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What: H&R Block, Inc. (NYSE:HRB) shares have fallen 28.6% from the beginning of 2016 through July 31, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence data.

So what: The tax-preparation giant's stock began a multi-month decline in early March, when the company released its fiscal 2016 third-quarter results. Block reported a revenue decrease of $34.5 million, to $474.5 million, which it blamed primarily on lower volumes at its U.S. assisted tax preparation offices. The company also cited the divestiture of H&R Block Bank, and foreign currency translation, as secondary factors underlying the revenue drop.

Investors were also troubled by a 6.1% decline in total returns prepared by or through H&R Block through the end of the third quarter. The assisted tax preparation market has been in decline for some years, as more consumers choose the "do-it-yourself," or DIY route to tax preparation. Notably, competitor Intuit Inc. (NASDAQ:INTU) enjoyed 15% unit growth in its DIY market-leading TurboTax Online software during this year's tax season. H&R Block management cited TurboTax's strength as one reason its own online DIY tax product experienced a 2.6% volume decline in 2016.

Now what: The company's fourth-quarter report, issued June 9, brought some relief to investors. While Block ended the fiscal year with a net decline of 6% in assisted returns, the fourth quarter wasn't appreciably worse than the third -- most of the assisted tax prep volume decline occurred early in the tax season.

Additionally, even as the company's 2016 net profit margin dropped by more than 300 basis points, and net income fell 21% to $384 million, shareholders appeared to appreciate the fact that earnings per share decreased only 12.5% versus the prior year. That's because management utilized the organization's balance sheet to repurchase an eye-raising 20.5% of shares outstanding during fiscal 2016.

H&R Block shares jumped more than 12.5% the day after its fourth-quarter earnings release, although they're still down substantially for the year. Looking forward, the divestiture of H&R Block Bank, which was completed in late 2015, will be a net positive for the company. Block will have a lighter capital structure going forward, and more importantly, management will be able to focus more closely on Block's core tax business. 

Focus will indeed be needed to execute on product development and marketing if the company is to wrest market share back from Intuit and other smaller competitors. Since Block is so concentrated in the tax business, shareholders looking for progress will have to wait patiently for fiscal 2017's third quarter to get an early read on the next tax season. That reporting won't occur until March of next year. Until then, investors may have to content themselves with Block's ample dividend, which currently yields roughly 3.7%.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.