Accenture's Business Quality Is Solid

Jul.19.12 | About: Accenture plc (ACN)

As part of our process, we perform a rigorous discounted cash-flow methodology that dives into the true intrinsic worth of companies. In Accenture's (NYSE:ACN) case, we think the firm is fairly valued at $59 per share, near where it is currently trading.

For some background, we think a comprehensive analysis of a firm's discounted cash-flow valuation, relative valuation versus industry peers, as well as an assessment of technical and momentum indicators is the best way to identify the most attractive stocks at the best time to buy. This process culminates in what we call our Valuentum Buying Index, our Valuentum Buying Index (click here for more info on our methodology), which ranks stocks on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the best.

If a company is undervalued both on a DCF and on a relative valuation basis and is showing improvement in technical and momentum indicators, it scores high on our scale. Accenture posts a VBI score of 3 on our scale, reflecting our "fairly valued" DCF assessment, neutral relative valuation vs. peers, and bearish technicals. We use Amdocs (NASDAQ:DOX), IHS, Inc. (IHS), Informatica (NASDAQ:INFA), and Verint (NASDAQ:VRNT) for our peer group analysis.

Our Report on Accenture

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Investment Considerations

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Investment Highlights

Accenture earns a ValueCreation™ rating of Excellent, the highest possible mark on our scale. The firm has been generating economic value for shareholders for the past few years, a track record we view very positively. We expect the firm's return on invested capital (excluding goodwill) to expand to 151.2% from 140.7% during the next two years.

The company looks fairly valued at this time. We expect the firm to trade within our fair value estimate range for the time being. If the firm's share price fell below $44, we'd take a closer look.

Accenture has an excellent combination of strong free cash flow generation and low financial leverage. We expect the firm's free cash flow margin to average about 11% in coming years. Total debt to EBITDA was zero last year, while debt-to-book capitalization stood at 0.1%.

The firm's share price performance has trailed that of the market during the past quarter. However, it is trading within our fair value estimate range, so we don't view such activity as alarming.

The firm sports a very nice dividend yield of 2.2%. We expect the firm to pay out about 35% of next year's earnings to shareholders as dividends. However, we're not considering the firm for addition to the portfolio in our Dividend Growth Newsletter as we think there are better dividend-growth gems out there.

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Economic Profit Analysis

The best measure of a firm's ability to create value for shareholders is expressed by comparing its return on invested capital (ROIC) with its weighted average cost of capital (WACC). The gap or difference between ROIC and WACC is called the firm's economic profit spread. Accenture's three-year historical return on invested capital (without goodwill) is 134.3%, which is above the estimate of its cost of capital of 10.8%. As such, we assign the firm a ValueCreation™ rating of Excellent. In the chart below, we show the probable path of ROIC in the years ahead based on the estimated volatility of key drivers behind the measure. The solid grey line reflects the most likely outcome, in our opinion, and represents the scenario that results in our fair value estimate.

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Cash Flow Analysis

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Firms that generate a free cash flow margin (free cash flow divided by total revenue) above 5% are usually considered cash cows. Accenture's free cash flow margin has averaged about 12.5% during the past three years. As such, we think the firm's cash flow generation is relatively strong. The free cash flow measure shown above is derived by taking cash flow from operations less capital expenditures and differs from enterprise free cash flow (FCFF), which we use in deriving our fair value estimate for the company. For more information on the differences between these two measures, please visit our website at Valuentum.com. At Accenture, cash flow from operations decreased about 2% from levels registered two years ago, while capital expenditures expanded about 66% over the same time period.

Valuation Analysis

Our discounted cash flow model indicates that Accenture's shares are worth between $44.00 - $74.00 each. The margin of safety around our fair value estimate is driven by the firm's Medium ValueRisk™ rating, which is derived from the historical volatility of key valuation drivers. The estimated fair value of $59 per share represents a price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of about 19.2 times last year's earnings and an implied EV/EBITDA multiple of about 9.5 times last year's EBITDA. Our model reflects a compound annual revenue growth rate of 5.6% during the next five years, a pace that is higher than the firm's three-year historical compound annual growth rate of 2.6%. Our model reflects a five-year projected average operating margin of 13.9%, which is above Accenture's trailing three-year average. Beyond year five, we assume free cash flow will grow at an annual rate of 2.2% for the next 15 years and 3% in perpetuity. For Accenture, we use a 10.8% weighted average cost of capital to discount future free cash flows.

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Margin of Safety Analysis

Our discounted cash flow process values each firm on the basis of the present value of all future free cash flows. Although we estimate the firm's fair value at about $59 per share, every company has a range of probable fair values that's created by the uncertainty of key valuation drivers (like future revenue or earnings, for example). After all, if the future was known with certainty, we wouldn't see much volatility in the markets as stocks would trade precisely at their known fair values. Our ValueRisk™ rating sets the margin of safety or the fair value range we assign to each stock. In the graph below, we show this probable range of fair values for Accenture. We think the firm is attractive below $44 per share (the green line), but quite expensive above $74 per share (the red line). The prices that fall along the yellow line, which includes our fair value estimate, represent a reasonable valuation for the firm, in our opinion.

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Future Path of Fair Value

We estimate Accenture's fair value at this point in time to be about $59 per share. As time passes, however, companies generate cash flow and pay out cash to shareholders in the form of dividends. The chart below compares the firm's current share price with the path of Accenture's expected equity value per share over the next three years, assuming our long-term projections prove accurate. The range between the resulting downside fair value and upside fair value in year three represents our best estimate of the value of the firm's shares three years hence. This range of potential outcomes is also subject to change over time, should our views on the firm's future cash flow potential change. The expected fair value of $76 per share in year three represents our existing fair value per share of $59 increased at an annual rate of the firm's cost of equity less its dividend yield. The upside and downside ranges are derived in the same way, but from the upper and lower bounds of our fair value estimate range.

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Pro Forma Financial Statements

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Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.