(Bloomberg) -- Infosys Ltd. will return $2 billion to shareholders this year and pledged to raise dividends and stock-buybacks as it deploys more of its cash hoard after delivering a sales outlook that fell short of estimates.
Starting this year, it will begin distributing as much as 70 percent of annual free cash flow, compared with a previous policy of sharing up to half its post-tax profit. The company forecast revenue growth of 6.5 to 8.5 percent for fiscal 2018 on a constant currency basis, lagging analyst projections for growth of 7.2 percent to 9.4 percent. Shares of Infosys fell as much as 2.9 percent in early trade.
Asia’s second-most valuable exporter of software services is re-tooling to shore up margins as businesses cut their IT budgets, a long-term concern that’s depressed its stock for much of the past year. Chief Executive Officer Vishal Sikka is also grappling with a visa crackdown by President Donald Trump that is expected to make it harder to get employees into the U.S. to work for major clients.
“Infosys is facing a lot of industry-level and internal challenges and the Trump administration’s policies with regard to business are adding to the uncertainty,” said Ashutosh Sharma, head of Forrester Research in India. The fourth quarter “is not traditionally a soft quarter and their numbers did not impress.”
Net income rose to 36 billion rupees ($557 million) in the three months ended March, the Bangalore-based company said Thursday, compared with 35.7 billion rupee average of estimates compiled by Bloomberg. Sales came to 171.2 billion rupees, versus the 172.5 billion rupees projected.
Infosys’ revenue outlook is “a tad below street estimates” and the $2 billion return to shareholders isn’t as much as had been expected, Nirmal Bang Equities analyst Girish Pai said by phone.
Businesses have in recent years curbed spending on information technology, seeking cheaper cloud-based alternatives or waiting longer to upgrade hardware. The global IT services market is forecast to grow 2.3 percent in 2017, down from 3.6 percent in 2016, researcher Gartner estimates.
Infosys was the first of India’s IT giants to report earnings, with larger rival Tata Consultancy Services Ltd. due to announce quarterly results next week.
For the sector, strong growth in cloud-based applications and greater investment by companies in digital technologies such as mobile, social and analytics, is leading to a slowdown in the sort of legacy application development work that Infosys and its peers specialize in.
Sikka has also been dealing with an in-house dispute as a group of its high-profile founders clashed with the board over corporate governance issues, while vocal former chairman and co-founder Narayana Murthy publicly criticized a steep salary hike for chief operating officer Pravin Rao.