Accenture plc (NYSE:ACN) Q1 2023 Earnings Call Transcript December 16, 2022
Operator: Thank you for standing by. Welcome to Accenture’s First Quarter Fiscal 2023 Earnings Call. At this time, all participants are in a listen-only mode. Later, we will conduct a question-and-answer session. As a reminder, this conference is being recorded. I would now like to turn the conference over to your host, Managing Director, Head of Investor Relations, Katie O’Conor. Please go ahead.
Katie O’Conor: Thank you, operator, and thanks, everyone, for joining us today on our first quarter fiscal 2023 earnings announcement. As the operator just mentioned, I’m Katie O’Conor, Managing Director, Head of Investor Relations. On today’s call, you’ll hear from Julie Sweet, our Chair and Chief Executive Officer; and KC McClure, our Chief Financial Officer. We hope you’ve had an opportunity to review the news release we issued a short time ago. Let me quickly outline the agenda for today’s call. Julie will begin with an overview of our results. KC will take you through the financial details, including the income statement and balance sheet, along with some key operational metrics for the first quarter. Julie will then provide a brief update on our market positioning, before KC provides our business outlook for the second quarter and full fiscal year 2023.
We will then take your questions before Julie provides a wrap-up at the end of the call. Some of the matters we’ll discuss on this call, including our business outlook, are forward-looking and, as such, are subject to known and unknown risks and uncertainties, including, but not limited to, those factors set forth in today’s news release and discussed in our annual report on Form 10-K and quarterly reports on Form 10-Q and other SEC filings. These risks and uncertainties could cause actual results to differ materially from those expressed in this call. During our call today, we will reference certain non-GAAP financial measures, which we believe provide useful information for investors. We include reconciliations of non-GAAP financial measures where appropriate to GAAP in our news release or in the Investor Relations section of our website at accenture.com.
As always, Accenture assumes no obligation to update the information presented on this conference call. Now let me turn the call over to Julie.
Julie Sweet: Thank you to everyone joining us today and especially to our people around the world for their extraordinary work and commitment to our clients, which resulted in delivering another strong quarter of financial results and the broader 360-degree value we continue to create for all our stakeholders, our clients, our people, our shareholders, our partners and our communities. Let me share a few highlights of this 360-degree value and our continued disciplined execution. We delivered strong bookings of $16.2 billion, with 24 clients with quarterly new bookings over $100 million, demonstrating our clients continued commitment to transformation and our ability to understand and anticipate our clients’ needs, whether for growth, cost optimization or resilience and our ability to deliver compressed transformations.
We delivered revenues of $15.7 billion, representing 15% revenue growth in local currency, with double-digit growth in each market. We estimate that we are growing more than 2x the market, while delivering margin expansion of 20 basis points. We continue to invest in our people, with 10.4 million training hours this quarter, representing an average of 15 hours per person, providing learning opportunities and upscaling to enable us to pivot as our clients’ needs evolve. We earned the number one position on the Refinitid Diversity and Inclusion Index for the third time in the past five years and a top score on the Workplace Pride Global Benchmark, recognizing Accenture as the leader in our industry. We believe our unwavering commitment to diversity and inclusion is both the right thing to do and an essential element of our business strategy and strong financial performance.
We have reached 97% renewable electricity, closing in on our goal of 100% by the end of 2023. Our own progress in sustainability is important to our ability to lead in helping our clients harness this key force of change and in attracting top talent. Finally, I want to congratulate our more than 1,200 new promotes to Managing Director, 119 new appointments to Senior Managing Director and the more than 90,000 people we promoted around the world in Q1 overall, reflecting our commitment to providing vibrant career paths. Over to you KC.
KC McClure: Thank you, Julie. Happy holidays to all of you, and thanks for taking the time to join us on today’s call. We were pleased with our overall results in the first quarter, where we continue to drive growth across markets, services and industries to extend our leadership position in the market. We ran our business with rigor and discipline and expanded operating margin while investing at scale, and we continue to deliver on our shareholder value proposition to both our financial results and by creating 360-degree value for all our stakeholders. Let me begin by summarizing a few key highlights across our three financial imperatives from the quarter. Revenues grew 15% in local currency, reflecting a foreign exchange headwind of about 9.5% compared to the 8.5% provided in our business outlook last quarter.
Adjusted for the actual foreign exchange impact in the quarter, we were approximately $150 million above our guided range with double-digit growth across all of our markets and industry groups, with 10 of the 13 industries growing double digits and the high single digits. We continue to take market share with growth estimated to be more than 2x the market, which refers to our basket of publicly traded companies. Operating margin was 16.5% for the quarter, an increase of 20 basis points. We continue to drive margin expansion while making significant investments in our people and our business, including acquisitions. We delivered very strong EPS of $3.08, up 11%, while absorbing a substantial FX headwind. Finally, we delivered free cash flow of $397 million and returned $2.1 billion to shareholders through repurchases and dividends.
