At 4:05 p.m. EDT on Thursday, Cerner's (NASDAQ: CERN ) market value amounted to $1.5 billion less than it did exactly five minutes earlier. The health-care technology company, led by a CEO dubbed an "Obamacare Billionaire" by Forbes magazine, has been a highflier for the past five years. What happened?
Meet and miss
Right after the clock ticked 4 p.m., Cerner released its third-quarter financial results. It didn't take long for investors to read the two important numbers: earnings and revenue.
On the earnings front, Cerner appeared to do relatively well. The company reported adjusted net earnings of $123.6 million, or $0.35 per share. That's a 17% jump from the same quarter last year and met the average analysts' estimate.
Revenue was a different story, though. Wall Street expected Cerner's top line to be somewhere between $744.8 million and $757.2 million. Instead, the company's actual revenue figure came in at $727.8 million. That's still 8% higher than last year -- but not good enough to please analysts.
Cerner attributed the revenue miss to fewer resales of low-margin technology. This wasn't the first time in 2013 that this caused a problem. Cerner also failed to hit revenue expectations in the first quarter. And, although the company made its revenue target in the second quarter, it only barely did so -- again because of fewer technology resales.
There's a key difference between the first-quarter revenue miss and the latest miss, though. In the first quarter, Cerner beat earnings expectations instead of only meeting them like it did in the third quarter.
Is that difference enough to warrant a roughly 5% drop in market cap? Probably not. Actually, some of that loss was regained in later after-hours trading. However, when a company has a premium valuation like Cerner does (with a price-to-earnings multiple of 47), any bump in the road makes a bigger impact than it likely would otherwise.
Making billions from Obamacare?
Cerner benefited tremendously from significant health-care legislative changes over the last few years. The stock is up a whopping 520% from five years ago. Can shares continue their remarkable climb?
One element in Cerner's favor is Obamacare. While the health reform legislation doesn't provide the direct boost that the HITECH act did a few years ago, parts of the law should help Cerner. The Affordable Care Act pushes health-care providers to work more closely with each other. Cerner's technology spans multiple care settings, from hospitals to physicians to long-term care facilities. That broad reach should help position the company to appeal to providers seeking to connect with others in different care settings.
CEO Neal Patterson's comments on the third-quarter results shed more light on how Cerner can succeed in the future. He noted that the company has done very well in the "current electronic medical record era," but that "investments in capabilities beyond the EMR" are what make Cerner distinct and position it for sustained growth.
If you only looked at recent stock performance against its peers, you might think that Cerner isn't so differentiated. Although Cerner's shares have risen 44% year to date, others have done even better. Allscripts (NASDAQ: MDRX ) has seen its stock jump 53% so far this year. Shares of athenahealth (NASDAQ: ATHN ) have skyrocketed 87%. Quality Systems' (NASDAQ: QSII ) stock is up less than Cerner but still offering healthy 30% gains.
Looking only at year-to-date numbers can be misleading, though. Both Allscripts and Quality Systems are recovering from huge drops. And while athenahealth is winning physicians' system market share with its innovative technology, the company doesn't have nearly the array of product offerings that Cerner has for different care settings.
All things considered, Cerner seems to be on track to continue delivering for investors. This recent pullback could present a buying opportunity for those with their eyes on the long run.
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