This article was published on RealMoney on February 1, just 4 hours before MicroStrategy surprised investors with a blown earnings report. Although I typically take a long-term view, you can never count on having the luxury to do so.
Looking at my screens this week, I noticed that MicroStrategy’s (MSTR) Zacks rank had jumped from 2 to 1, a rank that puts the company’s earnings revision momentum among the top 5% of companies ranked. Looking further, I found that estimates for both 2007 (yet to be reported) and 2008 had been hiked by more than $0.25 per share in the last 90 days.
Meanwhile, the stock has declined from $110 to $72 during the same period. A declining stock amid rising earnings estimates was something I had to investigate further. Upon doing so, however, my conclusion is that there may still be further downside in the shares.
One thing that has buoyed software stocks in recent years has been the consolidation wave. According to company filings, MicroStrategy “competitors that are primarily focused on business intelligence products include, among others, Actuate (ACTU), Business Objects (BOBJ), Cognos (COGN), Information Builders and the SAS Institute.”
Cognos is being acquired by International Business Machines (IBM - Annual Report) and Business Objects by SAP AG (SAP - Annual Report). Another competitor, Hyperion, was already bought by Oracle. It is increasingly looking like MicroStrategy is among the wallflowers at this dance.
And without an acquisition, things aren’t looking so hot fundamentally. A look at recent customer wins shows a concentration of retail, financial and healthcare markets. Not exactly the clients one wants during a consumer and financial crunch.
Indeed, it looks as though the toll was already being felt when MicroStrategy reported third-quarter results. Although gross accounts receivable were basically flat during the first nine months of 2007, the allowance for doubtful accounts was increased by nearly 50% to $2.8 million. This suggests that the company may be having trouble collecting from some customers.
Both net income and cash flow from operating activities declined during the first nine months of 2007. Though service and maintenance revenue grew, product licenses declined more than 3%. Since customers must license a product before they can service or maintain it, the falling product licenses suggest that profits may continue to fall, especially if customers indeed prefer the convenience of one-stop shopping offered by IBM, Oracle and SAP.
In fact, profits would have been lower still had MicroStrategy expensed all of its software development costs, as it did in early 2006. In the first nine months of 2007 $2.7 million of such costs were capitalized, and the capitalized software balance increased by $1 million. Had the development costs been expensed as incurred, cash from operations would have been $2.7 million (4%) lower and net income would have been $641,000 ($0.05 per share) lower.
The $84 million in free cash flow MicroStrategy generated last year amounts to a 7.5% free cash flow yield. This is more than the 100% premium to Treasuries that I would like to earn from my risky investments. However, the ongoing declines in cash flow mean that I want to be compensated for falling cash flow as well. Each percentage point of expected decline should equate to another percentage point of cash flow yield.
Using the 3% decline in license revenue as a starting point, and the 2.9% Treasury yield as a base, I would want to earn a free cash flow yield of at least 8.8% (2.9 + 2.9 + 3) on MicroStrategy. To get to that yield, the shares would need to fall to $57.
In the meantime, it just looks too risky for me.
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