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Sapient Corporation (NASDAQ:SAPE)

Q3 2008 Earnings Call Transcript

November 6, 2008, 4:30 pm ET

Executives

Dean Ridlon – Director, IR

Alan Herrick – President and CEO

Joseph Tibbetts – SVP and CFO

Analysts

David Grossman – Thomas Weisel Partners

Mark Vitovitch – Piper Jaffray & Co.

Jason Kupferberg – UBS

Ashwin Shirvaikar – Citigroup

Rod Bourgeois – Sanford C. Bernstein

Operator

Good day, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to Third Quarter 2008 Sapient Earnings Conference Call. My name is Francine, and I will be your coordinator for today. At this time, all participants are in listen-only mode. We will be facilitating a question-and-answer session towards the end of today's conference. (Operator instructions). As a reminder this conference is being recorded for replay purposes.

I would now like to turn the presentation over to your host for today's conference, Mr. Dean Ridlon, Investor Relations Director. Please proceed, sir.

Dean Ridlon

Thank you. Thank you for joining us today. As Francine said, I'm Dean Ridlon, Sapient's Director of Investor Relations. Our press release announcing this quarter's results is currently available in the investor section of our Web site, www.sapient.com.

Before we begin I would like to remind everyone that some of the matters discussed during today's call are considered to be forward-looking statements, as defined by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. These forward-looking statements are subject to known and unknown risks and uncertainties which could cause actual results to differ from those expressed or implied by such statements.

We have described some of these known risks and uncertainties in today's press release and in our annual and quarterly SEC filings, which we strongly urge you to read. The forward-looking statements included in this call represent the Company's views on November 6, 2008. Sapient disclaims any obligation to update these statements to reflect future events or circumstances.

During this call, we will be referring to non-GAAP financial measures. These non-GAAP measures are not prepared in accordance with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. The most directly comparable financial measures calculated in accordance with GAAP, and a reconciliation of those GAAP measures to those non-GAAP measures are contained in the press release announcing this quarter's results.

I would now like to turn the call over to our CEO, Alan Herrick.

Alan Herrick

Alright. Thank you, Dean. Thanks, everybody, for joining us today. I'm going to walk you through press release highlights, give you an overview of our Q3 performance, talk a little bit about market outlook and then move on to guidance, hand it over to Joe to walk through the financials.

So, let me start with press release highlights. Service revenues $177.7 million, including the Derivatives Consulting Group, up by more than 25% over Q3 '07. 27% in constant currency, up sequentially over Q2 by 9% in constant currency. DCG or the Derivatives Consulting Group represents $7.1 million in the quarter. Excluding the Derivatives Consulting Group, revenues were up 22% in constant currency and up 4.6% sequentially.

Non-GAAP income from operations $26.1 million, which is a 14.7% operating margin for Q3, representing 109% increase from $12.5 million in Q3 of 2007. GAAP income from operations $20.7 million compared to a GAAP income from operations of $6.6 million in Q3 of '07. Non-GAAP diluted income per share was $0.18, up from $0.08 in Q3 '07, and GAAP diluted income per share for the quarter was $0.14, increased from $0.03 per share in Q3 '07.

So with that, from my perspective, very pleased with the quarter, especially in a fairly tough and toughening environment, and Q3 represents strong operating performance for us allowing us to achieve a goal that we set out nearly two years ago of hitting the range of 13% to 16% operating margin.

14.7% operating margin, which includes a one time pickup of 75 basis points on the cost side in the quarter, represents our strong commitment to operating performance and a tremendous effort by all our people and our leadership across Sapient to accomplish this, and to stay committed to what our goals were and a testament to our value proposition as a Company.

So with that, let me give you some details on the business unit performance. North America represents 60% of service revenues in Q3 or $107 million. Revenues were up 16% year-over-year or 7% sequentially. Constant currency growth 16% year-over-year and 7% sequentially. We continue to see headwind good opportunities in North America, which is demonstrated by the sequential growth. I'll just point out that North America was affected by $0.5 million of currency headwind on the revenue line based on the revenues we have in Canadian dollars.

Moving on to Europe, without the Derivatives Consulting Group, Europe represented 32% of revenues in Q3 or $56.2 million. Revenues were up 29% year-over-year, down 4% sequentially. In constant currency, Europe is up 30% year-over-year and flat quarter-over-quarter. In my opinion, a very good performance for Europe, catching up from what was just a monster quarter of growth in Q2. If you remember in Q2 they were up 19% sequentially.

Currency headwinds on the revenue line in Europe accounted for about $2.5 million in the quarter. Government services represented 4% of revenue or $7.2 million. Revenues were up 28% year-over-year and 6% quarter-over-quarter.

And then finally, on the Derivatives Consulting Group, which is not a business unit, that we won't continue to break out for you. It will be in our consolidated European results, and in this quarter, was 4% of revenue in the quarter, representing two months of performance, which accounts for $7.1 million.

Now, let me move to some key highlights or accomplishments for the quarter. A couple wins that I want to highlight, we are recently awarded a high profile global marketing campaign for Coca-Cola. We also recently won exciting new projects for GE Commercial Finance on the interactive side, and we're very, very proud of the launch of the Wall Street Journal.

