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Another Reason to Ignore Wall Street

There are days when I'm convinced toddlers are running the show on Wall Street. Today is one of them. Institutions that were in love with storage maker Network Appliance (Nasdaq: NTAP  ) suddenly packed their things and went home after yesterday's earnings report, sending the stock lower by nearly 5% as I write this morning.

What caused the fit? A worse-than-expected outlook for the first quarter. MarketWatch reports that Street analysts expected Network Appliance to book $0.18 per share in income on $473 million in sales. The company, however, said it thinks it will earn $0.16 to $0.17 per share on $465 to $476 million in revenue. You'll have to pardon me but ... boo-freaking-hoo.

Come on, folks. This is hardly Foolish behavior. Network Appliance makes popular networked storage products. It's a first-tier competitor in a fast-growing market, which has translated into very strong financial results. Revenue increased 34% year over year during the fourth quarter and 37% for the full fiscal year. Net income increased 74% during the quarter and 48% for the year. Free cash flow for the year exceeded net income by more than $150 million and was up more than 45% from the year prior.

In reviewing the financials I could find only one issue: Accounts receivable growth outpaced sales growth by nearly 14%. That's worth watching, but not totally unexpected for a firm growing this fast. Plus, both gross and operating margins expanded for the quarter and full year. There's no other way to say it: Network Appliance reported blowout results. Yet institutions see only failure. That's eerily like the kid who gets a nice new toy only to pitch a fit when he spots something bigger and shinier that he can't have.

So forget Wall Street's bellyaching, Fool. Instead, profit from it by focusing on what matters: growth, expanding margins, and increasing cash flow. Network Appliance has all three in spades and is readying a $300 million share buyback to boot. You'll need to do your own valuation work before concluding this stock is worth adding to your portfolio, of course. But at least you'll be starting with something concrete and worthwhile, unlike the Street's often-silly sideshows.

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Fool contributor TimBeyers wonders whether Peter Pan would prefer Wall Street to Never Never Land. Yeah, maybe not. Tim didn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story at the time of publication. You can find out what's in his portfolio by checking Tim's Fool profile, which is here. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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