3 Risks Facing Accenture Plc

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Accenture Plc (NYSE: ACN) has failed to keep up with the market over the past year, but it has handily outpaced the S&P 500 during the recovery that began in March 2009.

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Much of Accenture's success can be attributed to a strong technology industry and smart capital allocation by its leadership team. The stock price may have gotten ahead of itself during the economic recovery, hence the lackluster returns over the past year -- but despite failing to beat the market over the past 12 months, there's little reason to believe investors should be worried about the consulting firm's prospects over the long term.

However, that doesn't mean Accenture is immune to risks. Let's look at some of the things that may keep Accenture from continuing its strong performance.

Economic downturn

Accenture's current business prospects are solid. New bookings came in at $9.8 billion in its latest quarter, up 7% over the same period last year, with consulting bookings making up more than 50% of the total. However, investors can expect that growth to stall or even reverse during a slowing economy. Client spending for Accenture's services is often discretionary, and when it's time to cut costs, consulting work may be first on the chopping block. For that reason, a serious global downturn could hit Accenture harder than it may other companies. 

Acquisition risk

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To say Accenture has been on acquisition binge is an understatement. According to data from Crunchbase, Accenture has announced 17 acquisitions halfway through 2017. It's already approaching the 19 total acquisitions it made last year. For perspective, competitors IBM and Cognizant Technology Solutions have only made two acquisitions each this year.

Most of Accenture's acquisitions have been of smaller, niche consultants that it should be able to bring under its umbrella without any trouble. It's focusing on what it calls "The New," its digital cloud and security-related services, and so far the strategy has had mixed results. "The New" now accounts for over 50% of Accenture's revenue, compared with 40% just one year ago. However, that performance has come at the expense of profitability, as returns on capital have hit depths not seen over the past decade.

Employee culture and satisfaction

According to Glassdoor, over 80% of Accenture's employees would recommend the company to a friend, and 95% approve of CEO Pierre Nanterme. But those numbers could change quickly if the company were to make acquisitions that don't fit the Accenture mold.

Another risk to employee satisfaction is the company's recent decision to eliminate its U.S. pension plan. Given the cost to maintain defined benefit plans, the move was not a surprise, but it could have an effect on employee retention. Accenture's attrition rate did jump from 12% in Q2 of fiscal 2017 to 15% in Q3, but that's not enough data to draw any conclusions yet. The company also reported 15% and 16% attrition in Q3 and Q4 of the fiscal year 2016, before it dropped to 12% in the first quarter of 2017.

Accenture is a relatively low-risk company with steady growth and consistent investment returns. However, the risks discussed here should be front and center when making an investment decision about the company.

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Palbir Nijjar has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Cognizant Technology Solutions. The Motley Fool recommends Accenture. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.