The stock stalled out after Salesforce reported its fiscal first-quarter results in mid-May. In fact, CRM can't get through $92. The company's second-quarter report will likely be pivotal for the CRM bulls out there.
Investors are concerned about two things: billings growth and margins.
As Salesforce has grown larger, it is becoming more seasonal. After the first-quarter report, the company implied second-quarter billings growth of 16% year over year, which was lower than the 18% most investors were expecting.
In the quarterly slide presentation, second-quarter deferred revenue is expected to be down 7% sequentially, while revenue was guided to a range of $2.51 billion to $2.52 billion. Add it all up and it means deferred revenue could be down more than $350 million this quarter, compared to down $180 million last year.
Investors are expecting a strong quarter, and theoretically Salesforce could deliver 19-20% billings growth, which would put to rest any slowdown concerns.
If the company can deliver a better billings quarter, it will be because it will steal billings from the third quarter. Built into most analyst models is an assumption that third-quarter billings will range from 12% to 14%. And that's OK, because it would set up Salesforce for a big fourth quarter.
As for the other investor concern -- margins -- first-quarter non-GAAP operating margins fell 126 basis points to 13.3%. Analysts are expecting operating margins to widen 80-100 basis points sequentially this quarter. Indeed, operating margins are expected to be up more than 200 basis points in the second half versus the first half of the year.
Operating margins should rise into next year as Salesforce gains operating leverage over its expenses. Total operating expenses are projected to fall from 68% of revenue in fiscal 2015 (fiscal years end in February) to 60-61% in the current year.
Right now, the consensus is expecting revenue of $2.51 billion (up 23%) and earnings of $0.32 per share for the second quarter. For the full year, analysts are modeling EPS of $1.30 and revenue of $10.28 billion (up 22.5%).
If the investment community is wrong and Salesforce simply delivers an in-line quarter, the stock will likely stay trapped in the low $90s as investors keep worrying about billings growth and margins.
A strong quarter would put to rest these concerns, however, and bust the stock out of the $92 area and higher. New product announcements and the anticipation of a bullish November analyst meeting could push CRM into overdrive.
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This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.