Infosys: How the balance is tilting towards growth from margins

Infy watchers expected the company’s margins to go up on the back of higher utilisation and weaker currency

NS Ramnath
Published: 11, Oct 2013

I have been with Forbes India since August 2008. I like writing about ideas, events and people at the intersection of business, society and technology. Prior, I was with Economic Times. I am based in Bangalore. Email: ns.ramnath@gmail.com

Infosys gave the clearest indication in the last few years that it is putting growth ahead of its obsession with maintaining margins.

The favorite indicator for Infosys watchers is of course the guidance. Infosys has always been conservative about it - almost always trying to outperform the number. Today, it revised its 2014 revenue guidance upwards to 9-10% from 6-10% earlier. The higher end of guidance hasn't changed. But it's still important for two reasons. One, markets often guage performance based on the mid point, and the mid point has moved a few notches higher. Two, the lower range indicates management's confidence. Besides, Q2 revenues beat estimates by analysts and the stock market responded by pushing the stock up by over 5%.

Yet another indicator that Infosys watchers look at is SD Shibulal's major theme. Shibulal tends to repeat certain words that reflect his own thinking. A few quarter back it was 'we are running a marathon', and then it was 'cautious optimism'. This time it's probably growth - based on his statements to press so far. (He will be addressing a press conference later in the day).

The third indicator relates to what Infosys says about margins. Infy watchers expected the company's margins to go up on the back of higher utilisation and weaker currency. Utilisation in fact increased by 130 basis points to 73.7%, and the currency story is well known. However, the margins remained flat quarter on quarter, and actually declined year on year. (In part because of $35 million provision towards visa issues, and in part because of wage hikes.)

This should also be seen in the background of the management commentary. While they continue to talk about growth plus margins, there is a subtle change. The obsession is no longer about quarter on quarter margins, but about margins over time. Which means, Infosys will be willing to let go of margins for a few quarters provided it evens out over several quarters.

While this might seem obvious for growth oriented companies, in case of Infosys it was a huge mindset challenge. The mindset was shaped at a time when the underlying demand momentum gave it the growth, and its obsession with margins gave it a huge premium in the stock market. When the momentum slowed, it looked as if they lost the path, and the managers were unwilling to change the policies - partly because many of them were made and championed by NR Narayana Murthy and also because those gave them huge success in the past.

Now that NR Narayana Murthy is back in the drivers seat, it's easier for Infosys to change them.

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