Adobe's Sustenance Shouldn't Spur Investors to Flip Their Grip

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Leading up to Adobe's ( ADBE) third-quarter earnings results, I wasn't entirely convinced that management could sustain the company's incredible run, which included a 38% year-to-date surge in the stock. Although Adobe had made meaningful progress converting its business from a boxed software company to a cloud subscription model, the Street sentiment -- I believe -- was getting too bullish.

The changeover was necessary because Adobe has struggled to grow revenue and margins on its once-dominant creative suite of applications -- the package that includes popular titles like Pagemaker and Dreamweaver. Complicating matters even further: that the stock still carried a price-to-earnings ratio of 59, which was 6 times and 5 times that of Microsoft ( MSFT) and Oracle ( ORCL), respectively, didn't suggest that there was any value left. Although Adobe's numbers did arrive better than expected, the valuation concerns -- in my view -- have not gone away.

First, given how difficult corporate makeovers tend to be, there's no denying that the pace of Adobe's cloud conversion is impressive. Truth be told, seeing as how Google ( GOOG), by virtue of its free Google Apps, has disrupted Adobe's business, I never really believed that Adobe's management would have gotten the company this far. But, while the Street is cheering Adobe's 73% climb in its subscription revenue, on an organic basis, that growth number is closer to 25%, when excluding the Neolane acquisition.

To be perfectly fair, 25% revenue growth is nothing to shake a stick at, especially when Oracle is posting growth of only 2%. My point, though, is that while we're busy doing backflips for Adobe, investors just gloss over the fact that not only did the company still miss its revenue estimates, but overall revenue was down 8% year over year.

In that regard, it's certainly encouraging that the strong subscription revenue now accounts for 30% of the company's total revenue. However, even when you factor in the combined 17% increase in service and support revenue, I don't believe this is enough to offset the near 30% decline in product revenue. Now this is where Adobe bulls often remind me that the company is in "changeover mode." I'm not discounting that -- I've acknowledged this point in the introduction.

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