Why Ellie Mae Inc Shares Surged Today

What: Shares of Ellie Mae Inc (NYSE: ELLI  ) are up nearly 8% in the afternoon after peaking early today at a gain of over 12%. Investors are upbeat about the company's strong first-quarter earnings, which were released after yesterday's closing bell.

So what: Ellie Mae's first quarter  came through with $32.2 million in revenue and earnings of $0.16 per share. Both results topped Wall Street's estimates, which had called for $30.8 million in revenue and EPS of $0.14. The company now expects to generate between $36 million and $37 million in revenue, and between $0.20 and $0.22 in EPS, for the second quarter. Analysts had expected revenue to hit $37.1 million and for EPS to reach $0.27, so this was a bit disappointing.

However, Ellie Mae's full year guidance looks slightly better, as it expects revenue to range from $150 million to $153.5 million, against a $149.6 million Wall Street consensus. Its full-year EPS guidance range of $0.98 to $1.01 does fall beneath Wall Street's $1.06 estimate, though.

Now what: Ellie Mae isn't cheap  on either a P/E or a price-to-free-cash-flow basis, as the former metric is 33.4 and the latter is over 60 right now. Its guidance range for the second quarter of this year is actually weaker than the guidance it provided a year ago for 2013's second quarter, which was expected to produce adjusted earnings of $0.27 to $0.29 per share when the company issued its 2013 first-quarter earnings. Full-year guidance is likewise weaker now than it was a year ago, when Ellie Mae expected to earn anywhere from $1.06 to $1.09 per share. Today's pop seems a bit inexplicable, as the company isn't exactly telling investors that it's going to be in growth mode this year. I'd simply watch from the sidelines for the time being until stronger indications of progress can be found.

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