In February, we were given the opportunity to work with the Wall Street Journal Digital Network. This is one of several news corporation companies that we've had the opportunity to work with in a similar partner remodel, working collaboratively with the Wall Street Journal, creative design, editorial, marketing and technical teams, our collective mission was to redesign and launch its online site, wsj.com within eight months.

During our third quarter in September, the Wall Street Journal dot.com site launched successfully, attracting millions of readers worldwide, and we're very proud of achieving this incredibly important milestone with the world's foremost business authority.

Moving on to the government side of our business, we also continue to win – key wins in the Department of Homeland Security, as we continue to expand our presence. With them, we're now providing consulting services to five of the seven major DHS components.

The scope of the work includes large scale program management, business profits reengineering, capital planning and investment control, consulting and strategic marketing communications. These awards were highly competitive and positions taken well for future growth within DHS.

I'll now give you a quick update on the Derivatives Consulting Group in Sapient. We're now jointly engaged in several assignments with banks and by side firms as they redesign their processes and systems to meet their operational performance commitments to the fed with regards to derivatives processing. We have already begun new work with banks and asset managers focused on offshoring operational processes designing trade confirmation templates and program managing the design of new business processes.

Now, let me move on to our people. Total ending people count for Q3 was 6,440 people, up from 6,265 in Q2. Q3 turnover annualized was 17.4%, compared to 19.9% in Q3 of '07. Utilization was 80% compared to 76% in Q2, and the improvement in utilization did yield expansion which is obvious in our gross margins, but real improvement on an effective utilization basis, which I've mentioned previously. Utilization primarily up to our continued focus and management focus across the board on this important measure for us.

So, to round out Q3 for you, very pleased with our strong operating performance. Gross margin up due to utilization and pricing of about 250 basis points. G&A improved by 30 basis points to a new record low for Sapient. Sales and marketing decreased 150 basis points, primarily due to the continued increases in revenue, as well as a focus on sales qualification and efficiency.

And as I said at the top of the call, reaching the operating margin target for us was an important milestone for us. It's a measure of our focus and commitment to reaching our operating performance goals that we laid out nearly two years ago.

Over the last two years, we've improved G&A to 18% from 23.4% in Q3 of '06. We've improved gross margins to 36.9% from 33.3% in Q3 of '06, while growing the business on average about 30%. Our performance in Q3 underscores the strength of our business model and our commitment to our operating performance. I think all of you are beginning to see where we can operate this business at.

I should also note we saw currency headwind on the revenue line at the U.S. dollar strengthened against all other currencies we operate in. With 47% of our revenues outside the United States, we saw a $3 million revenue headwind in Q3 from the dollar strengthening. And I want you all to see the underlying strength of the business. Currency is going to move and do what it's going to do especially in this environment based on global economic forces.

As a leadership team, we stay focused on a fundamental performance of the business. However, given the significant movements in currency, Joe will remind you of our currency strategy later on.

Let me spend a couple minutes on market outlook. Clearly, the environment has changed. A few months ago, we had fears of a financial crisis. Today, we have an unprecedented credit crisis and a consumer-driven recession. Clearly, we're in a much tougher environment, and I can tell you we did see slower decision-making in October, especially in the first two weeks. Clients were very focused on understanding their particular situation as they moved forward. We're closely watching decision-making patterns, priorities, budgeting to see how these events continue to unfold in coming weeks and months.

That said, we see opportunities in the area, we continue to have strategic focus. We'll start with interactive, the shift from traditional media to online. We think this fundamental shift is intact and will continue to grow. We may see some consolidation of providers where differentiation in scale will really matter and will be a benefit to us as a sizable player in that market and we see continued activity on the marketing services side of the business.

On the consulting side of the business, we focused a lot on our trading and risk management practice which again showed great strength in Q3, as you'll see in the numbers, and we see good opportunity.

Our clients are focused more than ever on risk transparency as much toward new regulations, new compliance issues, many business model issue changes as you see investment banks becoming commercial banks, merger and acquisition activity in the financial services sector, all drive opportunities for us, new processes, new technologies, technology rationalization. So we do see good opportunity across that as well as continuing opportunity as we saw great strength in our government business in this quarter and going forward.

Finally, if you look at our global distributed delivery model and – or the offshoring component of our business, which supports both our interactive and our consulting business, as companies look to cut costs and become more efficient, having a smart offshore player in Sapient is a great alternative to have, and one that is an advantage for us as our clients will take advantage of.

So we continue to believe there is good work and opportunities in these areas and its work that someone's going to win, and we believe we're well-positioned for those opportunities. There may also be some opportunity to take share, as I've highlighted above, but again, it's early and let's see how this continues to unfold and play out in the coming weeks and months and of course, as you already know, clients need to make decisions and we need to compete and win effectively to capitalize on those opportunities where we do see opportunities to perform even in this environment.

With that, let me move to guidance. And first I'm going to walk you through guidance in constant currency, and then Joe will walk you through guidance with currency implications. I look at the business on a constant currency basis in order to manage it. I believe this is a true indicator of what the fundamentals of the business are doing.

Currency movements, especially with recent volatility, given the 47% of our revenues are outside the United States are important to understand. Currency movements on the revenue line don't change the way we operate since they have very little impact on the operating profit level of the Company. Again, Joe will walk you through that in detail and remind you of our currency strategy in a few minutes, so let me get to the specific guidance.

