Salesforce.com Shares Spike On Solid 3Q Results

by Larry Barrett

The on-demand business applications provider watched its stock shoot up 10 percent Friday following its third-quarter earnings report.

Salesforce.com shares rallied up $6.56 a share, or 13 percent, to close at $57.35, a day after the company topped analyst estimates in its third quarter and raised its full-year sales and earnings estimates.

On Thursday, the provider of on-demand customer relationship management (CRM) posted a profit of $6.5 million, or 5 cents a share, on sales of $192.8 million.

Analysts were expecting Salesforce.com to return a profit of 3 cents a share in the quarter.

The $192.8 million in sales represents a 48 percent improvement from the $130 million in sales it recorded in the year-ago period and a nine percent increase from the second quarter.

"Q3 was a tremendous quarter," CEO Marc Benioff said during a conference call with analysts Thursday evening. "We're looking forward to a strong Q4 and to becoming the first-ever $1 billion, on-demand company."

Last quarter, Salesforce.com posted a profit of $3.7 million, or 3 cents a share, on sales of $176.5 million.

In the quarter, Salesforce.com landed a contract with Citigroup to provide its financial adviser desktop to more than 30,000 advisers, the largest deal in the company's eight-year history. Benioff said the Citigroup deal is the company's fifth 25,000-plus subscriber account and represents "an incredible endorsement" and proves Salesforce.com's "multi-application, multi-category platform strategy is working."

In addition to the impressive third-quarter results, Saleforce.com bumped up its forecast for the remainder of its fiscal year and is now projecting earnings of between 12 cents and 13 cents a share on sales of between $737 million and $739 million. Analysts were expecting earnings of 10 cents a share on sales of $727 million to $732 million.

Last week, Cowen & Co. analyst Peter Goldmacher issued a research report cautioning that sluggish pro forma operating margins and escalating sales and marketing expenses makes the stock a risky proposition at its current valuation.

On Friday, Goldmacher said he was maintaining his "neutral" rating on the stock, writing "we wouldn't be surprised to see support at the current valuation. While we expect 4Q to be seasonally strong, we prefer a more cautious approach to optimistic growth targets…If IT budgets come under pressure next year, which we view as highly likely, we don't expect CRM, PRM and Force.com to garner the healthy budgets they've gathered over the last three years."

RBC Capital Markets analyst Robert Breza raised his 12-month price target on Salesforce.com shares to $55 a share from $45 a share, but maintained his "sector perform" rating and called the company's 2009 guidance "uninspiring." Cantor Fitzgerald's Mark Verbeck reiterated his "hold" rating and raised his price target to $61 a share from $58 a share while Friedman, Billings, Ramsey analyst David Hilal left his "underperform" rating unchanged.

  This article was originally published on Saturday Nov 17th 2007
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