Marc Benioff, co-founder and CEO of Salesforce, speaks at an Economic Club of Washington luncheon in Washington, DC, on Oct. 18, 2019.
Nicholas Kamm | AFP | Getty Images
Salesforce shares surged nearly 12% on Thursday, enjoying their biggest single-day rally since August 2020, after the cloud software vendor issued earnings and guidance that trounced analysts’ estimates.
The results show the company, led by co-founder Marc Benioff, is making concessions to activist investors who have built stakes in the business and have raised concerns lately about the company’s revenue and income performance.
After the close of regular trading on Wednesday, Salesforce reported fiscal fourth-quarter adjusted earnings of $1.68 per share, 23% higher than the consensus among analysts polled by Refinitiv. Its earnings forecast for the 2024 fiscal year was 22% higher than expected.
In addition, finance chief Amy Weaver told analysts on a conference call that Salesforce sees a 27% adjusted operating margin for the 2024 fiscal year, meaning the company is two years ahead of schedule with its profitability improvement.
Alongside the earnings report, Salesforce said it’s working with Bain on a business review, and the company announced the elimination of the board’s committee on mergers and acquisitions. That prompted praise from prominent activist Elliott Management, which disclosed a stake in January.
Activists have been ramping up pressure on Benioff to bolster margins as revenue growth slows and the company reckons with dilution from high-priced acquisitions like Tableau and Slack.
“These steps are consistent with our recommendations, and we believe they will help restore value at Salesforce,” Elliott’s Jesse Cohn and Jason Genrich said in a statement.
Salesforce also beat on fourth-quarter revenue, reporting 14% year-over-year growth to $8.38 billion, topping the average analyst estimate of $7.99 billion, according to Refinitiv.
“Wow, what an amazing end of the fiscal year,” Kash Rangan, a Goldman Sachs analyst, said on Wednesday’s earnings call, before before asking his question. “Congratulations to the team. Much, much, much, much better than expected. Brighter days ahead.”
Rangan, who recommends buying the stock, raised his 12-month price target for the second time in a week after the report. More than two dozen other analysts increased their targets as well. The new average price target, at $213.02, is 14% higher than where the stock ended trading on Thursday.
Evercore’s Kirk Materne, one of the analysts who raised their target, wrote “there has always been plenty of optionality for CRM around margins, but until now, it has been a trickle, not a step function move.” Materne has a buy rating on the stock.
Needham analysts led by Scott Berg upgraded the shares to a buy from hold.
“Six years on the sidelines is a long time in our universe but here we are, upgrading CRM to Buy as we believe its FY24 profitability guidance better aligns its cost structure with its intermediate term growth outlook,” they wrote.
After plunging 48% last year amid the tumble in the cloud software sector, Salesforce is now up 41% in 2023 and is trading at its highest level since August.
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