You have played the quarterly conference call drinking game now it is time to look at the numbers. Is growth still king or has Salesforce moved its gaze towards reining in its costs?
Where Do I Get My Numbers From?
As usual all number are brought to you from the Salesforce detailed financials PDF. If the numbers in this PDF seem at odds to what you heard on the conference call or in the multitude of lazy media updates, this is because the numbers Salesforce push are their non-GAAP numbers. These are numbers which Salesforce believe more accurately reflect the health of their business but are completely unregulated. The numbers I use are the GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles) which use conventions enforced across all companies to ensure meaningful comparisons can be made and to ensure a base set of conventions are used across the reporting.
Try and Explain This GAAP/Non-GAAP Thing To Me One More Time
The biggest controversy is when it comes to profit. The non-GAAP revenue Salesforce reports is similar to the GAAP revenue but Salesforce turns its GAAP loss into a healthy non-GAAP profit. How does this work? The fourth page of the PDF tells all. Here is the summary of the big differences:
- GAAP loss from operations turns into a non-GAAP profit
- GAAP net loss turns into a non-GAAP net income
- GAAP Diluted earnings per share goes from a negative to a non-GAAP positive
The big-ticket item that does this transformation is the ‘stock-based expenses’, at $85 million for the quarter.
What is Stock-Based Expense?
This comes from employee options. An option is a right to buy an share at a certain price at some date. In many companies, Salesforce included, options are given to employees to ‘align them’. The logic goes if an employee has the option to buy stock at a certain price, they are motivated to get the share price as high as possible on the date they can ‘exercise’ the option. The logic is reasonable but, as Warren Buffett points out, the difference between an employee option and a shareholder’s share is the employee spent nothing to get it; they have no skin in the game and nothing to lose.
From a GAAP perspective, working out what to do with options is easy. You value the options as if they have been ‘cashed in’ and treat them as an expense. Because the employee will give you money when they do exercise them, you also include the incoming cash in your cash statement. Other than the fact you have more shares in the pool and have therefore diluted the value of each individual share, everything, cash-wise, balances out.
The biggest difference in Salesforce’s GAAP/non-GAAP reporting is this ‘stock-based expense’. I understand the logic: “To see how sales is going, look at the customer transactions, not the employee transactions”. This is well and good but it does not remove the fact that to generate those customer transactions, options were thrown at employees and those options have a value, otherwise they would not have the power to ‘align’.
Salesforce are big at quoting revenue growth, non-GAAP profit and operating cash flow (see buzzword bingo for details). Revenue growth is real and cannot be denied. However, as mentioned in this article, the operating cash flow Salesforce quotes includes the value of the options value as a positive cash value but the non-GAAP profit does not include the expense. In other words, they recognise the money generated from the options in their reporting but not the expense. This is in no way illegal but can, understandably, cause confusion.
The questions to ask are simple: “If Salesforce reports non-GAAP to more accurately reflect the health of their business, why exclude option expense but include the related cash inflows?” and “If Salesforce are using non-GAAP for another purpose, what is it?”
But enough of my soap-boxing and onto the numbers.
Salesforce Made Another Loss (But Not As Big As It Was Last Quarter)
Salesforce halved their loss this quarter going from a loss of almost $20 million last quarter to $9.8 million this quarter but about double what it was for the same quarter last year. No loss is good so hopefully this is Salesforce turning a corner (as suggested by comparison with the previous quarter) rather than descending further into loss.
Salesforce is Starting to Control its Expenses (Sort Of)
This shows the percentage year on year growth of revenue (red) and costs (green). Before the start of 2010 (2011 Q1) revenue outpaced costs. Then costs started to blow out until their worst around the middle of 2011 (2012 Q2). This quarter gets us back to where we were two years ago with revenues growing faster than costs. Well done Salesforce. Let us hope this trend continues.
Margins, while still in the negatives, are also heading in the right direction, now at –1.34%. Another positive sign, although still negative.
The good news is Microsoft have reported their CRM numbers, now having, as of July 2012, 2.7 million users and 36,000 companies using Dynamics CRM. This means the average company using Dynamics CRM has 75 users, about double my estimated average company size for Salesforce of around 35 users.
My prediction is Microsoft will break through the three million user mark some time around the end of this year (say November to January).
Again, using the Salesforce revenues as a guide, we can estimate the Salesforce subscription base at around 4.9 million users with just shy of 140,000 companies.
The subscription revenue continues to hover around two meaning Salesforce has around twice as many users as Dynamics CRM.
However, the actual difference in the subscriber numbers has flattened, although we have seen this flattening before, as per the chart below, just not for such a long period.
Salesforce is still on shaky financial ground. They are making a loss, but never talk about it, talking about non-GAAP profits and operational cashflows instead. However, costs are not growing as quickly as they were previously and, with revenues still growing there is the possibility Salesforce will return to profit in the future.
In terms of subscription, Microsoft still has about half the users of Salesforce but the difference is flat at around 2.2 million. It will be interesting to see if this difference reduces in the future.
My thoughts are it would be nice for Salesforce to be consistent in the messages they send out i.e. treat the stock-based expense consistently across their measures but that does not make for rosy numbers. However, even if their outward messages cause confusion there does seem to be an effort internally to control expense. Competition is good so the healthier Salesforce can make themselves financially the better for the consumer. As usual, I look forward to the next quarter to see if Salesforce can return to profitability.