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Salesforce – Q1 misses the mark

Salesforce fails to deliver on expectations as a tricky macro environment limits top-line growth.
Salesforce blue cloud logo on a white background

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Salesforce reported first-quarter revenue of $9.1bn, up 11%. Within that, Subscription & Support revenue rose 12% to $8.6bn. Cost control helped underlying operating income rise 29% to $2.9bn. Both revenue and profit were worse than expected.

Free cash flow rose 43% to $6.1bn. The net cash position improved from $1.6bn to $5.2bn since the start of the quarter. The group returned $2.2bn through buybacks plus $0.4bn in dividends.

For the second quarter, revenue is expected to grow 7-8% to $9.20-$9.25bn. Full-year guidance largely remains intact, looking for 8-9% revenue growth to $37.7-$38.0bn. But Subscription & Support guidance has been lowered, now expected slightly below the previous 10% guide.

The shares fell 16% in after-hours trading.

Our view

Salesforce is a giant in the world of customer relationship management and cloud-based business solutions. First-quarter performance missed the mark. It perhaps wasn’t as bad a quarter as the market reaction suggests, but when you miss expectations on current quarter performance and issue downbeat guidance, it rarely ends well.

After spending some time rightsizing the business, costs are in a much better position and the benefits are being felt on both the profit and cash flow lines. This was a necessary process, but focus now rightly turns to top-line growth.

The tricky macroeconomic environment is one of the reasons for the slowdown in sales growth, now trending around the 10% mark compared to the mid-twenties seen a few years ago. Many had hoped that a bright spark in bookings toward the end of last year would be a turning point, but downbeat commentary suggests that’s not the case. Businesses are still being selective with their software spend.

There are two major levers for growth from here. Firstly through better bundling of its cloud products and improved use of its treasure trove of data. There’s a very clear correlation between annual recurring revenue per customer and the number of cloud products they adopt. The trick is to ensnare customers so deep into the ecosystem that it becomes very hard to ever leave. Salesforce, with its huge breadth of interlinked products, is well-placed to do just that.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the other major growth lever. Salesforce enables customers to get all their data into one place. From there, AI tools can add value. Details are thin, but management has been eager to call out growth from their relatively new AI products. What’s clear though is it’ll take longer than some may have wanted before it starts to move the dial.

Cost controls mean cash flow is healthy, and the growth over the past four years has been impressive – to the tune of around 30% per year. The balance sheet has plenty of wiggle room too, giving scope to support ongoing buybacks, a recently introduced dividend, and acquisitions. As ever, nothing is guaranteed.

Salesforce has a great product range, with a wide array of data and growth levers to pull. The valuation doesn’t look too demanding to us on a long-term view. But after a period of getting fit, it now needs to reaccelerate top-line growth, which will be a tough ask this year.

Environmental, social and governance (ESG) risk

The technology industry is low risk in terms of ESG, though some segments are more exposed, like Electronic Components (environmental risks) and data monetisers (social risks). Business ethics tend to be a material risk within the tech sector, ranging from anti-competitive practices to intellectual property rights. Historically the sector has flown under the radar when it comes to regulatory oversight, but more recently we’ve seen regulators keen to get involved given the high-profile of some of the “big tech” names. Other key risk drivers include labour relations, data privacy, product governance and resource use.

According to Sustainalytics, Salesforce’s management of material ESG issues is strong.

Salesforce’s nominating and corporate governance committee periodically reviews the company’s ESG initiatives, while its cybersecurity team conducts regular assessments and operates 24/7 for incident response. The company also conducts annual employee surveys, runs an apprenticeship program. There’s also an audit committee overseeing compliance and ethics, supported by a third-party hotline for anonymous reporting.

Salesforce key facts

All ratios are sourced from Refinitiv, based on previous day’s closing values. Please remember yields are variable and not a reliable indicator of future income. Keep in mind key figures shouldn’t be looked at on their own – it’s important to understand the big picture.

This article is original Hargreaves Lansdown content, published by Hargreaves Lansdown. It was correct as at the date of publication, and our views may have changed since then. Unless otherwise stated estimates, including prospective yields, are a consensus of analyst forecasts provided by Refinitiv. These estimates are not a reliable indicator of future performance. Yields are variable and not guaranteed. Investments rise and fall in value so investors could make a loss.

This article is not advice or a recommendation to buy, sell or hold any investment.No view is given on the present or future value or price of any investment, and investors should form their own view on any proposed investment.This article has not been prepared in accordance with legal requirements designed to promote the independence of investment research and is considered a marketing communication.Non - independent research is not subject to FCA rules prohibiting dealing ahead of research, however HL has put controls in place(including dealing restrictions, physical and information barriers) to manage potential conflicts of interest presented by such dealing.Please see our full non - independent research disclosure for more information.
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Written by
Matt Britzman
Equity Analyst

Matt is an Equity Analyst on the share research team, providing up-to-date research and analysis on individual companies and wider sectors.

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Article history
Published: 30th May 2024