Salesforce Profits Grow Twice as Fast as Revenue

SaaSy, Salesforce's mascot, on the stage at the latest Dreamforce conference. Credit:

Salesforce 's profit after adjusting for stock-based compensation and other noncash and one-time items grew more than twice as fast as revenue in the fiscal third quarter, a good sign for a business that wins by booking long-term deals. Here's a closer look at the company's overall fiscal Q3 performance, which it reported Nov. 18:

Sources: S&P Capital IQ and Salesforce press release.

Commenting on the results, CEO Marc Benioff said in a press release:

What went right: Profits grew twice as fast as revenue, which still improved nicely even before accounting for currency effects. Currency deferred revenue also jumped 28% to $2.85 billion while contracted-but-unbilled deferred revenue rose 24% to $6.7 billion. Both figures suggest Salesforce is building a nice backlog of business that will keep growth moving along at a healthy pace in the near term, though outsized growth in current deferreds -- up 28% versus up 23.9% for booked revenue -- implies bigger deals.

Salesforce is also growing revenue far faster than some in its industry. Take NetSuite , which saw revenue growth for the first nine months of the year slow to just 9.9% . Salesforce improved revenue 23.6% over the same period.

What went wrong: All that top-line and profit growth didn't make it to the cash flow statement. Instead, cash flow from operations fell 4% on what looked like fewer tax benefits from stock options exercise and a smaller deferred revenue adjustment.

NetSuite shines a bit brighter in this area, boosting cash from operations 68.7% year over year in the third quarter. Yet the disparity isn't as big as you might think. For the trailing nine months, Salesforce has improved operating cash flow by 37% year over year versus 47% for NetSuite.

What's next: Looking ahead, Salesforce is targeting $1.782 billion to $1.792 billion in fiscal-fourth-quarter revenue, a 23% to 24% year-over-year increase. Adjusted earnings are expected to come in between $0.18 and $0.19 a share.Those totals compare with $1.446 billion and $0.14 a share, respectively, in last year's fiscal Q4, S&P Capital IQ reports.

For all of fiscal 2016, management is forecasting $6.64 to $6.65 billion in revenue -- a 24% year-over-year increase -- and $0.74 to $0.75 a share of adjusted profit. Fiscal 2017 revenue is expected to be in the range of $8 billion to $8.1 billion. Salesforce plans to provide profit and cash flow guidance with fourth-quarter results, which are due in February.

In the meantime, investors should stay focused on the top line and deferred revenue. Continued divergence -- with deferreds growing faster than overall revenue -- would suggest that Benioff will not only make good on his promise to be first to $10 billion but that he's also creating one of the great enterprise software companies of the cloud era.

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Tim Beyers wishes he was a selling machine. For now, he'll settle for owning shares of The Motley Fool recommends NetSuite and 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 .

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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