The Big Picture at Stamps.com

Let's see Stamps.com (Nasdaq: STMP  ) lick its way out of this jam. The online postage specialist suffered a steep slide in its customized photographic stamps business, forcing sales to drop and leading the company to lower its bottom-line guidance for 2007.

It shouldn't have come to this. PhotoStamps were introduced a couple of years ago and took off. It seemed hokey at first -- especially with folks paying as much as $17.99 for a sheet of 20 customized stamps that would routinely set you back less than eight bucks -- but it hit the right decorative tone.

If you're going to get married, having the bride and groom embracing on wedding invitation stamps is worth the extra pocket change. Who needs Shutterfly photo holiday cards when you can dress up the envelope with a family portrait as a stamp?

The company's bread and butter has been its PC Postage business, arming small businesses to take on Pitney Bowes (NYSE: PBI  ) and the U.S. Postal Service with on-demand stamp printing from a personal computer. However, that has also been a slow-growing niche. Like customized Jones Soda (Nasdaq: JSDA  ) bottles, PhotoStamps gave Stamps.com some pop (pun intended). Over the holidays, PhotoStamps sales rose 35% more than they did in the 2005 holiday quarter.

So how is it that the company sold just 189,000 sheets during the quarter ended in March, an 18% decline over last year's quarter? The company faults marketing. It spent a record amount over the holidays to promote PhotoStamps and figured it would bleed into the seasonally slower quarter. It didn't happen. Let's hope the company's right, because a lot is riding on the growth of those PhotoStamps, which made up nearly a third of total revenues over the holidays.

Now let's cut Stamps.com some slack. Gross margins still improved during the latest quarter, and the company is still profitable. It earned $0.16 a share for the quarter before a $0.02 per-share hit for stock-based compensation. It is now looking to earn between $0.77 and $0.87 a share this year (before stock-based expenses of about $0.10 per share). That's just $0.02 to $0.03 per share off its initial guidance back in February.

Stamps.com also has a debt-free balance sheet, with $4.65 a share in cash. That is nearly a third of its market cap, making Stamps.com appear dirt cheap on an enterprise value basis. As long as a little extra marketing muscle is all it takes to get the company's PhotoStamps business growing again, maybe the next set of photographed stamps will be the ones with smiling shareholders.

To add to your collection:

Pitney Bowes is a Motley Fool Income Investor pick. You don't need a metered mail device to find out why. Just sign up for a free 30-day trial to the newsletter service.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has never sent out PhotoStamps, though he is a fan of Shutterfly's greeting cards. He does not own shares in any of the stocks in this article. He is also a member of the Rule Breakers analytical team, seeking out the next great growth stock early in its defiance. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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