On one end of our guidance, at the top end of the range, we would be on track, business as usual being up 3% sequentially for Q4 over Q3. On the other end of our guidance, flat to down 3%, it would represent some softness in the business in Q4, and that softness would be based on what I talked about in the market outlets, which is just slower decision-making and any delays that we've seen to-date in the quarter.

For Q4, we expect revenues to be plus 3% to minus 3% on a constant currency basis and we expect non-GAAP operating profits to be in the range of 10% to 13%. So let me just wrap up for a second, then I'll hand it over to Joe.

Overall, very strong operating performance in the quarter, and I think we're quite pleased and proud of everybody at Sapient, what they've put into this. 14.7% or 14% adjusted for a one time is just a great performance and great focus on our commitment to operating performance.

In addition, DSO at 60 down three days from Q2, strong operating cash flow at $33 million, again as I mentioned, non-GAAP G&A 18% which is a record low for Sapient. As I said, it's obviously a tougher environment, but we do see opportunities to perform and what I outlined a few minutes ago.

So with that, let me hand it over to Joe to walk you through the financials.

Joseph Tibbetts

Thanks, Alan. Good evening, everyone. I'm going take you through the details of the third quarter results and then take a look at our outlook for the fourth quarter in a little more detail. Just a note upfront, the acquisition of DCG, you may recall, took place in early August, so our results include their operations for the months of August and September.

On the revenue side, consolidated revenues were $177.7 million in Q3. That's an increase of 27% from the same period a year ago, and 9% from Q2 on a constant currency basis. If you exclude our DCG service revenues, which were $7.1 million, revenue growth was 22% over last year and 5% sequentially, again in constant currency.

Looking at the revenue breakdown by industry, if you exclude DCG, financial services generated 29% of total revenue, which is an increase from 28% a quarter ago and as you know, we've now shown very consistent strength in our financial services business, this being the sixth quarter in a row with 28% to 29% of our revenue coming from that sector. When you add in the additional DCG revenue, which is financial services revenue, it brings the third quarter total up to 31% of total revenue for financial services.

Technology and communications generated 17% of total revenue in Q3, down from 20% in Q2. Consumer and travel was 20% of total revenue in Q3, down slightly from 21% in Q2. Energy services was 15% of total revenue, and that's up 1% from 14% in Q2. And government health and education was 15% of total revenue, which is consistent with Q2. In general, the slice going to financial services took about 1% from each of the other major industries in those fluctuations.

Moving on to recurring revenue, which includes revenue commitments of one year or more in which the client has committed spending levels which are cancelable, or has chosen us as an exclusive provider of certain services, this was 40% in the quarter. That's down from 46% last quarter and consistent with 40% a year ago. 2% of this drop relates to the addition of DCG revenue, none of which meets our definition of recurring.

The percentage of service revenues coming from our top five clients in the third quarter was 24%. That's unchanged from last quarter and down 3% from a year ago.

Q3 revenue was split 47% from fixed price contracts and 53% from T&M contracts, comparing to 48% – 52% last quarter. On the gross margin operating margin, I'm going to analyze those as I usually do, using the non-GAAP numbers, as we feel they are a more accurate reflection of the Company's comparative performance. By the way, the impact of our DCG acquisition on contribution margin on both the GAAP and non-GAAP basis was not material for the quarter.

So, overall, third quarter gross margin, excluding stock-based comp was 37%, up 3% from 34% in Q2 and also 34% a year ago. Excluding the 75 basis point favorable impact of the one-time adjustment to project personnel expenses in the quarter, our third quarter gross margin would have been 36%.

Selling and marketing expenses was 4.2% of service revenues, which is a decrease from 5.7% in Q2 and 5.5% in Q3 of last year. General and administrative expenses for Q3 were 18% consistent with Q2 and compared to 19% in the same quarter a year ago. Total stock-based compensation expense for Q3 was $4.4 million, consistent with both last quarter and a year ago. Restructuring and other related charges were $92,000 in Q3, compared to a benefit of $136,000 in Q2 and a benefit of $35,000 in Q3 last year.

Looking at operating profit, Q3 non-GAAP operating profit was a strong $26.1 million as Alan mentioned 14.7% of service revenues, again including that 75% basis point impact of the adjustment to project personnel expenses. So, net of that it's 14%. This compares to $17.3 million in Q2, which was 10.4% of revenue and $12.5 million or 8.8% of revenue in Q3 of last year.

GAAP operating profit was $20.7 million, 11.6% of revenue compared to $12.2 million or 7.3% of revenue last quarter and $6.6 million or 4.6% of service revenue last year.

Switching over to foreign currency, foreign currency exchange rates have obviously been quite volatile in recent months as global financial crisis has played out. And while such movements can have a material translation impact on our reported revenues, the impact on our profitability is tempered by both our foreign currency hedging strategy and our business operating practices.

And just to remind you how that's working for us, in the case of the Indian rupee, in which we incur about 17% of our combined delivery and G&A expense structure, we continue to utilize the rolling 90-day hedging program using zero cost callers to limit our translation gain and loss exposure to the rupee.

In the currencies, in which we have significant revenue, which for us are principally the British pound, the Euro and Canadian dollar, our expense structures in those same currencies provide a significant amount of natural hedge at the profit line. And further, given the significant swings in the British pound during Q3, we instituted a partial hedging program on that currency as well during the quarter.

