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Cognizant Q2 2014 Results: Delivers on Revenues, Margins, But Share Price Falls on Reduced Guidance. Over-Reaction, We Feel

So why has Cognizant’s share price taken such a battering today, after such strong topline growth (16.5%, at the mid-point of prior guidance) and a non-GAAP operating margin of 21%, above the company’s target range of 19% to 20%? (see here).

Quite simply because of the revised revenue guidance for 2014 from growth of at least 16.5% to at least 14%. This is a huge cut of ~$220m (from ~$10.3bn to ~$10.08bn), all of which coming in H2. This forecasts:

  • Q3 as having the lowest y/y topline growth since we started tracking Cognizant’s financials over a decade ago (at around 10.6% to 11.9%)
  • H2 overall as coming in at around 10.3% growth, a big drop from the 18.1% achieved in H1.

CEO D’Souza highlights two main factors contributing to the reduced guidance:

  • A small number of U.S. and U.K. clients experiencing difficulties, leading to lower discretionary spending
  • Longer than anticipated sales cycles for certain large integrated deals.

Of these, the largest relates to client-specific issues at a handful of clients. The implications in the earnings call were that these were temporary issues but in at least one case (including a U.K. retail sector client), we believe Cognizant has lost business to an Indian competitor.

On a positive note, Cognizant has been selected for three major outsourcing contracts with a TCV of $3.5bn that it expects will bring in incremental revenue of $200m in 2015. And the new business is all long-term outsourcing ... whereas, if we are correct in our understanding, the business that Cognizant is losing is primarily ADM type activity. These new contracts will help accelerate Cognizant’s revenue mix from being still very dependent on traditional custom applications development projects and application maintenance engagements (activities which we believe have been growing for Cognizant at lower than the company average for some time) to having a greater mix of what the company terms “Horizon Two” (BPO, IT infrastructure management) services, where it was arguably somewhat late in building scale. Similarly, Cognizant was relatively late in investing in Continental Europe, but is now reaping some benefits from its CI Group business unit acquisitions. One of the three new large signings is Vorwerk, a European consumer goods firm.

By far the most important signing in Q3 will be that with Health Net, not just because of its size (at $2.7bn over seven years, the largest in Cognizant’s history), nor because of the breadth of services being provided (BPO plus applications outsourcing and IT infrastructure management), but because it appears that the intention is for Cognizant to leverage the software IP and the delivery capabilities it will acquire with the deal to set up a BPO utility for other U.S. health payors.  This would indeed be transformational for Cognizant - and for the sector.

The third large deal, with an unnamed financial services client, illustrates Cognizant expanding an existing relationship to include both BPO and ITO. Again, now that it has scale in some areas of BPO some areas if industry-specific financial services BPO, F&A) and in IT infrastructure management services, Cognizant is much better positioned to secure complex multi-service outsourcing deals than it was a few years ago.

Cognizant claims its revenues from SMAC services are around $500m per annum: if so, then its Horizon 3 businesses are also gaining traction.

So, the short term loss of revenue is obviously a major setback that will continue to be a headwind in 2015, but recent investments and new wins position Cognizant well to resume stronger topline growth in the mid-term. It certainly claims its pipeline is healthy. We may also see further inorganic growth in Continental Europe.

Finally, Cognizant is contending with offshore attrition by offering a wage hike (10%) that is at the higher end of the industry, a tactic that works well in India.

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