Adobe's Got Its House in Order

SAN FRANCISCO -- Whenever tech stocks decide to hit bottom as a whole, and yes, someday they will, it may look a lot like the pattern followed by Adobe Systems (ADBE).

Shares of Adobe were up $1.35, or 8.3%, to $17.67 on Thursday, a day after the graphics software maker announced that its first-quarter earnings would still top Wall Street estimates despite revenue falling as much as 12%.

For the company's current second quarter, the outlook wasn't much better, with a revenue prediction of $675 million to $725 million that was well below analysts' consensus expectations of $776 million. Under the worst-case scenario, that would mean a year-over-year decline of as much as 24%.

And for that you get an 8% stock bump and a ratings upgrade from three Wall Street firms?

No, what investors are paying for on Thursday is a company that is at least giving the appearance of internalizing the so-called economic reset -- the increasingly realistic notion that we're not merely in a pesky down-cycle that will have us all high-fiving again by July, but that economic activity in general may be downsizing for good.

How long, for example, do you reckon it will take Intel ( INTC), which several analysts believe will post full-year revenue as low as $26 billion to $27 billion, to get back to its 2007 level of more than $38 billion?

Answer: longer than you probably want to wait.

In this new world order, the winners will be the companies that scale back operations in concert with what they're experiencing, not how they wish it to be.

But isn't that what every company does automatically? Ask Microsoft ( MSFT) shareholders, who are now within a dime or so of another 52-week low, partly because of the lack of confidence in the company's appetite for further (and presumably needed cost cuts.)

This isn't to say that Adobe, which has steadily lost more than half its value, in the past five months has hit bottom. As we've seen with semiconductor stocks, a widening in year-over-year revenue declines isn't the key to higher share prices.

But as sluggish demand continues to deepen, so does Adobe's willingness to cut costs.

"Despite worsening market conditions, we were able to manage expenses to deliver earnings and margin results within the target ranges we provided at the outset of the quarter," said Shantanu Narayen, president and CEO.

And they'll do so again this quarter. Jefferies analyst Ross MacMillan, upgrading the stock to buy, noted on Thursday that the company's costs will come down another 12% as the company targets a second-quarter operating margin of 21% to 26%.

Adobe is selling the maxim that when demand continues to be uncertain, cutting costs is rarely a wrong move. On Thursday, investors were buying.

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