No More Miracles for Akamai

Man, I hate being right sometimes. Rewind with me to February. Here's what I said about the reaction to Akamai Technologies' (Nasdaq: AKAM  )  fourth-quarter earnings report:

"As much as $30 million of the increase could come from recent acquisitions of Nine Systems and Netli, but even without these two, Akamai is projecting more for this year than it did in Q3. As good as that is, though, higher earnings and even higher guidance are now expected." [Emphasis added.]

Now, fast-forward to yesterday. This Rule Breakers pick booked a 53% increase in sales and a 65% increase in normalized earnings per share, meeting the midpoint of Street estimates. Management, meanwhile, reiterated its earlier guidance.

And investors promptly dumped the stock.

Down more than 10% for the day, Akamai's stock now appears to be -- get this -- the cheapest among Web content delivery specialists:

Company

CAPS Stars
(out of five)

2007 PEG

Akamai

3

1.44

Internap Networks (NASDAQ:INAP)

3

1.74

Level 3 (NASDAQ:LVLT)

4

N/A*

Sources: Motley Fool CAPS, Yahoo! Finance.
*Analysts don't expect earnings from Level 3 till at least 2009.

Should you be a buyer right now? That depends. Last quarter, I said I'd be taking some money off the table. I've since changed my mind.

My intent had always been to hold shares for the better part of a decade. Last quarter, I became concerned that the stock had run too far too fast and that I had too much of my portfolio at risk. Yesterday's correction, which appears to be continuing today, changes that.

What hasn't changed is Akamai's growth outlook. It remains the leader in delivering content over the Web -- 20% of all Web traffic by some estimates -- and is slowly convincing businesses to trust its network to deliver in-house content securely to far-flung locations.

And the network, already more than 25,000 servers strong, is improving. Management told analysts yesterday that Akamai's recent acquisition of Red Swoosh could make it possible to securely and predictably borrow horsepower from Web-connected PCs and set-top boxes. If so, that would end -- or at least seriously curtail -- the threat from open-source peer-to-peer technology like BitTorrent.

I'll understand if that's little comfort to those of you who, like me, are seeing red in their portfolios today. Just remember that Mr. Market is plucky. With Akamai, he was apparently expecting an endless string of earnings surprises. History says that's impossible.

But history also says that holding on to durable businesses as they grow to become dominant franchises -- as Akamai is now -- can lead to extraordinary wealth. Who am I to argue?

A web of related Foolishness awaits:

Akamai is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers pick. David Gardner and his team of analysts have unearthed six stocks that have more than doubled in the first two years of this market-beating service. Akamai is one. Want to find out who the other five are? Click here to test-drive Rule Breakers for 30 days. There's no obligation to subscribe.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers, ranked 3,251 out of more than 27,800 in CAPS, is a sucker for growth stocks and a regular contributor to Rule Breakers. Tim owns shares of Akamai. All of his portfolio holdings can be found at Tim's Fool profile. His thoughts on growth stocks, Foolishness, and investing in general may be found in his blog. Microsoft and Intel are Inside Value picks. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy is a rebel on Wall Street.


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