Another software maker took a seat Monday, fatigued by the lack of tech spending in 2002.

Design specialist


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preannounced poor results before the market opened and promptly lost as much as 23% off its share price, before closing down $3.24 or 18.7%, to $14.07. The content-design program maker said its first quarter ended April 30 would fall short of previous expectations. "The difficult economic climate affected our business more than we anticipated late in our April quarter," said CEO Carol Bartz.

Like most other software firms, Autodesk's quarter is extremely back-end loaded, with as much as one-third of its sales coming in the last two weeks of the quarter. Bartz blamed the shortfall on business in Asia as well as on Autodesk's Discreet group, which sells postproduction editing systems for animation, video and the like.

Wall Street lumped the announcement together with several high-profile warnings, including


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recent downward revisions of its 2002 prospects -- all spurred in some way by the continued dismal IT spending environment.

Instead of the analyst consensus of 24 cents a share profit and $243 million in revenue, according to Thomson Financial/First Call, Autodesk expects to return between 14 cents and 16 cents a share profit on revenue ranging between $227 million and $229 million. This represents at least a 58% sequential drop in profit from a strong fourth quarter of fiscal 2002's 38 cents a share net profit and a 75% drop from pro forma 65 cents a share earnings. It also is a 45% drop from profits in the first quarter a year ago. In February, Autodesk predicted earnings of 40 cents to 50 cents a share for the April quarter.

Friday, U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray's Eugene Munster downgraded the stock to market perform after his checks showed that "Autodesk sales saw no significant uptick at the quarter end." Most analysts agreed that it was not internal failings but sector spending weakness that caused Autodesk's woes, which could lead to buying on the stock's weakness.

Software issues have been under more intense pressure than usual over the past few weeks, punctuated by dismal March quarter reports from





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. Those three complained of limited visibility into future quarters, while giant Microsoft saw enough of the road ahead to reduce its forecasts for the rest of 2002. Software investors expecting a pickup in the second half of 2002 will have to push back their hopes to thefirst half of 2003.

Autodesk will hold a conference call to discuss its formal earnings report on May 16.