We also invested $686 million in acquisitions. With those high-level comments, let me turn to some of the details, starting with new bookings. New bookings were $6.2 billion for the quarter with a book-to-bill of one and growth of 6% in local currency. Consulting bookings were $8.1 billion, with a book-to-bill of one. Managed Services bookings, which we formally refer to as Outsourcing, were $8.1 billion with a book-to-bill of 1.1. In addition, we continue to see improved pricing on our new bookings, which refer to contract profitability or margin on the work that we sell. Turning now to revenues. Revenues for the quarter were $15.7 billion, a 5% increase in U.S. dollars and 15% in local currency. Consulting revenues for the quarter were $8.4 billion, up 1% in U.S. dollars and 10% in local currency.
Managed Services revenues were $7.3 billion, up 11% in U.S. dollars and 20% local currency. Taking a closer look at our service dimensions, Technology services grew strong double digits, Operations grew double digits and, as expected, Strategy & Consulting grew low single digits. Turning to our geographic markets. In North America, revenue growth was 11% in local currency, driven by double-digit growth in Public Service, consumer Retail and Travel Services, Industrial and Health. In Europe, revenues grew 17% in local currency, led by double-digit growth in Industrial, Banking & Capital Markets and high single-digit growth in Consumer Goods, Retail & Travel Services. Looking closer to the countries, Europe was driven by double-digit growth in Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy and France.
In Growth Markets, we delivered 19% revenue growth in local currency, driven by double-digit growth in Banking & Capital Markets, Public Service, and Chemicals & Natural Resources. From a country perspective, gross markets was led by double-digit growth in Japan. Moving down the income statement. Gross margin for the quarter was 32.9%, consistent with the same period last year. Sales and marketing expense for the quarter was 9.8% compared with 9.7% for the first quarter last year. General and administrative expense was 6.6% compared to 6.9% for the same quarter last year. Operating income was $2.6 billion in the first quarter, reflecting a 16.5% operating margin, up 20 basis points compared with Q1 last year. Our effective tax rate for the quarter was 23.3% compared with an effective tax rate of 24.4% for the first quarter last year.
Diluted earnings per share were $3.08 compared with diluted EPS of $2.78 in the first quarter last year. Days service outstanding were 48 days compared to 43 days last quarter and 42 days in the first quarter of last year. Free cash flow for the quarter was $397 million, resulting from cash generated by operating activities of $495 million net of property and equipment additions of $99 million. Our cash balance at November 30 was $5.9 billion compared with $7.9 billion at August 31. With regards to our ongoing objective to return cash to shareholders, in the first quarter, we repurchased or redeemed 5.2 million shares for $1.4 billion at an average price of $272.3 per share. At November 30, we had approximately $4.9 billion of share repurchase authority remaining.
Also in November, we paid a quarterly cash dividend of $1.12 per share for a total of $706 million. This represents a 15% increase over last year. And our Board of Directors declared a quarterly cash dividend of $1.12 per share to be paid on February 15, a 15% increase over last year. Finally, turning to the 360-degree value we are creating for all our stakeholders. We are extremely proud to be recognized as one of the seven company all stars on the Wall Street Journal Management Top 250 List for Excellence in customer satisfaction, employee engagement and development, innovation, social responsibility and financial strength, and we also received the top score for social responsibility overall. In summary, we were pleased with our results in the first quarter, and we’re off to a strong start for the year.
And now let me turn it back to Julie.
Julie Sweet: Thanks, KC. We remain laser-focused on staying close to our clients, advising them how to navigate the macro, providing the right solutions to enable compressed transformations and adjusting to their changing needs. Let me give some further color on what we’re seeing in the market and how we see the demand environment shaping up. Over the last quarter, as we can all read, the economic estimates for 2023 continue to decline. While the latest industry estimates for 2023’s technology spending continue to show robust growth of 5% or so, we will see how the market evolves as clients finalize 2023 budgets. So what does today’s market mean for our clients? We believe that the current macro is making it even clearer to clients that they need to change more, not less, and that two of the five key forces of change that we have identified for the next decade: the need for total enterprise reinvention enabled by tech data and AI; and the ability to access, create and unlock the potential of talent, are critical to succeed in the near, medium and long term.
We see this continuing across industries and markets with two common themes. First, all strategies continue to lead to technology, particularly cloud, data, AI and security. And second, companies remain focused on executing compressed transformation to achieve lower costs, stronger growth, more agility and greater resilience faster. What does this mean for Accenture? Our strategy positions us for continued industry leadership because we have a unique set of strengths that our clients need to navigate today and succeed tomorrow. We are able to do so because of our deep strategy and consulting expertise across industries, allowing us to be a trusted adviser during different economic cycles as we bring the expertise, coupled with the real-life practical experience they need.
