Salesforce Revenue Forecast Falls Short as Cloud Rivals Gain

Updated on
  • Current quarter profit projections also misses estimate
  • Fourth-quarter sales, profit topped analysts’ projections Inc. gave a first-quarter revenue forecast that fell short of analysts’ projections, hampered by rising competition from rival business-software makers with their own cloud products.

Revenue in the period ending in April will be $2.34 billion to $2.35 billion, the San Francisco-based company said Tuesday in a statement. Analysts projected $2.37 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Profit before certain items will be 25 cents to 26 cents a share, compared with the analysts’ average estimate of 30 cents.

Chief Executive Officer Marc Benioff has been trying to bolster Salesforce’s product line through a spate of acquisitions, seeking growth in new markets as bigger companies such as Oracle Corp. and Microsoft Corp. pursue its traditional cloud turf. The company’s annual revenue growth has slowed to less than 30 percent, and analysts expect that pace to decelerate to less than 20 percent in fiscal 2019.

“The guide for Q1 was below where the street was expecting -- modestly, but below,” said Joel Fishbein, an analyst at BTIG, adding that Salesforce still had healthy growth with improving profitability.

The company raised its full-year revenue forecast to $10.15 billion to $10.2 billion, from $10.1 billion to $10.15 billion projected in November. Analysts estimated $10.16 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Full-year adjusted earnings will be $1.27 a share to $1.29 a share compared with analysts’ projections of $1.28.

Salesforce shares, which have risen 19 percent this year, declined about 3 percent in extended trading after closing at $81.35 in New York.

Fourth-Quarter Results

The company reported profit, excluding certain costs, of 28 cents a share in the fourth quarter, which ended Jan. 31. Revenue climbed 27 percent to $2.29 billion. Analysts had predicted profit of 25 cents on revenue of $2.28 billion.

“We drove tremendous execution,” said Keith Block, chief operating officer, noting that last year’s purchase of Demandware is already showing results. “We are just hitting our stride.” Demandware expanded Salesforce’s reach into e-commerce services.

The fourth-quarter net loss widened to $51.4 million, or 7 cents a share, from a loss of $25.5 million, or 4 cents, a year earlier.

Salesforce’s unbilled deferred revenue, a closely watched measure that indicates the amount of business booked but not yet recognized, climbed 27 percent from a year earlier to $9 billion at the end of the recent quarter.

The company is experiencing more seasonality as it gets bigger, Chief Financial Officer Mark Hawkins said on a call with analysts. That means its fourth quarter tends to include more deal activity, he said, giving it extra momentum. Then, the growth can taper off in the first quarter.

Boosting Growth

The company has been investing in new technologies to help drive growth. In January, Salesforce said it was planning to double its workforce in Seattle and boost investments in artificial intelligence. The company last year rolled out a service called Einstein, which aims to help customers by incorporating the AI technology, including marketing and sales.

“The reality is already well-baked into expectations, so whenever earnings happen, there needs to be some positive surprise” for investors to propel the stock, said Brian Wieser, an analyst at Pivotal Research Group.

Last year, the San Francisco-based company announced about $4 billion in acquisitions, entering new markets and bolstering existing products. The purchases included Demandware and Krux Digital, which bolstered the marketing lineup.

Not everyone liked Salesforce’s more aggressive approach to acquisitions. Benioff came under criticism for considering a bid for Twitter Inc. In September, the troubled social-media service held informal talks with potential suitors, with Salesforce being one of the main parties interested in a deal, according to people familiar with the matter at the time. By the next month, interest had cooled, and Twitter remains independent.

(Updates with comments from analyst in fourth paragraph.)
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