Lernout & Hauspie
, since you didn't ask, reported first-quarter earnings last night. Looked like a blowout, with earnings coming in at 19 cents per share vs. estimates of 15 cents. (So what if the estimates had been reduced in February, at the company's direction, from 22 cents.)
Receivables days outstanding leaped to 105 days from 86 days on flat sales from the prior quarter, suggesting (so say short-sellers) an overstuffed distribution channel. Receivables, in fact, rose by $24 million (or just shy of one-quarter of the entire quarter's revenue). Without the increase, "earnings would've been 3 cents per share," one short says.
Oh, and biz with
, supposedly Lernout's great partner, was down from the prior quarter to $7.3 million from $8.5 million. (You get that by comparing what the company disclosed in its year-end press release with what it disclosed on its conference call.) That's what happens, you could argue, when a big customer/partner becomes a big competitor.
Sales for the whole company, meanwhile, were flat sequentially, despite acquisitions that should've
revenue. Doesn't say much for the company's core biz. And for
investors are paying 100 times expected earnings?! Yep.
An item in yesterday's
Herb's Hotline (check it out!) mentioned that even though
, the drugstore chain, met analysts' estimates for the first quarter, some skeptics (read it: short-sellers) thought the quarter was a farce. A farce? That may have been an overstatement, but the point was this: "Anybody who looks below the surface sees inconsistencies," says one longtime CVS bear.
One of the most glaring was that at the end of last quarter, the company said it had a better handle on inventories and free cash flow (operating cash flow minus capital expenditures). It also had warned investors to expect seasonally low cash flow from operations in the first quarter.
Is a swing to a negative $145 mil from a positive $14.5 mil in the same quarter (and season) a year earlier really just seasonal? If the company is doing a better job at managing its working capital, as it has been claiming, should it really be
much worse off than last year?
According to CVS' financial folks, via a spokesman, cash flow from operations was down for a number of reasons, including inventories that were up slightly from expectations, and sales that were slightly softer than expectations. The company also says that it took the opportunity to do some forward buying of selected fast-moving drugs in advance of price increases. It also said payables were down due to a shift in more sales coming from the pharmacy, which has quicker payment terms. There were a few other reasons, but the bottom line, according to the company, was that "the cash-flow number is not unexpected or inconsistent with the normal trends in our business."
For the full year, in fact, the company says it's on track to show "a minimum" of $300 mil in free cash flow; last quarter it was a negative $286 mil.
Imagine that ... guaranteeing a number with seven months left in the year. Never have figured out how they (meaning so many companies) do that!
No, not more Salt(on):
Yes, when it rains it pours (thank you,
10-Q was filed late yesterday and, lo and behold, its provision for doubtful accounts (a subjective number) fell to 5.4% from 6.5% of receivables from the prior quarter -- and from 10.6% in the year-earlier quarter. That's the lowest it's been in eight quarters, and it fell just when you may have expected it to rise, because the company is adding so many more (down the food chain, so to speak) outlets for its products. (The more outlets, you would think, the more chances to get stiffed.)
Had the company held the provision steady at 6.5%, short-sellers say its most recent quarter, which beat expectations by 11 cents, would've beaten them by 6 cents; if it had been at 10.5%, it would've
estimates by 16 cents.
An item in yesterday's Hotline noted how
had delayed its earnings release. That's bad news. How do you counter bad news? With press releases, lots of press releases, all bearing good news. Yesterday alone, the company issued 12 releases -- count 'em,
And its stock fell 1 to 45 7/8. Investors are wising up, I tell ya,
Herb Greenberg writes daily for TheStreet.com. In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, he doesn't own or short individual stocks, though he owns stock in TheStreet.com. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. He welcomes your feedback at
firstname.lastname@example.org. Greenberg also writes a monthly column for Fortune.
Mark Martinez assisted with the reporting of this column.