Our ability to help clients achieve total enterprise reinvention through our depth across the enterprise, from the frontline to core operations to corporate functions, as well as our ability to advise our clients shape and deliver value-led transformations, and through our breadth of services, from strategy and consulting to our strategic managed services, which help clients digitize faster, access talent and lower costs. And our global footprint allows us to act at scale and with speed. Together, this positions us as the compressed transformation partner of choice, as you can see, and yet another strong quarter of clients who selected us for work of more than $100 million this quarter. I am pleased to see how quickly we are pivoting to meet the evolving needs of our clients.
We have seen a higher level of sales and pipeline coming from cost-focused initiatives, often also including growth or capability enhancements. We are leveraging our breadth of services, deep-client and ecosystem relationships and industry and functional expertise to help our clients and Accenture shift to the highest value opportunities. Our track record of delivery at speed and scale over many years with clients — remember, 99 of our top 100 clients have been with us for over 10 years, this gives our clients confidence that by partnering with us, they will deliver on their commitments. Investments in our assets and solutions such as myWizard and SynOps, which underlie both strategy and consulting, technology and operations managed services, as well as our delivery of compressed transformation, enables us to differentiate with our insights and services.
Our ability to invest in acquisitions helps us to expand our relevance across the enterprise from building a digital core with Sentia and Albert, to optimizing upper duration to achieve agility, efficiency and resilience with Pilatus, to accelerating their growth agendas with RAMP, and our substantial investment in the skills of our people allows us to pivot to new areas of demand to be an attractive destination for top talent. Now let’s turn to the quarter. To bring to life this demand environment across the five key forces of change for our clients: total enterprise reinvention, talent, sustainability, the metaverse and the ongoing tech revolution, which in turn drag our growth. First, total enterprise reinvention, we continue to help our clients achieve a new performance frontier by building their digital core, optimizing operations and accelerating growth, leveraging cloud, data and AI and new ways of working.
We are helping Roche, a Swiss multinational health care company specializing in pharmaceuticals and diagnostics, with a total enterprise reinvention, building a digital infrastructure to match changing business needs. Using data integration, we have changed the way tumor boards are organized and conducted, empowering counter teams to be more efficient and effective in determining next steps for cancer care. And we have built a digital ecosystem that will create innovative products and solutions to drive diabetes care. Now as part of one of the largest ERP modernizations in the world, we are working together to deploy a digital backbone that will unify and harmonize nearly 700 business processes for more than 100,000 end users. The integrated platform will simplify the system landscape and connect activities across the value chain from R&D and manufacturing to patient treatment.
Cloud, a $26 billion business in FY ’22 grew 48%, with even stronger growth in Cloud First and continues to grow very strong double digits. In fact, we believe that the cloud continuum will become the new operative system for the future enterprise. Migrating to the cloud to drive efficiencies is just the first step. As we anticipated with our Cloud First strategy and investments, we are seeing our clients make significant investments to modernize, improve and innovate in the cloud, leveraging data and AI to drive new business value. For example, Accenture Federal Services is partnering with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a U.S. federal agency under the Department of Health and Human Services, to accelerate its migration to the cloud across the enterprise and modernize its IT portfolio.
Through this work, we will also help to achieve CDC’s mission to protect people from health, safety and security threats by supporting the development of integrated, real-time public health data and surveillance systems. As our clients build their digital core, security continues to be more important than ever, as reflected in our very strong double-digit growth in Q1. We are expanding our cybersecurity footprint for a large health care network in Brazil to elevate their cybersecurity posture to a new hot level of preparedness. We are growing the organization’s security profile with a cyber as a service solution that will enhance the cyber readiness of their infrastructure and operations. This new project not only consolidates the work that up to four different providers typically do, it also is the largest cybersecurity contract ever signed in Brazil by any provider.
High demand for our strategic Managed Services, reflecting $7.3 billion in revenue and 20% growth in the quarter, demonstrates the importance of these services to our client strategies as it enables clients to move faster, leveraging our digital platform’s expertise and talent. Our Managed Services are differentiated by our ability to bring in our deep expertise from across the enterprise, including Song, which grew double digits in the first quarter. For example, we’re expanding our partnership with Allianz, an Italian and main bank of Allianz Group, to continue the bank’s digital transformation with a new platform in the cloud, a modern IT architecture and a new operating model. Our Song team is helping to create a new customer mobile app to improve customer experience.