Lastly, our exposure to foreign currency transaction gains and losses is mitigated by our payment practices. That is timely payment of foreign denominated balances helps us to avoid transaction gains and losses.

So, with that in mind, this quarter the net impact of foreign currency translation gains and losses was a gain of about $21,000 as it compared sequentially to Q2 '08. This improvement was driven by a 5% depreciation of the Indian rupee versus the US Dollar, which reduces our expenses when translated into US dollars. That had actually a $1.3 million impact sequentially, but that was largely offset by the depreciation of the other currencies which reduced our operating margin when translated into US dollars.

The impact of our foreign currency hedges in the quarter was a loss of approximately $975,000, which is included in our G&A expense line. Foreign currency transaction gains and losses netted to a loss of $100,000 in the quarter. That's also included in the G&A line. This compared to a foreign currency transaction gain of $1.3 million in Q2 and an expense of $100,000 a year ago.

Moving on, interest and other income netted $1.5 million in Q3 compared to $1.6 million in Q2 and similarly $1.6 million a year ago. The income tax provision in the quarter was $4.1 million. The effective tax rate was 18.4%, including about 1% of the discreet items in the quarter.

This reflects our current estimate of the tax rate for the year of 17.3% and is an increase from prior quarter's rate of about 15.8%, primarily driven by the change in California tax law and an increase in forecasted foreign annual profit before tax with the addition of DCG.

Switching now to net income and EPS, our Q3 non-GAAP net income was $23.4 million compared to $16.7 million in Q2 and $10.3 million a year ago. Non-GAAP diluted earnings per share were $0.18 per share in Q3 compared to $0.13 last quarter and $0.08 a year ago.

GAAP net income was $18.1 million in Q3 compared to $11.6 million last quarter and $4.4 million a year ago, and GAAP diluted earnings per share was $0.14 per share in Q3, $0.09 in Q2 and $0.03 a year ago.

Weighted average common shares for the third quarter were 125.8 million shares and 130.1 million shares on a basic and diluted basis respectively. This is the result of an increase from – sorry, this is an increase from Q2 of approximately 300,000 basic shares, primarily as a result of stock option exercises, the impact of restricted stock and the common stock issued in connection with the DCG acquisition.

Switching over to the balance sheet, first I want to cover the accounting for the acquisition of Derivatives Consulting Group, which naturally affects a number of balance sheet accounts and also affects amortization expense going forward.

In a nutshell, the total recorded purchase price was GBP16 million, and at the acquisition date exchange rate that's $31.3 million that was allocated to the balance sheet as follows. Approximately $6.6 million went to acquired net tangible assets, including cash, accounts receivable, other current assets, property and equipment as well as accounts payable and accrued expense. Approximately, $9 million of acquired intangible assets, including the DCG trade name, their customer lists and relationships and the non-compete agreement signed as part of the acquisition.

The value of these intangible assets will be amortized on a straight line basis over their weighted average useful life which depending on the asset range, from one and a half year to five years. The incremental amortization expense, as a result of acquiring these assets will be approximately $500,000 in Q4. And for each quarter in 2009, and then from 2010, until the end of the useful life period in 2013, the expense is expected to be approximately $300,000 per quarter. Obviously, as we get nearer those periods we'll have more refined numbers.

Approximately $2.4 million of deferred tax liabilities were also reported in the acquisition accounting, and then the excess of the purchase price over all of those assets and liabilities was recorded as goodwill, and amounted to approximately $18.1 million. And this amount is not amortized, of course.

We're still in the process of finalizing the valuation of certain of the assets acquired and liabilities assumed, and therefore, the allocation of the purchase price consideration is subject to further adjustment.

Cash and marketable securities, so jumping now into the balance sheet as it was reported at September 30, cash and marketable securities including about $2.6 million of restricted cash increased $3.1 million to $170.6 million at the end of Q2.

Cash flows from operating activities generated $33.2 million versus $22 million in Q2, and cash generated from operations in Q3 a year ago was $38.7 million, which you may recall included a concentrated effort at that time to collect past due accounts receivable.

Our investments at the end of Q3 included $18.3 million of auction rate securities, down $1 million from Q2. We continue to carry a temporary impairment of about $1.1 million on these securities against other comprehensive income in the equity section of the Company's balance sheet, and we continue to classify them as long-term, reflecting their current lack of liquidity in the marketplace.

Reiterating what we said several times now in our prior calls, our auction rate securities are collateralized by student loans and municipal debt. To be clear none of those securities were backed by residential or commercial mortgages or subprime debt.

We recently entered into a rights agreement with the bank under which we can require the bank to buy 17 million of these securities from us at par value beginning in June 30, 2010. Before then, we can borrow from the bank under this agreement against 75% of the par value of securities at coupon rate of the securities. So, it's zero net cost, if you will.

Our investments at September 30, also included $11.6 million invested in the reserve primary fund which is, as you probably know, a $62 billion money market fund that broke the buck and suspended redemptions in September, and is in the process of being liquidated.

