Salesforce Is Growing, But Slower Than Analysts Thought It Would
Shares of cloud software outfit Salesforce.com were pounded today, first during the regular session and then in after-hours trading, as the company reported results that disappointed analysts on many fronts. Shares fell 10 percent to as low as $113.35 after hours, but recovered a bit later.
Excluding charges for compensation and other items, Salesforce reported earnings of 34 cents on sales of $584 million, up 36 percent. The problem was the quarter’s billings — the sum of revenue plus the change in deferred revenue was $567 million; 3 percent, or nearly $20 million, off the consensus.
But never fear, says CEO Marc Benioff. The company is well on its way to breaking the $2.3 billion revenue barrier, and it would be the first cloud software company to do so. The company also said it expects fourth-quarter sales in the range of $620 million to $624 million, which would be ahead of the consensus of $610 million. And it said that its expects earnings of 39 to 40 cents, which is lower than analysts had expected by a penny. One the brighter side, guidance for the 2013 fiscal year, which starts in February, was ahead of the consensus by 4 percent.
The larger question is the size of the cloud opportunity, for which Benioff is the ultimate salesman, spokesman and advocate. As successful as Salesforce has been in disrupting the traditional software model and giving companies like Oracle and SAP the occasional headache, what remains unclear is how much new services like Chatter.com — the social enterprise and collaboration features that Benioff can’t seem to stop talking about — are contributing to the top line, and whether they will justify the cost to build them.
Then there’s the valuation. Salesforce finished the regular session trading at a valuation of 615 times its trailing earnings, and it has been in sky-high territory for some time. Last month, Salesforce stock nose-dived after comments from hedge fund manager Whitney Tilson on CNBC that Salesforce might be due for a 75 percent drop, a la Netflix. Salesforce shares fell nearly 5 percent that day, to $123.
As I write these words, it’s trading six dollars lower than that, at $117. Tough day.