(Updated from 5:17 p.m. EST)
After beating Wall Street estimates for its most recent quarter,
boosted earnings guidance for its next fiscal year, but left revenue projections in place.
On its quarterly conference call with Wall Street analysts, the company said fiscal 2002 earnings should be 3 to 4 cents higher than the current consensus estimates of 37 cents per share gathered by
First Call/Thomson Financial
. At the same time, though, it said it was merely "comfortable with current top line estimates" and growth of 46% to 48% for fiscal 2002.
For a stock that had been trading at more than 100 times next year's earnings, that wasn't enough, and shares plummeted 15% after hours to $35.69. That was after closing down 8.5% during the regular session at $41.94.
"I think that's going to be a disappointment for a lot of folks," said Mark Mulcahy, an analyst with
Pacific Growth Equities
who rates BEA Systems a buy. "Certainly, they beat their numbers, but maybe it's not the blowout that people were looking for going forward." (His firm hasn't done underwriting for BEA.)
After the close of regular trading Thursday, the San Jose, Calif.-based software company reported earnings, excluding certain charges, of $43.8 million, or 10 cents per share, on revenue of $256 million for the quarter ended Jan. 31. Wall Street analysts were expecting the company to earn 9 cents per share on $253.6 million, according to
. A year ago, the company earned 5 cents per share.
Yet, while the company exceeded expectations, its stock has been in a free fall with the rest of the technology market lately. Since Jan. 29, the stock has lost more than 45% of its value.
Analysts say that slide has come, generally, on valuation concerns. Valuation had been a forgotten religion on Wall Street, especially in the technology sector, but recently many investors have found it again, and BEA's stock has been a target of these crusaders. Even after its long slide, though, the stock still trades at a premium to most other technology stocks. In other words, investors have come to expect the world from this company, and on Thursday, BEA's world was not enough.
"BEA is a great long-term stock," said Greg Vogel, an analyst with
Banc of America Securities
who rates BEA a buy. "But in the short term, how do you measure up to the expectations that the Street has manufactured? At this point, it's more of a valuation call. Given the high valuation and those expectations, it's a difficult combination for the company to keep people happy." (Vogel's firm hasn't done underwriting for BEA.)
, another highflying, high-growth stock, is less expensive at 70 times next year's earnings.
BEA, by most accounts, has done a banner job in its core, the applications server market. Its "middleware" software lets older computer systems talk to more modern, Internet-based systems, and CEO Bill Coleman predicts his company will become the next
by building the operating system for Internet-based software.
"But just because the fundamentals are fantastic, doesn't mean the valuations are right," Vogel said.
When money managers started seeing the potential in BEA's business last year, they bid the stock up to dizzying heights. But even amid very good results for its October quarter,
valuation concerns crept up then, too. Those concerns have now chipped away at BEA's reputation as a "bullet-proof" holding.
BEA's slide was also likely tied to downbeat news from
slashed its sales guidance after the close on Thursday. Analysts say 80% of BEA's software is distributed via Sun servers. BEA counters that Sun sells a lot of different products, and the one's its software is distributed on are still selling well.
In that sense though, BEA's guidance on its conference call this evening had to be even more bullish than usual to beat away the darkening clouds on Wall Street. Obviously, the software maker wasn't able to conjure up the weather machine the Street was looking for.
"Essentially, they're being cautious in light of what other folks have seen, though they stated categorically on the call that they hadn't seen any slowdown," Pacific Growth's Mulcahy said.
Alfred Chuang, BEA's COO and president, was somewhat baffled by the market's reaction to his company's results.
"It's a bit of disappointment to me. You put great numbers on the table, and this is the reaction you get. This company is really on fire," Chuang said. He said the company wasn't doing anything different as far as guidance goes, and left room for BEA to notch it up later.
"Our historic track record has been to slowly guide up during the year," Chuang said. "This game is about setting expectations and then exceeding them over time. I don't think we've done anything extraordinarily different from that."
However, some on Wall Street don't agree with Chuang's modest assessment of his company.
"In the past, they've been notorious in their bullishness, and any change in that sentiment will be taken as a negative," said Sarah Mattson, an analyst with
Dain Rauscher Wessels
, who rates the stock strong buy. (Her firm hasn't done underwriting for the company.)
Given that history, BEA had to raise the bar, which it did, by three or four pennies. But with a market cap of $16 billion at the close and a deteriorating tech stock market, three or four pennies weren't enough.