On October 31st, the primary fund redeemed $5.9 million of that amount to us. So while we expect to receive the remaining $5.7 million of our current investment in the fund, we cannot predict when this will occur, but we expect that all of the funds will be received no later than one year from now as the funds underlying securities will all mature prior to that date. Accordingly, at September 30, we classified the $11.6 million as short-term marketable securities.

Accounts receivable net of allowances increased to $97.9 million at the end of Q3 versus $89.2 million at the end of Q2, approximately $6.7 million or 80% of this increase is attributable to the acquisition of DCG.

Unbilled revenues at quarter-end were $47.7 million at the end of Q3 compared to unbilled revenues of $44 million at the end of Q2, and again, the increase is primarily due to the DCG acquisition. Deferred revenues totaled $16.7 million in Q3 compared to $13.3 million in Q2. DCG is only a very small piece of that change. DSO was 60 days as Alan mentioned, improved three days better than last quarter and two days better than a year ago.

And just to note, our quarterly report on Form 10-Q was filed just now, or earlier today I should say.

From a financial outlook standpoint, turning to our current financial outlook as previously noted, currency movement aside, we expect that fourth quarter service revenues will be relatively flat with Q3 plus or minus 3%. Taking into consideration the significant currency movement thus far in the quarter, and assuming stable rates through the end of the quarter, we expect that total revenues in Q4 will be in the range of $164 million to $174 million.

We remain on track for our full year revenue guidance of 20% to 25% growth based on the constant currency as of our last earnings call on August 7, 2008. Factoring in the currency fluctuations to-date, we expect full year revenues to be in the range of $662 million to $672 million.

Q4 non-GAAP operating margin is expected to fall within the range of 10% to 13% of revenue, and again this is consistent with our targeted 10% or better in non-GAAP operating margin for the year.

A few other bits and pieces, trailing expenses for outside services relating to the 2007 restatement dropped to $50,000 in Q3 and will likely be similar in Q4. So, that number is down from where it has been as you know. Stock-based compensation expense is expected to continue between $4.4 million to $4.8 million per quarter.

The effective income tax rate is expected to be approximately 17% in the fourth quarter, and for the full year 2008. And as you know, that's a blended rate, which reflects our favorable tax position in India, our transfer pricing arrangement for non-US business and the favorable effect of our US net operating loss carry forwards.

Cash flow from operations for 2008 is on track with our guidance to be in excess of $60 million. Capital expenditures for 2008 also continues to be in line with our estimate for the year of $20 million, primarily related to office space and computer hardware and software.

Lastly, we expect our weighted average basic share counts to increase by approximately 700,000 shares in Q4, largely a result of a full quarter impact of the option exercises in RSU vesting which occurred late in Q3. The weighted average basic shares for the whole year 2008 is now expected to be in the neighborhood of 126 million shares.

With that, I'll pass the call back to Alan.

Alan Herrick

Alright. Thanks, Joe. Just to recap real quickly, we're very pleased with strong performance across the board, revenues, DSOs, cash flows and of course, operating margin and most importantly, really getting ourselves in our operating margin range was an important goal that we laid out to do some time ago, and we're quite pleased with how the quarter turned out overall. So, with that, let me open it up to questions.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

(Operator instructions). Our first question comes from the line of David Grossman of Thomas Weisel Partners. Please proceed.

David Grossman – Thomas Weisel Partners

Thanks very much. Good afternoon. I have just a couple of really quick questions. First is, Joe, you went through a lot of information on currency and you gave us a good wrap up of how it impacted the quarter, although I didn't catch everything. Can you just again quickly summarize just on the operating margin between the hedging gains and losses, the transaction gains and losses and the translation, just in summary, where each of those three buckets fell and how much they were?

Joseph Tibbetts

Sure. Yes. If you take – maybe I'll break it down a little different combination than I did and might help you. If you take the Indian rupee, we're using the hedging program. So if you take the Indian rupee net impact on the quarter, the impact was about – well, I actually don't have thee US dollars right here – yes, I do, sorry. The Indian rupee versus the US dollars was about a $1.3 million impact favorably, and then, of course, because we're hedged against that the first 2% of that goes to us and then we end up settling the hedge to basically get the rest of it. Now, there's a little bit of timing difference there, and certainly, in the sense of some of the hedges are mark-to-market and all that, but that loss going against that gain was $975,000. So, there is roughly about a $300,000 pick up, if you will, from the movement of the rupee in the quarter which, as you know, was a weakening rupee against the dollar. And then we had other currencies that basically hit the profit, in currencies where we have both revenue and loss, the net effect of those currencies on our P&L was approximately $1.3 million loss going the other way, and then we had transaction gains and losses of a loss of about $100,000. So, the net impact was about $1.4 million.

David Grossman – Thomas Weisel Partners

And does the INR and the related hedging loss that shows up in operating income and the other two show up in other income?

Joseph Tibbetts

Well, it kind of gets distributed – each piece kind of goes in its own place. So the translation – all of the translation gains and losses, that is to say the rupee and all of the other revenue and expense gets translated and ends up in the P&L line in which it's reported. The hedge itself, all of those losses, so the $975,000 of losses all goes to G&A, and then the transaction gains and losses, which was a loss of $100,000 also goes to G&A.

David Grossman – Thomas Weisel Partners

So, does effectively all this show up above the line in operating income in some way, shape or form?

Joseph Tibbetts

Yes. Yes, it does.

