The Symantec Value Trap

With all of the troubles at Symantec (Nasdaq: SYMC  ) , it's no wonder the stock has been under pressure, but does that mean it's cheap? Since the company reported its earnings and the departure of its chief financial officer on Nov. 1, the stock has fallen more than 30% and the company has lowered guidance for the rest of the fiscal year. The CFO departure came only a few months after the chief operating officer/president had left.

The lowered guidance comes on the heels of market-share gains by some competitors, such as Trend Micro (Nasdaq: TMIC  ) and Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection McAfee (NYSE: MFE  ) . Finally, the company restated cash flow and revenues because of wrong classifications recently. These classifications change some operating cash flow to financing cash flow, and license revenues to maintenance revenues, but will not have an impact on future earnings. All of the recent events combined lead one to wonder about management's focus.

Add to these pressures the constant negative attention the company has received, and it is enough to drag any share price down. I can attest to the validity of the recent BusinessWeek article on how hackers are now targeting Symantec's products. Then, to add injury to insult, a "critical" flaw in more than 40 of Symantec's consumer and enterprise products was revealed. How many people want to have AntiVirus software that actually opens a door for a malicious hacker to break in?

It's easy to say Symantec's stock is cheap. The company is near its 52-week low, its forward P/E is below the industry average, and it has a strong cash flow, despite the restatement. It's possible that management is just temporarily distracted because of the integration of Veritas, and the problems will be limited.

But look who's ready to leap into the IT security market: Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) , which plans on launching its own antivirus software -- named OneCare -- early in 2006. That will put even more pressure on Symantec to maintain its lead in the industry. Just factoring in Microsoft's disruption ability in the market, whether it be winning market share or causing added pricing pressure, it is easy to see that 15% EPS growth for Symantec in 2006 may be challenging at best. This is not a time for Symantec to lose focus, and it may come back to haunt it when it turns around to find a 300-pound gorilla in its living room.

Microsoft is a Motley Fool Inside Value selection. Click here for a free 30-day trial, and if you sign up for a year, you'll get Stocks 2006, our analysts' top picks, for free.

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Fool contributor Rob Perri wishes you happy holidays from Europe. He doesn't own any shares of the companies mentioned above.


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