Updated from 4:37 p.m. EDTAccenture ( ACN) posted fourth-quarter results Thursday that exceeded analysts' estimates and announced a long-anticipated dividend. The information technology service provider said net income rose to $229.1 million, or 38 cents a share, from $183 million, or 30 cents a share, a year earlier. Net revenue grew to $3.92 billion from $3.42 billion in the same quarter last year. The EPS figure beat by two pennies the consensus estimate of 36 cents gathered by Thomson First Call; revenue results also exceeded analysts' average expectations of $3.85 billion. For the first quarter, Accenture expects net revenue of $4.0 billion to $4.2 billion and earnings of 32 cents to 34 cents a share under generally accepted accounting principles. Analysts were expecting earnings of 37 cents, excluding stock options, on $4.07 billion in revenue. As expected, Accenture said it expects net revenue growth in fiscal year 2006 to range from 9% to 12% in local currency. GAAP earnings are expected to range from $1.45 to $1.50 a share, including stock-based charges. Analysts were expecting full-year earnings at $1.62 a share excluding stock charges on sales of $16.88 billion, which represents annual sales growth of 8.5%. Accenture will start expensing stock options in fiscal 2006. Had the company expensed options in fiscal '05 the impact would have been 16 cents a share. Including that expense and removing a one-time benefit of 12 cents a share from a reduction in reorganization liabilities, Accenture's 2005 earnings would have fallen to $1.28 from $1.56 a share. Assuming stock charges are the same next year and split equally among the four quarters, Accenture's first-quarter earnings would range from 36 cents to 38 cents a share excluding stock charges and its full-year earnings would range from $1.61 to $1.66 a share.
The midpoint of the first-quarter earnings range falls in line with analyst expectations, while the midpoint of the full-year earnings range slightly exceeds the consensus estimate. Accenture also declared its first cash dividend, of 30 cents a share for shareholders of record Monday, Oct. 17. The annual dividend will be payable Nov. 15. The dividend yield comes to 1.2% -- lower than what some investors and analysts had been hoping for. But the company hinted in a postclose conference call that it could increase dividends going forward and reduce its share buybacks. Accenture bought back $542 million of its shares in the fourth quarter and $1.6 billion in fiscal 2005. In the fourth quarter, Accenture's consulting net revenue was $2.38 billion, an increase of 11% in U.S. dollars and 10% in local currency from a year earlier. Outsourcing accounted for $1.55 billion of revenue, an increase of 21% in U.S. dollars and 20% in local currency in the same period last year. Accenture reported $5.16 billion in total new bookings in the fourth quarter, the highest in six quarters and slightly higher than the approximately $5.15 billion expected by analysts. Consulting accounted for $2.42 billion, or 47%, of quarterly new bookings, and outsourcing accounted for $2.74 billion, or 53%, of quarterly new bookings. Bookings for full-year fiscal 2005 totaled $18.03 billion, at the low end of the company's targeted range of $18 billion to $20 billion. Consulting accounted for 54% of new bookings and outsourcing accounted for 46%. Accenture forecast that bookings in fiscal 2006 would range from $19 billion to $21 billion. Accenture reported a 13% fourth-quarter operating margin, meeting its previously stated goal. The company's gross margin increased to 33% from 32.4% in the same quarter a year ago -- the first year-over-year increase since the fourth quarter of 2002.
Like its rivals Accenture, is stepping up its presence in India to tap the outsourcing market, but the move has raised concerns about cannibalizing business. The company has 16,000 employees in India today and hired about 1,500 in the fourth quarter to support its Indian operations. Company executives maintain that the outsourcing work in India extends Accenture's presence in areas such as application management that it would not have sought otherwise. Shares of Accenture gained 30 cents, or 1.2%, to close the regular session at $25.25. The stock moved up 50 cents, or 2%, to $25.75 in recent after-hours trading.