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So that's why investors bid up shares of Akamai Technologies (Nasdaq: AKAM ) , despite a disappointing setback in its legal tussle with Limelight Networks (Nasdaq: LLNW ) . They knew -- or at least strongly suspected -- that the Web content delivery king would deliver better-than-expected financial results last night.
They couldn't have been more right.
Akamai exceeded the Street's consensus on both the top and bottom lines. Revenue improved 12% to $210.4 million. Per-share net income, measured on a non-GAAP basis, rose 5% to $0.43. Free cash flow also improved, to $67.4 million from $59.8 million in the year-ago quarter.
Most impressively, Akamai increased its Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) to $23,600 from last year's $23,200. Core customers such as Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) , Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) , News Corp.'s (NYSE: NWS ) MySpace, and Adobe (Nasdaq: ADBE ) appear to be spending as much as ever.
Yet as strong as Akamai's core business seems to be, there's turnover on the fringe. Churn, which measures the percentage of customers who left during the quarter, rose slightly, to around 5%.
Turnover was most noticeable in Akamai's "weaker customers," chief executive Paul Sagan told me in an interview yesterday. He was referring to smaller firms whose balance sheets have proved unable to weather the current economic storm. "We saw a significant uptick in smaller customers facing financial hardship," Chief Financial Officer J.D. Sherman said during a conference call with analysts and investors.
So be it. Churn hasn't burned Akamai's balance sheet, which is flush with more than $450 million in cash and liquid investments and $394 million in long-term securities, $262 million of which is parked in illiquid auction-rate securities.
But that's still far more than $600 million in accessible capital that Akamai plans to draw on soon. Sagan and Sherman said that management would commit as much as $100 million to a stock buyback program aimed at offsetting dilution created by stock-option exercises.
As a shareholder, I'd rather see the $100 million paid to investors as a one-time return of capital, rather than as an ad-hoc bonus program for employees. Still, less dilution is preferable to more dilution. I'll take what I can get.
Underneath the legal bills, the churn, the options, and the dilution is a business worth believing in. Akamai is a Rule Breaker that proves, with each succeeding quarter, that it's built to outrace this recession.
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