By Narottam Medhora and Stephen Nellis
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Salesforce.com Inc on Thursday forecast current-quarter revenue above analysts' estimates as it closed deals for its cloud-based sales and marketing software with a number of major customers, sending its shares 5 percent higher in extended trade.
The San Francisco-based company has consistently reported double-digit growth in recent quarters as companies shift to cheaper and easier cloud-based products, but it is facing growing competition from Oracle Corp and Microsoft Corp.
"Our checks indicate that Salesforce still has a number of very good secular growth drivers, including selling some of their newer cloud offerings and upselling activity into large customers is robust," said Wedbush Securities analyst Steve Koenig.
The results marked a sharp reversal from the previous quarter, when a lighter-than-expected revenue forecast prompted concerns about slowing growth. But this quarter the company closed large deals with customers including Citigroup Inc and Amazon.com Inc to help it get back on track.
Deferred revenue, a key metric for subscription-based software businesses, rose 23 percent to $3.50 billion in the third quarter. Analysts on average had expected deferred revenue of $3.42 billion, according to research firm FactSet StreetAccount.
"We expect to deliver our first $10 billion-year during our fiscal year 2018," Chief Executive Officer Marc Benioff said in a statement.
Salesforce stock rose 4.8 percent in extended trade to $78.74.
Benioff is looking to broaden the company's cloud offerings through new features, especially focusing on artificial intelligence.
The company, which launched its artificial intelligence platform Einstein in October, has made a number of acquisitions to build up its machine learning and big data analysis capabilities.
Benioff, who has grown increasingly active in politics and civic affairs in San Francisco, is also eager to make Salesforce a more prominent brand in the minds of consumer.
The company considered buying Twitter Inc earlier this year, but abandoned the pursuit last month amid investor concerns over the strategic merits and valuation of the deal.
Salesforce also lost out to Microsoft in a bid to buy LinkedIn Corp.
The competition between Microsoft and Salesforce is now intensifying on several fronts, with Microsoft's Dynamics product taking business from Salesforce among mid-sized customers. Microsoft also this summer launched a direct competitor to Salesforce's AppExchange for business software.
For the current quarter, Salesforce said it expected revenue of $2.27 billion to $2.28 billion, above analysts' average estimate of $2.24 billion.
Excluding items, the company earned 24 cents per share in the third quarter on a non-GAAP basis, beating the average analyst estimate of 21 cents, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Revenue rose 25.3 percent to $2.14 billion. Analysts had expected revenue of $2.12 billion.
However, on traditional GAAP measures of earnings, the company's net loss widened to $37.3 million, or 5 cents per share, in the three months ended Oct. 31 from $25.2 million, or 4 cents per share, a year earlier.
Up to Thursday's close, Salesforce's shares had fallen 4.1 percent this year, underperforming the 7 percent gain in the broader S&P 500 index.
(Reporting by Narottam Medhora in Bengaluru; Editing by Jonathan Weber and Lisa Shumaker)