David Grossman – Thomas Weisel Partners

Okay. Alright. So it's basically you had – it was basically a hurt you, when you sum it all up, right?

Joseph Tibbetts

Yes.

David Grossman – Thomas Weisel Partners

About $1 million in round numbers.

Joseph Tibbetts

About $1 million, $1.1 million, yes.

David Grossman – Thomas Weisel Partners

So, with that said, even if you back out the 75 bits you had remarkably strong margin performance in the quarter at 14%. So if you could perhaps help us better understand, I know Alan listed out utilization among a couple other things and pricing, but could you maybe help us better understand what happened and then why it goes down sequentially in December since, at least historically, in this industry September is usually a tougher margin quarter than the fourth quarter.

Joseph Tibbetts

Sure. Absolutely this quarter the upside was in the gross margin, principally, and that was around just great utilization that we had, and also some pricing traction that we got from – we've been talking to you about increasing pricing over time and that it takes time to leak in and we saw some real effective pricing hit this quarter. So, those are the two big ups. We absorbed the wage increase this quarter of increasing wages which we annually do as of July 1. So, that was a down, if you will, and then the hedge impact that we just talked about also caused a piece of down. But the net of that is where the ups came in our performance, with some spending improvement around G&A, sales and marketing so, that's that piece.

And then as you go towards various ends of the range next quarter, we're talking about 10% to 13%. So from 14% to 13% difference there, if you go to the bottom end, the 10%, we're basically – in order to get to the bottom-end, we're at the bottom end of our revenue, we've got less revenue, therefore there's some utilization issues there with our cost structure. There is a certain amount of seasonality impact on some of that cost structure, while some other things seasonally go for us like vacation accrual and things like that. And then, we do have the 0.75 impact of the one-time thing not being there this quarter, and a bunch of other things that we see sort of coming and going in the business that all net out to somewhere around that kind of margin at the bottom end.

David Grossman – Thomas Weisel Partners

Okay. And just one last thing, just kind of as a corollary to that. You got a pretty wide range of revenue estimates for the fourth quarter and I think, Alan, you did a good job of helping us understand why you're in that wide range, but where are this – which segments of the business do you think are those that are, I hate to say most at risk, but where do you see the biggest variability, if you will, in creating that range? Is it on interactive side? Is it risk management? Are you just kind of taking a blanket number and saying this is where we feel comfortable?

Alan Herrick

Yes, good question, David. When we look at it, I think in the first couple weeks of October we clearly saw something different where, when you had some of the events unfold more materially around the credit crisis where clients were definitely stepping back and saying what should we be doing? Actually, since then, we've seen much of that activity restart which makes us hopeful on that end. However, I'd say just generally we see decisions being made slower as companies try to absorb all that's happening in the world right now.

Then, if you look across our business by segment, we actually see activity levels – see good activity levels across all segments of our business, consulting and interactive. So then the question becomes to us is will clients decide and will they decide at a reasonable pace or do we see decisions drag on a little longer than they did a quarter ago or two quarters ago. So, we're very focused on kind of pace of decisions. But if what you're asking is have we seen activity hold up here and then a significant decline in activity levels around just trying to win business in a particular area that we have not seen. We still see strength across the board as far as the activity levels that we're seeing right now.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Mark Marostica of Piper Jaffray. Please proceed.

Mark Vitovitch – Piper Jaffray & Co.

Hi. It's actually Mark Vitovitch for Marostica. Just to follow on that last question, obviously, most of your peers have seen slowing decision making earlier than October. So, I'm just curious if you could be little more specific where you're seeing it now, both geographically by industry and particularly what you're seeing interactive marketing? If you can speak to your top five clients, particularly Sprint, sort of what are they talking about in terms of budget, spending levels, that type of thing. Thanks.

Alan Herrick

Yes. If you look from a European basis, a Canadian basis or a US basis, it's fairly similar to what we see right now. And I can't speak to what others are seeing. I can only speak to what we're seeing, but in the beginning of October, there definitely was more of a wholesale thoughtfulness that based on the bill being rejected in the House, and clients say what's really happening here, just more of a alert factor to reexamine their spending and what they're doing as they're going in live time into their budget season right now. So, I think that definitely caused the stall that we saw in the beginning of October. Then as I mentioned, then we saw that activity start to flow back into the business as clients got through that and the environment got slightly more stable, is the best language I could use than it was and I think there still remains great uncertainty in how clients will continue overall with their budgeting, but we're obviously watching that very closely.

Now, to your interactive question, we have seen quite an uptick in the interactive activity early on here. So, there's definitely kind of a wholesale effect in early October, then interactive especially on the marketing services side on the interactive ad dollars, the campaign management, that side of the business. We're definitely seeing a lot of activity that's noticeably an increase for us. Now, what we're watching is will that get decided, right? So, activity is one thing. Decisions are another thing. There's also a thought process that we have is, there is a consolidation move afoot, at least on several of our clients on the marketing side, that said it was great to work with five or six or seven small companies. In this environment I need to be more efficient, I need to manage my costs better and I want to consolidate more of my marketing spend with a player that can handle larger dollars.

