All geographical segments - North America, Europe and emerging markets - reported growth over the first nine months of the fiscal year. This, despite a rather gloomy context, as spending on consulting services has begun to decline among almost all Fortune 500 companies.
In fact, the Group cut 19,000 jobs earlier this year. This ability to adjust its cost structure rapidly to changing market conditions is the strength of its business model, as we pointed out in our recommendation published last year.
Accenture forecasts slight growth in earnings per share and confirms that it will be able to generate between $8.1 and $8.6 billion in free cash flow in 2023. During the first nine months of the year, in addition to an increased dividend, and unsurprisingly, the Group also spent $3.3 billion on share buy-backs.
Overall, Accenture has taken a new strategic direction. After a decade of exceptional growth under the leadership of the late Pierre Nanterme, entirely self-financed, and a phenomenal return on investment in its M&A activities, the group is now focusing on returns of capital to shareholders.
A sign of top-quality companies: they can finance their growth and very generous shareholder remuneration from cash flow, without recourse to debt or capital increases.
That said, over the coming cycle and under Julie Sweet's leadership, it's a safe bet that the bulk of earnings-per-share growth will come from share buybacks rather than acquisitions. Ms. Sweet has already proved that she is a soft touch in name only: her main mandate will be to deflate margins.
Current valuations remain in line with historical multiples. Over the last ten years, every dip in the share price has been a clear opportunity.