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Accenture: Growing Dividend, Attractive Valuation

Accenture is a management consulting, technology and outsourcing services company that offers a growing dividend (currently a 2% dividend yield), and an attractive valuation indicating significant price appreciation potential. The shares have fallen over 5% in the last two weeks making for a more attractive buying opportunity for long-term investors. We own shares of Accenture in our Blue Harbinger Disciplined Growth Strategy.


For starters, here is a view of Accenture’s growing dividend payments:

Accenture shifted from annual to semi-annual payments in 2010, so the dip in the chart is NOT a dividend cut, the annual dividend actually increased during this period.

We like Accenture for a variety of reasons. For example, as we’ve written in the past:

An Attractive Business Model:

We love Accenture’s business model.  It is ideal because its workforce has the ability to change dramatically, quickly and smoothly to meet demand.  Much of the global workforce is still stuck on this idea that a company hires a person, that person works for 40 years, gets a gold watch, and then retires.  That model is not efficient or even realistic for much of today’s world.  Accenture is hired by companies for a specific time period (often several months at a time, to several years at a time) to complete a specific project or task, and that’s it.  It’s often unrealistic for companies to hire full time employees just to complete a specific project because the company has no need for them when the project is complete.  Accenture solves this problem because when a project for one company is complete, Accenture sends its people to work on a project for another company (many Accenture people travel domestically and internationally on a regular basis).  It’s this adaptable, mobile workforce that enables Accenture to meet the needs of its clients, and it is an ideal business model for today’s rapidly changing business environment.

Accenture's Value Proposition:

Accenture brings high quality people with specialized skills to complete specific client projects, and then the Accenture team gets out.  It prevents the client from hiring full time employees and then laying them off, and it allows the client to benefit from the very specific skill sets and experiences that Accenture people bring.  Accenture is not cheap, but client companies regularly find Accenture’s services worthwhile from a dollars and cents perspective.  Management is willing to pay for Accenture because of the improvements and successes they are able to achieve with the help of Accenture.

Exceptional People and Culture:

Accenture’s greatest asset is its people.  The company’s diverse and inclusive workforce combined with its opportunities for upward career advancement enables Accenture to attract some very bright people.  The typical Accenture employee is in their twenties or early thirties, enjoys living in one of the large cities where Accenture offices are typically located, and is willing (even excited) to travel domestically or internationally to client sites.  Obviously, not all employees fit this typical description (some are older, and many positions don’t require travel) but many of them do, and it fits well within the workforce.  There tends to be a pyramid shaped workforce where younger workers make up the majority of the bottom of the pyramid, and there are a lower number of employees as you move up the ranks.  This works well for Accenture because as many employees get older and want to settle down with families they depart Accenture for less demanding jobs.  This natural attrition helps Accenture manage its workforce when demand is low because natural attrition is generally easier and cheaper than layoffs.  And when demand increases, Accenture’s culture and business model enable it to quickly attract additional high caliber, hard-working, determined people.  The high quality workforce model also enables Accenture to perform at a higher level than many other companies, which is part of the reason we believe the company is such a great investment.

Brand Name:

Having a strong brand name is one of the most valuable assets in business because it allows you to attract employees and customers, and it allows you to charge a premium for your services.  Accenture is not usually a recognizable name to the average person walking down the street, but within the ranks of corporate America, Accenture is a very strong brand name. A long history of delivering exceptional performance to clients is the number one reason Accenture’s brand name is strong (the Accenture brand name has been around since 2001, but the company existed long before that).  There are other important contributors to Accenture’s strong brand name such as the diverse and inclusive workforce which often receives praise from the media.  For example, Accenture was named one of the 100 best companies to work for in 2015.

According to its website, Accenture takes: “the widest possible view of inclusion and diversity, going beyond gender, race, religion, ethnicity, abilities, sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to create an environment that welcomes all forms of differences. Every employee is a respected member of our team; we value individual similarities and differences, recognizing them as the thousands of diverse pieces—or tiles—that contribute to our entire mosaic.”

According to Chief Executive Officer, Pierre Nanterme, Accenture: “gives clients access to a rich range of talent, representing different styles, perspectives and experiences. This diversity is a critical strength that we work hard to maintain and foster. It makes us a better company on every dimension.”

Financial Strength:

A quick look at Accenture’s balance sheet reveals it has almost zero long-term debt.  This demonstrates the company hasn’t required debt to grow its business recently, but they do have the ability to take on debt in the future if need be. Since the company does not produce actual products (it’s a service company) there is no need for large capital expenditures to enable growth (other than an occasional office upgrade – Accenture had only $395 million of capital expenditures in fiscal 2015 on an enormous $3.7 billion in free cash flow).  It’s nice to know the company is not burdened with massive amounts of debt. Accenture also has $4.4 billion of cash on hand to meet liquidity needs.  The strong balance sheet and cash flow also allows Accenture to comfortably maintain its 2% dividend and repurchase shares as management stewards capital.

Valuation:

A quick discounted cash flow model suggest Accenture it would not be unreasonable for Accenture to trade at $131 per share, giving it nearly 20% upside versus its current share price. We calculate this by discounting the firm’s $3.7 in annual free cash flow by its 8.45% weighted average cost of capital minus a 5% growth rate (according to Yahoo Finance, analysis expect Accenture’s earnings to grow at 10% for each of the next five years).

Risk:

The number one largest risk to Accenture’s business is anything that could hurt its brand name. Because it doesn’t actually produce products (it’s a services company), a lawsuit or bad publicity could destroy the company’s ability to attract new business.  Accenture knows this lesson very well because of its history. Accenture was formerly part of Arthur Andersen, an accounting firm that was completely destroyed a little over a decade ago when the fraudulent actions of a few partners destroyed the company’s reputation and forced it to lay off thousands of employees and go completely out of business.  Accenture separated from Arthur Andersen several years before the scandal.  Accenture was known as Andersen Consulting when it first separated and then brilliantly changed its name to Accenture before the Arthur Andersen scandal allowing it to avoid unnecessary fallout from Arthur Andersen.  As another example of Accenture’s extreme aversion to bad publicity look to the Tiger Woods example. Tiger Woods was paid huge sums of money to be the face of Accenture’s advertising and marketing initiatives, until a few years ago when news of Tiger’s indiscretions hit the news. Tiger’s face had been pasted all over Accenture’s website and advertisements around the world, but within hours of the news Accenture’s leadership decided to drop Tiger Woods and remove his image from everything as quickly as possible.  This is a perfect example of how committed Accenture’s leadership is to protecting its pristine brand name, and of the lengths it will go to defend it.  Accenture leadership gets it.

Conclusion:

Accenture is a well-run, highly-profitable business, with a workforce well-suited for a rapidly evolving marketplace.  It also offers and attractive and growing dividend payment. Its stock price ($109.88/share) is also inexpensive relative to our valuation ($131/share).  We believe the market continues to underappreciate Accenture’s ability to deliver and its overall value.  We own shares of Accenture in our Blue Harbinger Disciplined Growth strategy.

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