Is Intuit a Low-Risk Tech Play?

Financial management software company Intuit (NASDAQ: INTU  ) delivered results on Wednesday for its fiscal fourth quarter, and the numbers were not enough to impress analysts and investors, even though top-line sales came in ahead of the average Wall Street estimate. To the company's credit, Intuit has navigated shifting industry trends effectively, selling off portions of the business that are not pulling their weight and doubling down on its core business. The small business and consumer tax business is increasingly competitive, but Intuit still maintains a market-leading position. With continued smart execution, this software play could have more room to run.

Not necessarily tech
Determining the moat and long-term viability of a tech company is, to say the least, difficult. Most Buffett-style value-oriented investors stay away from the sector for this reason alone. However, Intuit, while a software company, is not really a tech play, and thus the "tech risk" does not really exist here. A tax preparation company, even if Web-based, is not a matter of high-flying technology; it's a service little different from walking into your local accountant's office.

TurboTax, Intuit's flagship product, is a very familiar interface for its users and encourages return visits, season after season. While already well established in the consumer space, Intuit management sees compelling growth on a small business level.

Fourth-quarter results did not wow investors by any means, but they are worth investigating to see where the business is headed.

Earnings recap
On an adjusted basis, Intuit broke even, as opposed to a $0.01 profit in the year-ago quarter. Revenue grew 12% to $634 million, surpassing analysts' expectations. Small business revenue grew by 13%. QuickBooks online subscriptions grew 28%, while its international subscriber base grew an impressive 80%, suggesting more room for growth down the line.

Intuit is now repositioned for growth in the coming years. The market for do-it-yourself tax services is only growing, as applications such as Intuit's make the process far easier -- and more affordable -- than traditional tax services. Priced at less than 16 times forward earnings, the market still seems doubtful regarding the future prospects of the company, and appears to have focused on near-term projections. Management guided down slightly from the average Street consensus for the coming year.

Good looks
Compared to its peers, Intuit is a more mature, but more cheaply valued play on the tax service business. Blucora, owner of TaxAct, trades at just under 20 times earnings. The company has its own accolades, including  a search engine business that some say has yet to be priced into the stock. But as a pure play on the growing industry, Intuit may be the better deal currently. Investors interested in a relatively low-risk software play should certainly take a look.

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