There may still be storms hanging over the economy, but investors will be looking for a gap in the clouds when McAfee ( MFE) reports its first-quarter results after the market closes Thursday. The security software company, which was one of the TheStreet.com's top tech picks for 2009, is still seen as well positioned to cope with the global economic downturn. Boosted by deals to bundle its software with PCs, plus booming North American sales, McAfee posted good fourth-quarter results, and at least one analyst expects more of the same. "Expect security to continue to exhibit stability -- McAfee remains our favorite name here," wrote Todd Weller, an analyst at Stifel Nicolaus, in a recent note. "We believe that larger companies like Check Point, McAfee & Symantec continue to benefit from the trend of customers looking to consolidate spend with fewer vendors." The analyst, who maintained his McAfee "buy" rating and $35.88 price target, expects the company to benefit from solid sales execution, strength in its consumer business, and the emergence of netbooks. "We continue to view McAfee as one of the best positioned companies in the security
space though the stock has not been one of the strongest performers this year, which we believe is partly a function of its outperformance in 2008," he wrote. McAfee's share price has risen 9% in 2009, although the stock's performance has been characterized by peaks and troughs. The company's shares rose 3 cents, or 0.08%, to $37.24, ahead of its first-quarter results, mirroring the modest advance in tech stocks that saw the Nasdaq rise 0.68%.
The Santa Clara, Calif.-based firm expects first-quarter revenue between $440 and $460 million, compared to $370 million in the same period last year. Analysts surveyed by the Thomson Financial Network are expecting revenue of $448.48 million. McAfee, which competes with Symantec ( SYMC) and Microsoft ( MSFT), recently warned that the slumping economy was driving cyber-threats, hence the need for its security software. The company expects first-quarter earnings between 20 cents and 24 cents a share, up from 19 cents a share in the year-ago quarter. Excluding charges, McAfee has forecast earnings of 46 cents to 50 cents a share, with analysts predicting earnings of 48 cents a share. Despite McAfee's anticipated strength in a tough economy, Stifel Nicolaus analyst Weller warns that there could still be plenty of hurdles in the company's path. These include margin pressure in the company's consumer business due to pressure from OEMs and execution problems related to the firm's acquisition of Secure Computing.