Autodesk Can't Seem to Design a Growth Plan

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- There appears to be a recurring theme with CAD/CAM software company Autodesk ( ADSK).

It seems that although the company is doing well managing costs and maintaining its adjusted margins, there just isn't enough revenue growth to justify its current valuation.

Granted, profitability is the name of the game. And the company's management deserves a lot of credit for doing what needs to be done to produce on the bottom line. On the other hand, it seems that investors have become confused as to whether to treat the company as a growth stock or a mature company -- it can't be both.

The Quarter That Was

For the period ending in October, Autodesk reported revenue of $548 million, down $1 million from the same period a year ago. Its GAAP operating margin also declined, from 16% last year to only 6% this quarter. Revenue for Europe, the Middle East and Africa did an about-face, declining 3% to $196 million after increasing by 3% in Q3 fiscal 2012.

On the other hand, profitability was more respectable. Its non-GAAP operating margin increased 190 basis points to 26%, compared to 25% in the third quarter of fiscal 2012. As noted above, cash flow from operations continued to impress -- arriving at $157 million and growing 14% year over year.

Non-GAAP diluted earnings were 47 cents per share, beating analysts' estimates and increasing 7% from a year before.

I just don't believe this is enough to support a stock that is already trading at a price-to-earnings ratio of 31, when other software companies such as Microsoft ( MSFT) and Adobe ( ADBE) trade at much lower P/Es (14 and 22, respectively).

Adobe seems to present the much better value. In its most recent quarter, Adobe reported a 7% increase in revenue with roughly 5% in organic growth. The company's digital media segment grew 3% while its digital marketing segment produced a decent growth figure of 21%. Yet Adobe trades at a P/E ratio that is almost 10 points less than Autodesk's. So from the standpoint of revenue growth, Adobe presents the much better value.

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