And on the marketing side of the business, we're a large player, very differently than our consulting side of the business. So, I do see that where we've seen several conversations anecdotally that things are being pitched, things are being repitched and put out for agency bid to consolidate more dollars to one player and remove dollars out of the equation, and that's definitely been a trend over the last five weeks or six weeks for us. So, that pickup we're clearly seeing, which could be a different driver as I just outlined there.

Mark Vitovitch – Piper Jaffray & Co.

Okay. I guess, maybe dive into that a little deeper, specifically as it relates to your top five clients, can you just speak to what you're hearing or seeing from them? And then, just as it relates to your slowing comment how you would characterize that in the U.S. versus Europe, and if there is any country specific risk you see in Europe and if you have the exposure there?

Alan Herrick

You have 16 questions in there, but I'll do my best.

Mark Vitovitch – Piper Jaffray & Co.

Thanks.

Alan Herrick

Again, on the Europe, US side, I think for us, the effect that we saw in early October and kind of the overall just kind of thoughtful decision making where there's a little longer – or little slower pacing, we really haven't at least at this point discerned any difference between Europe, North America on that basis. On the basis of – now I'm actually losing your second question.

Joseph Tibbetts

Major clients.

Alan Herrick

Major clients. I think we're watching that very closely, but there – on a budget basis across our clients right now, we've seen a little bit of everything but you're kind of in that process right now. We really don't have much on it. It's a very small sample of what we have right now. That obviously a point on question that we're watching very closely, but I think that reads going to really come to fruition in the next 6 weeks to 10 weeks here as they get through that cycle. We'll know more, but don't really have anything meaningful on that basis yet.

Mark Vitovitch – Piper Jaffray & Co.

Okay. Very good. Thank you.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Jason Kupferberg of UBS. Please proceed.

Jason Kupferberg – UBS

Thanks, and good evening guys.

Alan Herrick

Hi, Jason, how are you?

Joseph Tibbetts

Hi, Jason.

Jason Kupferberg – UBS

Good. Thanks. And just couple of questions. What's your sense, just given all the uncertainty, when you think clients may be in a position to better finalize their '09 budget so that you guys can get a better idea how your business will look next year?

Alan Herrick

My sense on that was different than we know, but my sense is clients were more clear this year than last year. Now, again this is specific to us. If you remember what we said last year is that it took clients a long time to budget for the kind of work we do. We saw a slower January and February we saw things pick up in March. Some of the other companies that you talked to saw a different effect, but that's what happened for us. For us in this cycle, it seems like clients are much clearer about budgeting. They know the environment that they're in, and they know there is obviously pressures on that environment and things at least at this point appear to be much more on schedule, because in a normal year you'd be budgeting and finalizing your budgeting now, as you roll into 2009, and on that basis as far as scheduling the budget and completing it, that seems more typical, than what we've seen in past years, where last year was more atypical. Now, the question is what will they spend, and what areas will they spend it in, but they seem more on schedule this year is our read.

Jason Kupferberg – UBS

So, I guess the way to maybe sum that up little bit is that from kind of a planning and an intention standpoint you guys feel pretty good, but obviously the magic question is when will pipeline convert to sale and that's still a bit up in the air.

Alan Herrick

Right. I think, obviously, as the clients get through that process you'll have a clearer view and as that shapes out across our client base, correct.

Jason Kupferberg – UBS

Okay. And a question for you, Joe, on currency. If all the FX rates that matter to you guys were to stay at their current levels, how much of a revenue headwind would there be in 2009?

Joseph Tibbetts

Well, we're not going to give you guidance on 2009, but what happens is any revenue headwind would then be largely offset in the expense structure, and now our hedge on the British pound, assuming we go forward with that and if the world continued to look as volatile around currency we would. So, the bottom line impact would not be all that dramatic, as it has not been for those currencies as we've moved through some pretty dramatic unprecedented changes here. So, without giving you specifics on which currencies and which – there's just too many scenarios you can come up with as to which currencies move how, but I just would assure you that we're able to endure the revenue part of it because of the expense structure and distribution we have in those same currencies.

Jason Kupferberg – UBS

Thanks.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Ashwin Shirvaikar. Please proceed.

Ashwin Shirvaikar – Citigroup

Hi, guys.

Alan Herrick

Hi, Ashwin.

Joseph Tibbetts

Hi, Ashwin.

Ashwin Shirvaikar – Citigroup

Nice quarter. I was looking for some information if you could provide it with regards to the relative margin contribution from interactive versus consulting.

Alan Herrick

Yes. I think that the color I could give you on that is it really depends more on the – where we're competing on the value chain. So if you look at strategy work on the consulting side, marketing strategy work on the interactive side, they tend to have similar patterns. If you get more – if you look at more offshore style services, they might have similar patterns, whether they're in interactive or consulting, but I think it's a little more dependent on are you selling the financial services, energy services, are you selling to retail or media and then where are you selling on the value chain. And I think as we've netted out in the past, they both have – if you kind of try to net that out, there's definitely ebbs and flows in there. So, definitely not 100% true, but they are substantially similar in their pattern.

Ashwin Shirvaikar – Citigroup

Okay. So where I was trying to go with that was, you mentioned obviously some impact of pricing, some impact of utilization. That seemed to imply that maybe the benefit that you saw in this quarter to margins might have come more from the consulting side. Would that be a wrong assumption? Would there be –

Alan Herrick

Yes. The benefit – just looking at my notes here, but the benefit is pretty balanced across consulting and interactive margin improvement across both sides of the business.

