Why Apollo Group Stock Popped

Although we don't believe in timing the market or panicking over market movements, we do like to keep an eye on big changes -- just in case they're material to our investing thesis.

What: Shares of Apollo Group (NASDAQ: APOL  ) were getting an A from investors today, gaining as much as 25% after the company flew past expectations in its fourth-quarter earnings report.

So what: The University of Phoenix parent said adjusted earnings per share came in at $0.55, well ahead of estimates at $0.25, while revenue fell 15% to $845 million, but that also topped the analyst consensus at $823.1 million. For-profit educators have seen declining enrollment numbers lately amid a crackdown by the government and a sense of consumer fatigue for the industry, so a smaller drop than expected is still a positive. Enrollment was sharply down in the quarter, falling 18.1% overall, while new student enrollment, often seen as the lifeblood of the industry, dropped 22.3%, indicating that a bottom on enrollment still seems far away.

Now what:  Apollo sees a similar drop in revenue next year, as its projecting sales of $2.95 billion to $3.05 billion, down more than 20% from $3.7 billion this year, and below analyst estimates of $3.2 billion. Still, the company actually expects modest growth in adjusted operating income next year due to cost-cutting initiatives, which it said would trim $300 million in expenses. That prediction seemed to reassure investors since the company still managed to deliver an adjusted per-share profit of $3.16 this year, making the stock look cheap. I'm skeptical that for-profit education will reach its former heights, but Apollo has easily beat earnings estimates in its last four quarters, despite the negative growth. Its management seems to understand how to optimize a declining business.

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9/27/2016 3:59 PM
APOL $8.04 Up +0.33 +4.28%
Apollo Group CAPS Rating: *