Grazin' in the Glass

Easy go, easy come, easy go again.

No sooner had Apogee Enterprises (Nasdaq: APOG  ) set critics' fingers to wagging last year (over one-time charges), than it slammed down the window on those fingers last quarter, eliciting cries of pain and an 18% rise in stock price as profits rose and free cash flow soared. Three months further on, it's Apogee shareholders' turn to howl (yours Fool-y among them) as every one of those "percents" flew right back out the window.

The reason for this morning's distress? You guessed it: Apogee "missed earnings."

Big time
Reporting $0.36 per share in profits for fiscal Q1 2009, Apogee fell a good 16% short of consensus estimates, and earned 10% less than it had back in fiscal Q1 2008. But aside from that, the news really wasn't all that bad -- and where it was bad, the blame doesn't fall at all where you might have expected to find it.

Homebuilders like D.R. Horton (NYSE: DHI  ) , Toll Bros. (NYSE: TOL  ) , Ryland (NYSE: RYL  ) and Centex (NYSE: CTX  ) are still gnashing their teeth and reporting massive losses on their residential construction operations. By now, you might have expected the pain to have spread to commercial construction players.

But it hasn't
To the contrary, Apogee reported 17% revenue growth in its architectural-glass division last quarter. And with operating margins continuing to widen, the company translated that into 28% growth in operating profits. But the company fell down in Q1 in its large-scale optical segment (picture frames and such), where revenue was down 18%, and profits dropped 17%.

Bad news is good news
An 18% drop? Where have I seen that before? (Oh, yes. The share price.) But it's interesting to note that as picture-framing revenue dropped, profits from that segment dropped a bit less. Ordinarily, you expect the opposite to happen when a company cuts back on volume and loses volume-driven efficiencies. But Apogee, it appears, made a conscious decision to exit "less-profitable product lines" in this segment. As a result, margins actually improved slightly on the framing business it did do.

And so is good news
Looking forward, Apogee called the demand for its architectural products and services commercial construction market "healthy" and noted that its backlog is up 19% versus this time last year -- faster than sales growth, which suggests that business continues to boom. With margins and sales rising, management confirms it will keep growing revenues in the low teens this year and post earnings growth in the upper 20s (slowing to just 20% next year).

Call me a Fool. Call me a glutton for punishment. But with Apogee now selling for around 11 times trailing earnings, that kind of growth tells me the stock is still a buy.

Revisit Apogee and its recent perigees in:

Fool contributor Rich Smith owns shares of Apogee, and intends to buy more at today's new and improved stock price. Actually, make that "today's-plus-10 days" -- The Motley Fool's disclosure policy requires that he neither buy nor sell shares in any company he writes about for 10 days prior to or following a column. Kind of appropriate that we require such transparency about a glass stock, don'tcha think?

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