And our end-to-end managed services capabilities, tailored to the financial services industry, will help the bank grow and scale its position in the market, ensure regulatory compliance and lower total cost of ownership. We continue to see strong demand for our industry edge capabilities, digitizing engineering and manufacturing, which we see as the next digital frontier with continued very strong double-digit growth in Q1. We are helping Celanese, a global chemical and specialty materials company on their digital transformation journey that will increase their manufacturing production resiliency, productivity and predictability of plant operations. We’re teaming with ecosystem partners to design and implement a scalable digital twin platform at one of their largest manufacturing facilities, which plans to increase revenues through increased plant output, reduce costs through improved productivity, product quality and equipment reliability and improve overall safety in the workplace.
We also are supporting an enterprise cloud transformation to provide a scalable platform for future enterprise growth and innovation. Next, talent. Our clients continue to look to us to access, create and unlocked talent as a critical element of their transformation. We’re helping a global chemical manufacturer with an end-to-end IT transformation as part of their multiyear digital journey. The Company faces increasing IT costs, aging assets and tools and overreliance on contractors. We’re implementing a full Managed Services model that will help modernize its IT, and this digital transformation includes a talent transformation. Together, we will upskill their people and data cloud and AI through our Accenture Academy so that everyone grows together, helping the Company leapfrog its competitors with innovative industry-leading solutions.
Now, sustainability. We continue to prioritize embedding sustainability into our clients’ digital transformation and on providing a direct sustainability service. For example, we are expanding our partnership with the European Multinational Aerospace Corporation to help improve their environmental and social impact across the enterprise. In recent years, we have worked together to digitize the Company’s supply chain and manufacturing operations using a digital twin to improve productivity and reduce waste. Now we are working together to advance their sustainability agenda. We’re supporting their aviation decarbonization road map, from accelerating the use of sustainable aviation fuel to helping design low-emissions aircraft. We are finding new ways to help make the supply chain more transparent and ethical, helping the Company replace hazardous materials from the product life cycle with safer, greener alternatives.
And we are outlining a strategy to help them meet its net zero targets and internally foster a culture that is focused on sustainability. Finally, the metaverse and the ongoing tech revolution. While still in the early innings, we believe the metaverse will not only change how people work, but it will also profoundly change every part of every business, from how we interact with customers, what products and services they offer, how they are made and distributed, how you engage with your people from employee onboarding to personal productivity. We’re partnering with NTT DOCOMO, a Japanese mobile operator to speed up the adoption of Web3, a new blockchain-based version of the Internet that promises a digital economy with greater social impact.
We will develop and grow a secure technology platform for Web3, which will enable new products, services and community building. Training will ensure that Web3 engineers and business leaders collaborate with organizations effectively and securely on the platform. NTT DoCoMo’s work on societal issues will now expand with the use of Web3, helping companies and governments transform social infrastructures and provide solutions that would improve people’s lives. We continue to invest ahead of our clients’ teams to the future, with a keen focus on innovation and the ongoing tech revolution. Back to you, KC.
KC McClure: Thanks, Julie. Turning now to our business outlook. For the second quarter of fiscal ’23, we expect revenues to be in the range of $15.2 billion to $15.75 billion. This assumes the impact of FX will be about negative 5% compared to the second quarter of fiscal ’22 and reflects an estimated 6% to 10% growth in local currency. For the full fiscal year ’23, based upon how the rates have been trending over the last few weeks, we now expect the impact of FX on our results in U.S. dollars will be approximately negative 5% compared to fiscal ’22. For the full fiscal ’23, we continue to expect our revenue to be in the range of 8% to 11% growth in local currency over fiscal ’22, which continue to assume an inorganic contribution of about 2.5%.
For operating margin, we continue to expect fiscal ’23 to be 15.3% to 15.5%, a 10 to 30 basis point expansion over fiscal ’22 results. I mentioned last quarter, we may see more variability in quarters as we go throughout fiscal year ’23, and that’s playing out as we expected, with contraction in the second quarter expected and potentially overall for H1. We continue to expect our annual effective tax rate to be in the range of 23% to 25%. This compares to an effective tax rate of 24% in fiscal ’22. For earnings per share, based on the change to FX, we now expect our full year diluted EPS for fiscal ’23 to be in the range of $11.20 to $11.52 or 5% to 8% growth over fiscal ’22 results. Full fiscal ’23, we continue to expect operating cash flow to be in the range of $8.5 billion to $9 billion, property and equipment additions to be approximately $800 million and free cash flow to be in the range of $7.7 billion to $8.2 billion.
Our free cash flow guidance continues to reflect a strong free cash flow to net income ratio of 1.1%. Finally, we continue to expect to return at least $7.1 billion through dividends and share repurchases as we remain committed to returning a substantial portion of our cash to our shareholders. And with that, let’s open it up so we can take your questions. Katie?
Katie O’Conor: Thanks, KC. I would ask that you each keep one to question and a follow-up to allow us to as many participants as possible to ask a question. Operator, would you provide instructions for those on the call?
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