Ashwin Shirvaikar – Citigroup

Okay. And just to go back to, I guess, couple people have asked, I'm trying to ask in a different way, if you see weakness and end up towards the lower end of your guidance range for this quarter, where would you expect that weakness to be, in which part of the business? Not just exactly versus consulting, but what kind of functions? What's selling nowadays and what's not?

Alan Herrick

Yes. I think as we said in the areas that we've outlined that are kind of our fundamental growth strategy in consulting where I talk about TRM and government and other things, but also on the interactive side we've said we definitely see some up tick in activity around marketing services, but if you look at interactive and consulting, so far the pattern right now appears to be similar overall as far as what we see out there in Q4. And I guess what we're thoughtful about is just kind of a broad delay. Now, as the quarter evolves, you may see differences in that, Ashwin, to your point. But, as of right now, if you look at our funnel strength by interactive or consulting or you look at our consulting sub-buckets or you look at our interactive five – our five sub-buckets in interactive, we're not seeing any noticeable pattern where there is anything that's obviously off other than natural ebb and flow. The concern is just an overall slower deciding and decision process by our clients that we certainly saw in the beginning of October. Now, again we'll see how that unfolds because everyday you wake up you have some new event in the global economy, but if you're asking me the facts what we see in our pipe right now, those are the facts.

Ashwin Shirvaikar – Citigroup

Okay. Thanks.

Alan Herrick

Thanks, Ashwin.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Rod Bourgeois of Bernstein. Please proceed.

Alan Herrick

Hi, Rod.

Rod Bourgeois – Sanford C. Bernstein

Hey, there. Hey, I recognize all the uncertainty given the macro environment. That all makes sense. Can you specify where you're seeing the biggest uncertainty? Is it with respect to existing deals that may get cut or maybe the plug pulled midstream, or is it mostly with new deals? It seems like it's mostly a new deal issue rather than an existing deal issue, but I wanted to inquire about that to see if there's any risk with existing clients that are in pain.

Alan Herrick

Yes. We haven't seen any trend on existing clients to your point. Again, everybody is examining their budgets, making some decisions, and again my comments are I did mention that there are several opportunities where we are actually in there and have some opportunity to take share because of this environment. So, we're watching that pattern very closely. I think that consolidation is an advantage on the interactive side of the business as companies look for more efficiency, but as of – they're still re-upping their spending for next year. So, you've got to choose your marketing budget, you've got to choose your overall consulting budget on whatever particular assignment or TRM. So, again we see lots of activity, and again when you look at our recurring revenue and you look at our house accounts there's definitely a little different level of insight that we have on that, to your point, which is clients that we worked with, clients that we have locked deals with that obviously we can see and feel a little better with. But to that extent, I do agree with your point.

Rod Bourgeois – Sanford C. Bernstein

Got it. And do you expect your pricing power to hold up in Q4 or is some of the guidance for lower margins in Q4, particularly at the low-end of the Q4 guidance range, is some of that an assumption that pricing may falter a little bit?

Alan Herrick

Well, I think what we look at right now is we've been able to improve pricing quite a bit over the last five quarters or six odd quarters, and as we look forward into Q4, we think it's still a good pricing environment for us, but we're thoughtful about this environment and what might happen if you get any players that are desperate, they can obviously put some pricing pressure into the market. And obviously, broadly got clients looking for pricing or efficiency gains, they don't care how they get it. They're just looking for more effective generally overall. So I think we are recognizing that that's part of the backdrop here, and we've just got to think that through. I don't think we know that to be true, but obviously, there's a back drop of saving money and cost savings and increasing efficiencies and that's part of our thinking.

Rod Bourgeois – Sanford C. Bernstein

Alright. Thanks, guys.

Alan Herrick

Alright. Thanks, Rod.

Joseph Tibbetts

Thanks, Rod.

Operator

I'm showing no further questions in the queue. I'd like to now turn the call over to Mr. Alan Herrick, CEO.

Alan Herrick

Great. Thank you. So, again, just to quickly recap, very pleased with our Q3 operating performance, and obviously we're seeing some headwinds in the environment as we look in Q4. But again, at the top end of our range Q4 would be business as usual, and everything that we'd want to happen. The bottom end would definitely represent some softness in decision making, but I do also want to remind you that we do think that the fundamental growth drivers for Sapient are intact. The offline to online shift is a meaningful idea for us, not just in the short-term, but also in the long-term. Many drivers in consulting where you use technology for advantage, which is more standard fare these days, there's certainly not been a bubble of spending in any of these areas. So, we think it's been rational spending, and people will be pragmatic about it, but we think that still bodes well for us, and there's just an amazing amount of change in financial services, and we're in a spot where we think we can compete and capitalize on some of those opportunities and of course, having an offshore angle to our 61% of our effort offshore to augment not just our consulting, but also, that idea to interactive is an important idea in this environment and an idea that absolutely nobody can offer. So we're definitely going to look to compete on that basis, but again, real pleased with the performance and appreciate everybody joining in the call. Thank you.

Operator

Thank you for your participation in today's conference. This concludes the presentation. You may now disconnect. Have a great day.

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Source: Sapient Corporation Q3 2008 Earnings Call Transcript
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