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With the stock down more than 15% today and 26% year to date, it's clear that investors are souring over Akamai Technologies (Nasdaq: AKAM ) .
Can you blame them? Revenue grew 15% while normalized per-share earnings improved just 9% in the first quarter, and that's with Akamai's higher-margin value-added services now accounting for 58% of revenue. But that's not the worst part. Management expects essentially zero sequential revenue or earnings gains in Q2.
At the midpoint of guidance, second-quarter revenue would be up just 12% year over year. Growth is slowing, fast. That could be the result of increasing competition from upstarts such as Cotendo and EdgeCast.
Both companies have partnerships with AT&T (NYSE: T ) , and Cotendo has been working with Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) on an open-source form of application acceleration. (Akamai says the approach violates its patents.)
And these are the small potatoes. Direct peer Limelight Networks (Nasdaq: LLNW ) booked $183 million in revenue last year, up 39% over the year prior. Level 3 Communications (Nasdaq: LVLT ) has invested tens of millions to build out its own content delivery services to handle the bulk of Netflix's video streaming business.
So there's reason to worry a little. But the outlook isn't the most important part of Akamai's Q1 report. We've known since Q4 that growth wouldn't accelerate again until the second half of this year, when the recent spate of contract resignings should begin to pay off.
All this pales compared to a single number: 32%. Cost of revenues rose that fast during Q1, more than twice the rate of revenue growth.
Servers account for a good portion of the spending. Akamai has added nearly 24,000 new boxes over the past year. CEO Paul Sagan said in an interview yesterday that his company's goal is to "increase reach" globally by adding servers to new networks connected to the traditional and Mobile Web.
That makes sense. As an industry, Akamai and its peers are in the early stages of creating a cloud-computing infrastructure that will carry 26 times more mobile data in 2015 than it did last year, according to a Cisco Systems research report. Akamai is sacrificing some portion of profits now to capture a greater share of this traffic growth later.
Today's sellers don't believe that strategy will pay off. I think they're wrong. What do you say? Tell us what you think about Akamai's report, approach, and competitive differentiation using the comments box below. You can also rate Akamai in Motley Fool CAPS.
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