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Mellanox Technologies Disconnects From Reality

Mellanox Technologies (NASDAQ: MLNX  ) swung for the fences in the fourth quarter and wound up not only missing, but threw its bat into the stands as well.

Mellanox, a maker of semiconductor interconnect products that allow data to be transmitted back and forth between data centers and servers, looked like a smart play less than a year ago. In its April-ended quarter, Mellanox reported a 61% increase in revenue, GAAP gross margins of 67.4%, and a profit of $12.4 million versus a year-ago loss of $1.6 million – all records. 

However, sometime between then and now, the bus didn't just get a flat; it blew a piston, busted an axle, and had all four tires slashed.

Last night, Mellanox's fourth-quarter results slightly edged past Wall Street's estimates with a profit of $0.69 on $122.1 million. Keep in mind, though, that just three weeks ago Mellanox slashed its fourth-quarter forecast to $119 million-$121 million from its previous estimate of $145 million-$150 million (which, in turn, was also about $6 million below Wall Street's estimates when first issued).

But the circus didn't fully start until Mellanox issued its first-quarter guidance. During its conference call, Mellanox pointed to a buildup in Q4 inventories which caused its enterprise customers to hold off on orders. Subsequently, the company is only projecting revenue of $78 million-$83 million for the upcoming quarter versus the Street's forecast of $131.8 million. Even more ridiculous -- and I give all credit to Forbes' tech sector analyst Eric Savitz for pointing out this fact -- Mellanox failed to disclose its upcoming guidance snafu in its press release and waited until the conference to "Oh, by the way" its investors with horrific guidance. 

Before you start thinking this is a sectorwide problem, think again. Less than two weeks ago QLogic (NASDAQ: QLGC  ) reported better-than-expected preliminary third-quarter results, estimating $0.19-$0.20 in EPS on $119 million in sales, and noted strength in both its host and networking products. Emulex (UNKNOWN: ELX.DL  ) , a smaller but heavily focused network connectivity products provider, grew sales by 12% in its October-ended quarter and has regularly sailed past the Street's estimates, all while Mellanox has struggled.

Part of Mellanox's struggles can be attributed to its large customer list, which includes Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) . HP is in the midst of a massive multiyear reorganization which involves laying off 27,000 people and realigning its operations. It would not be out of the question to expect orders from HP to fluctuate wildly.

But if that's the case, what the heck happened with IBM (NYSE: IBM  ) ? IBM's full-year report, released yesterday, showed 80% sales growth in cloud computing for the year, and a 4% rise in hardware total system revenue for the quarter, excluding retail store system sales. I'd say these results look strong as well and indicate momentum in interconnectivity product sales. Both IBM and HP have each contributed around 10% to Mellanox's sales over the past year, so I'm even more confused about Mellanox than before!

You know the old saying "Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me"? With Mellanox, I've lost count of how many times it's disappointed investors, but I'm certainly no longer fooled or blinded by its allure. Mellanox's decision to leave its dismal forecast out of its earnings release and its lack of near-term visibility are both disturbing and scary. Needless to say, I'm keeping my CAPScall of underperform firmly planted on this stock!

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