splunk's full-year guidance. Following its beat last quarter, for example, Splunk raised its fiscal 2017 revenue guidance by $30 million, to $880 million, representing growth of roughly 31.7% from fiscal 2016. Splunk also told investors to anticipate fiscal full-year adjusted operating profit of roughly 5%.

To be fair, that's only the tip of the iceberg considering some industry analysts peg the current total addressable market for Splunk's products at around $45 billion. And with its competitive win rate hovering around 85% according to CEO Doug Merritt last quarter, this week's report should offer a valuable update in its long-term efforts to secure a healthy share of that market. 

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