Computer Associates Unmarred by Warning

Updated from June 8

Computer Associates ( CA) warned after the bell Thursday that fiscal first-quarter revenue will fall 3% to 5% below prior guidance, although earnings will meet the company's targets.

But because the company's bookings number was higher than expected and the revenue miss was relatively minor compared with other software blow-ups this week, shares of CA declined a modest 36 cents, or 1.5%, to $24.18 in after-hours trading Thursday; on Friday, the stock was recently up 74 cents, or 3%, at $25.28

"In the context of what's going on out there and where the stock has gone it's pretty good news," said SG Cowen analyst Drew Brosseau, who is recommending clients buy the stock. (His firm hasn't done banking with the company.)

The Islandia, N.Y., software vendor said it expects total revenue for the first quarter to range from $830 million to $850 million, short of the company's previous guidance of $865 million to $885 million and the $877.6 million consensus estimate gathered by Thomson First Call. That is still up 5% to 8% from last year.

But CA reaffirmed that earnings under generally accepted accounting principles will range from 5 cents to 7 cents, with non-GAAP earnings ranging from 17 cents to 19 cents a share -- both within the company's guidance. The consensus estimate among analysts fell at the midpoint of that range, at 18 cents a share.

"Overall, considering the current industry dynamics, I am satisfied with our performance, "Clarke said in a press statement. "I am pleased that we will be able to meet earnings guidance as a result of excellent expense controls."

Clarke attributed the lower revenue to weak performance of the services business; a higher mix of maintenance revenue, which is recognized incrementally in more than one quarter; and more subscription renewals than expected, which requires that more revenue be recognized in later quarters.

Under CA's subscription pricing model, the company recognizes its sales in equal installments over the life of the deal rather than all upfront, as most other software companies do. CA said that direct bookings -- or new sales -- grew 35% and that indirect bookings -- sales of CA products by other vendors -- grew about 40% year over year.

Brosseau had estimated CA would generate about $500 million in new deferred revenue, and CA even beat that with about $522 million. By comparison, BMC Software ( BMC) reported a 20% to 25% decline in bookings in the quarter, he noted.

CA's revenue miss followed a spate of disappointments in the software world this week, led by Veritas Software ( VRTS) and then followed by two other large-cap companies, PeopleSoft ( PSFT) and Siebel Systems ( SEBL).

CA's subscription business model helped cushion the company against some of the pressure faced by other software vendors that typically close the bulk of their deals in the last couple of weeks in the quarter, Clarke said.

Other companies indicatedthat customer interest in signing deals, particularly bigger ones, fell off a cliff in the last couple of weeks in June, causing them to miss estimates.

But because CA recognizes its sales over several quarters, the company is less reliant on an end-of-the-quarter push to close big deals to meet numbers and does less discounting at the end of the quarter to close those deals, Clarke said.

For instance, Clarke noted, a competitor's failure to close a three-year, $30 million deal at the end of the quarter could lead to a huge miss if that competitor recognizes all of that revenue upfront. But with CA, it would only mean a hit of roughly $1 million in the quarter because the company recognizes the revenue over 12 quarters.

"By moving to the new business model, it's a longer-term orientation," Clarke said.

Still, Clarke said both the pricing environment and competitive environment were tough in the quarter.

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