It's the start of earnings season, fellow investors! Tomorrow eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY) will be the first of our Rule Breakers to report its fiscal year 2000 results. Next week, we'll see year-end earnings from Amgen (Nasdaq: AMGN) on Wednesday, followed by first- and second-quarter earnings from Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX) and Celera Genomics (NYSE: CRA) respectively on Thursday. On the last day of the month, Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN) will give its results for the all-important fourth quarter (of which we have already had a glimpse), and AOL Time Warner (NYSE: AOL) will give its first quarterly report as a combined company.
I've come to look forward to this time of year with excitement. It's when we get our best chance to reevaluate our holdings to make sure that they are still on target to meet our expectations. Although we don't make "buy" and "sell" decisions according to who meets analysts' expectations and who doesn't, we do want our stocks to meet estimates -- not because we care what analysts think, but because the company itself typically guides those estimates. If, for example, AOL says that it will have 27 million subscribers, but fails to sign up that many, it means that AOL is not performing according to its business plan. (AOL has already surpassed that number, by the way.) Such shortfalls might not be the end of the world, but they're noteworthy, so we note them.
In that spirit, here are some of the expectations we have for the days ahead.
eBay: Lower advertising rates have been the bane of many Internet companies in the past year. Just last week, sluggish ad rates caused Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO) to lower its guidance for the coming year. eBay, however, derives its revenue from a different source. People argue about whether eBay will suffer in a recession, but the fact is that, while other companies have revised guidance down, eBay has raised expectations for itself.
As a newly crowned member of the FOOL 50 Index and a personal holding of mine, eBay is not expected to miss expectations. It has never done so before. Revenue should be at least $130 million for the quarter, which will put eBay over $400 million for the year. That should keep it on track to bring in $3 billion in 2005, as the company has predicted. Earnings per share (EPS) for the quarter are expected to be $0.07.
Amgen: Amgen has also issued ambitious targets for 2005, calling for $8-9 billion in revenue, up from about $3.6 billion in the last 12 months. As for the coming quarter, the company laid out its projections pretty clearly in its third-quarter earnings. EPS should come in around $0.20.
The more noteworthy part of the announcement will be the progress report on products in the pipeline, particularly ARANESP, which is expected to launch in the middle of 2001. We'll also pay attention to updates on Abarelix and SD/01, which are seeking approval from the FDA by the end of 2002.
Starbucks: Starbucks has already reported sales figures for the first quarter, so most of the cat is already out of the bag. Sales increased 26% to $667 million on 10% -- yes, that's right, 10% -- comparable-store sales. I've rhapsodized about Starbucks' comps before, but they still astound me. This company is a well-oiled machine. It should collect the expected $0.23 EPS without problems.
Amazon.com: Amazon, too, has already reported sales. I wrote about its pre-announcement last week. While revenue growth seems to have slowed, the balance-sheet items that Amazon included in its report looked good to me. Inventory levels were very low and current cash was higher than I expected. I want to see the rest of the balance sheet, however, before I pronounce the quarter a success. Amazon will have to make up for low revenue with super-fine working capital management. Even with that, it'll be a dicey year.
Celera Genomics: I could guess at revenue- or loss-per-share numbers for Celera, but what would be the point? This company is not valued according to its earnings in the next few years. We'll be much more interested to hear what the company has to say about new business initiatives, particularly in the area of drug discovery. Peter Chambre, the company's chief operating officer, recently spoke at the J.P. Morgan H&Q health-care conference. He said "The next step is building a drug discovery engine to transform Celera into a drug discovery company. Implementation is now underway."
We have said before that we look for Celera to get into the business of drug discovery, if not drug development. We've even painted a picture of what the company might look like then. We're interested to know what CEO J. Craig Venter has to say about it in the upcoming conference call.
AOL Time Warner: I'm not expecting a lot of substance to come out of this call. There will be much talk of synergy, and potential, and energy and I'm going to sleep through it. It'll be a while before this picture becomes clear to any of us, including Steve Case and Gerald Levin.
It's clear that AOL's business, the one we bought, continues to fire on all cylinders. AOL surpassed 27 million subscribers recently. It took the company only 34 days to add its latest million subs, compared to 48 days for the previous million. This is another thing that I've puzzled over before, but I'll ask again: How is it that, in these days of slowing PC sales and failing dot-coms, AOL still manages to surpass all expectations?
Seven years ago, Steve Case headed a second-tier online services provider. Now he's chairman of the largest media company in the world. AOL Time Warner is expected to bring in revenue of $40 billion in 2001 and $41.8 billion in 2002. That, friends, is how you go from Rule Breaking to Rule Making in style.
It's an exciting time of the year for Rule Breaker investors. Who knows what important news, positive or negative, will come out in the next few weeks? We will certainly have our eye on it and report back to you.
--Brian Lund, who "donates" plasma for $20 a pop under the street name TMF Tardior.