What happened

Shares of management consulting firm Navigant Consulting (NYSE:NCI) plunged in Wednesday trading to close the day down 9.9%.

So what

Navigant reported its fiscal Q1 2017 financial results earlier today. The company said its sales for the quarter grew 5% year over year to $257.8 million, which appears to be more than the $241.5 million analysts had forecast. On the other hand, "adjusted" revenue was only $236.2 million -- and if that was the number analysts were focusing on, then Navigant would have missed forecasts.

The earnings picture was similarly muddy. Analysts forecast that Navigant would report per-share profits of $0.26 -- which it did and they didn't. Net profit for the quarter was $0.23 per share, below both estimates and below the $0.26 Navigant earned in the year-ago quarter. Pro forma profit, on the other hand, was $0.27 per share -- ahead of estimates.

Stock chart falling through floor.

Image source: Getty Images.

Now what

So did Navigant do well last quarter or not? I'm in the "not" camp. With analysts perpetually vague about what numbers exactly they're forecasting, I don't put a lot of stock in their predictions in any case. The only thing that's really clear to me is this: One year ago, Navigant earned $0.26 per share in profit. This year, Navigant earned only $0.23. That's not the direction that profits are supposed to "grow" -- not if you want your stock price to go up, at least.

So will Navigant be able to change its direction before the year ends? That's the good news. Management's latest guidance basically doubled down on what it had already said before: Revenue should range between $1.08 and $1.12 billion -- so about $1.1 billion at the midpoint. Earnings should probably come in between $1.29 and $1.36 per share.

Given that Navigant reported profits of only $1.19 per share last year, all the evidence suggests that Navigant does expect to grow earnings this year. Maybe not a lot. But the earnings growth it does promise -- between 8% and 14% -- is a heck of a lot better than the news it reported today. Investors who dumped Navigant shares this week may come to regret their decision 52 weeks hence. 

Rich Smith has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.