After years of pleasing spoiled investors, Zimmer ( ZMH) now finds itself battling just to relieve its followers instead. Suddenly, just beating profit expectations is no longer enough. After all, Zimmer did just that late Wednesday and still saw its shares slip Thursday, continuing a slide that began in early September. That's around the time when Zimmer CEO Ray Elliott
started spooking investors with candid discussions about price cuts for orthopedic implants. Since then, Wall Street has focused on very little else. True, some investors rushed to celebrate Zimmer's latest profit growth -- which came in 4.5% higher than Wall Street expectations -- by purchasing the stock on an upswing during after-hours trading on Wednesday. But the stock's gains proved to be short-lived. The stock fell 2.6% to $62.10 by the time the market closed on Thursday, when investors had better digested Zimmer's quarterly results and found little to comfort them in the company's follow-up conference call. They spotted clear trouble instead. Even the profit upside started to look shaky. Of the 3-cent cushion, some noted, 2 cents came from a sharp cutback in selling, general and administrative expenses that could prove unsustainable. And the final penny came from a lower tax rate. Still, investors didn't need to hunt between the lines for issues. They could see, quite clearly, that Zimmer's quarterly revenue growth had just slipped into single-digit territory for the first time in recent memory. Even worse, sales growth for the company's main products -- artificial hips and knees -- had plummeted sharply even with help from price increases that, by next year, are expected to go away. Anticipating future price cuts, Zimmer went ahead and scaled back expectations for revenue and profit growth next year. The company now hopes to grow revenue by 8% to 9% and profits by about twice that much in 2006.