Intuit's Unimportant Quarter

In some quarters, for certain companies, profits seem almost beside the point. Intuit (Nasdaq: INTU  ) is one such company.

Sure, from one perspective, the maker of TurboTax and Quicken had a superb fiscal Q1 2008. This little-company-that-could is battling giants H&R Block (NYSE: HRB  ) and Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) simultaneously, and thriving. Intuit booked increased sales of 27% versus fiscal Q1 2007. Meanwhile, per-share losses in this slow season for tax filing dropped by nearly two-thirds.

But that's the point. Intuit's fiscal first and fourth quarters dwindle into insignificance when compared to the rest of the fiscal year. Combined, these two quarters may make up half a calendar year -- but barely one-fourth of the firm's annual revenue. So while we applaud the firm's Q1 performance under GAAP, let's focus on what's really important today: the rest of this year.

Laying out its expectations quarter by quarter, Intuit described ambitions to book between $3 billion and $3.05 billion, earn a 21% or 22% operating margin thereon, and drop somewhere between $1.41 and $1.43 per share to the bottom line. Working off the midpoint of these ranges, therefore, Intuit aims to grow its sales 13% in comparison to fiscal 2007, and increase net profits more than 14%... even as operating margins drop from last year's 24.6%.

That should be a neat trick -- growing profits faster than revenue, even as the profits earned per revenue-dollar shrink. The only way to make it work: Buy back more shares.

Buy 'em with what?
Cash, we hope. So far, Intuit's got more than enough of that. With a billion dollars in the bank, the firm also has a record of generating more cash profits than it reports as net earnings under GAAP. It's done this in every year since the bubble burst in 2001. Last year, for example, Intuit's $622 million in free cash flow exceeded net income by more than 40%.

Fiscal Q1 2008, however, saw Intuit burn through 37% more cash than it had in fiscal Q1 2007. If the company plans to buy back the needed number of shares -- and to have the cash on hand to support its buyback -- it'll want to stomp out that cash fire right quick.

Relive the glory days of Intuit's fiscal 2007 in:


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