Salesforce.com (CRM) - Get Report reports second-quarter fiscal 2017 earnings after the bell Wednesday. Wall Street is looking for the company to report revenue of $2.02 billion, up 24%, with 22 cents per share in earnings.
All year investors have been concerned that growth at Salesforce was slowing. The company has been on an acquisition binge. Salesforce gobbled up seven companies this year, including its largest acquisition ever, Demandware. Salesforce paid $2.8 billion for Demandware, which provides cloud commerce software mostly for apparel makers like Lacoste and Crocs.
In the past five years, Salesforce has bought more than 30 companies. Salesforce has been rumored to have offered as much as $200 per share for LinkedIn (LNKD) . Ultimately, Microsoft (MSFT) - Get Report bought LinkedIn for $26 billion, or $196 per share.
And just this month, Salesforce acquired four-year-old 40-personQuip.com for $750 million.
Investors have taken this frantic deal-making as a sign that Salesforce has run out of growth and is flailing around looking for new markets to grow its top line.
They have a point. For fiscal 2017, revenue is expected to grow 22% to $8.1 billion. As early as 2015, Salesforce had revenue growth of 32%. Next year, which is just six months away, revenue is forecast to be up just 18%, which includes all the revenue of these acquisitions.
While the second half of the year is usually seasonally strong for Salesforce, management has to explain its growth plans more clearly if it wants the stock to earn a higher multiple.
Operating margins, for example, have been trending lower. In fiscal 2010, Salesforce had an operating margin of 16.4%. Now the company is estimated to end 2017 with an operating margin of just 12.5%. Gross margins are flat too. In fiscal year 2016, the company had a gross margin of 77.4%. Salesforce is estimated to end this year with a gross margin of 77.2%.
Salesforce is loved by the momentum crowd, but I would stay on the sidelines and wait for an answer as to why the company has to spend $4 billion acquiring startups if it still has plenty of growth left in its main line of business.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.