Updated from 12:55 p.m. ET
Oh, the sweet, sweet center of the Internet-infrastructure buildout.
Showing that sure things still exist in the technology sector,
reported strong fiscal first-quarter earnings Wednesday, blowing past Wall Street estimates.
Sun said that it earned $510 million, or 30 cents a share, sharply higher than the $271 million, or 17 cents a share, it earned in last year's September quarter. Analysts had expected it to earn 26 cents a share, according to
First Call/Thomson Financial
. Revenue totaled $5.05 billion, relatively flat from the fiscal fourth quarter, but a whopping 60% higher than the year-ago period and about $600 million above analysts' already very bullish expectations.
Sun's results show that the momentum that the company started gathering early this year isn't showing any signs of slowing. Order backlog remained near $1.8 billion, the same level at which it stood when the company reported its fiscal fourth-quarter results. And though Chief Financial Officer Michael Lehman stressed on Sun's conference call that analysts could expect sales and earnings growth to moderate as the fiscal year progresses and year-over-year comparisons get tougher, he also said the company's percentage sales growth for fiscal 2001 would likely come in "somewhere in the mid-30s" -- about 5 percentage points higher than what Sun was estimating in July.
Given Sun's history of conservative guidance, analysts believe there's a very good chance things could be even better than that. "There's no point in setting the bar too high," said Andy Neff, an analyst at
. "But we've been here before with Sun." (Bear hasn't done recent underwriting for Sun.)
There was one sticking point: The company's gross profit margins, which fell rather steeply to 49% from the fiscal fourth quarter's 52%. Sun blamed higher costs for the memory it loads in its servers.
With growth like this, no one's counting. "It's a nonissue," said
analyst Dan Kunstler. "This company is out to grow and take share. And it looks like that's what they did. They didn't destroy EPS, and they didn't commit any unnatural acts -- driving down their expense ratio, driving down R&D. To get the growth, you need components. And to get the components, you've got to pay up for them. That was their strategy." (J.P. Morgan hasn't done recent underwriting for Sun.)
The strong quarter notwithstanding, the day started shakily for Sun when a summary headline of its earnings release appeared on Sun's Web site in the middle of the trading day, more than four hours early. The episode bears a resemblance to one that shook up another stock Monday. Then,
mistakenly released its earnings early on its site, provoking a selloff in its shares.
Sun still hadn't sorted out how the headline made it to the company's Web site, saying only that it "was taking the necessary steps to understand how it happened, and ensure that it does not happen again."