Virtual computing pioneer VMware (NYSE: VMW ) reported brilliant fourth-quarter results last night, and the stock is up more than 12% this morning.
Sales increased 18% year-over-year to $608 million. While GAAP earnings shrank from $0.29 per share a year ago to $0.14 per share this time around, free cash flow ballooned by 45% to $259 million. Longtime Fools should already know that cash flows matter more than earnings anyhow, so the magical jumping stock seems to be perfectly appropriate today.
In fact, there's more good news if you dig below the surface. Product license sales actually declined by 3% from 2008 levels -- all of the growth was made up of increased service revenue. It's the old repeatable business model at work -- give away the handle and make a killing on the blades, much like robotic surgery expert Intuitive Surgical (Nasdaq: ISRG ) or granddaddy-of-the-strategy Gillette, now an arm of Procter and Gamble (NYSE: PG ) . If basic product sales accelerate again, that's great. If not, there's a large and growing base of existing customers all hungry for support services.
VMware may feel like a new kid on Wall Street, but don't be fooled: The management team comes from rich and inveterate backgrounds -- mostly from Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) -- and they know what matters. CFO Mark Peek explained that VMware explicitly aims for great cash flow per share because the metric "balances operating results, cash management, capital efficiency and share dilution." Well put, Mr. Peek!
As for VMware's future business prospects, you know that cloud computing is the next big thing in the IT sector, attracting every major player from Microsoft and Cisco Systems (Nasdaq: CSCO ) to Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) and Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN ) . As a leader in selling the virtualization software upon which much of the cloud strategy is built, VMware is perfectly positioned to benefit from that revolution.
Expect growth to continue at breakneck speed for many years as this bona fide Rule Breaker soars to new heights. Frolic in VMware's splendor by way of the comments box below!