Akamai's Not-So-Bad News

Investors often have a way of acting like the sky is falling. In recent years, their concerns have been merited. But this is often the exception rather than the rule when stocks free fall over the short term. So you'll pardon my skepticism of last week's big sell-off of shares in Akamai Technologies (Nasdaq: AKAM  ) .

Last Tuesday, the Internet content network provider announced that its chief operating officer would be leaving and a replacement would not be named. Then on Wednesday, Akamai announced that its planned buyback of $100 million in debt via a modified Dutch auction snared only $40 million. Investors ran for the door, sending shares lower by more than 13% over the two-day period. Was the news really that bad? Hardly.

In an interview last week, Akamai President Paul Sagan explained that COO Michael Ruffolo had been responsible for moving the company's sales team from Akamai's old focus of caching Web pages to selling the higher-margin EdgeSuite platform for music and video downloads and other more complex transactions. Sagan said the job was effectively complete well before Ruffolo left. Indeed, Akamai's SEC filings confirm that more than half its customers now use EdgeSuite, as we reported in December.

On the debt buyback, Sagan claimed that investors didn't want to sell their notes because Akamai's 5 1/2% interest payments offer a substantial premium in today's low-rate environment. Sagan also said investors now believe in the solvency of the company. Frankly, I wouldn't go that far. But his point is well taken: There's always been skepticism around Akamai and other survivors of the dot-com bust that have yet to come all the way back, including Priceline.com (Nasdaq: PCLN  ) , Ariba (Nasdaq: ARBA  ) , and CMGI (Nasdaq: CMGI  ) . If investors who were once worried they may never see a return on their convertible notes are choosing to hold, it's a good sign.

The lesson? Bad news isn't always a sell sign when it comes to stocks. Heck, if the news is bad but not backbreaking, Foolish investors may even want to load up on shares. Is that the case here? Not likely. Akamai probably still has $360 million in debt on its balance sheet, $160 million of which pays 5 1/2% and is due in three years. The firm will have to substantially increase its free cash flow -- roughly $4 million last year -- to grow the business and reward the investors who didn't make like Chicken Little last week.

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Fool contributorTim Beyersowns shares of Akamai, and has never believed the sky would fall. He doesn't really like classic fairy tales all that much, either, but he highly recommends The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Talesby Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith. You can view his Fool profilehere.


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