What happened

Shares of Patterson Companies (NASDAQ:PDCO) dropped more than 10% in early trading Thursday, before clawing their way back to a 5.7% loss as of 12:20 p.m. EDT. And if you guessed that the reason for this was an earnings miss -- ding-ding-ding! -- you win the prize.

This morning, the distributor of dental and animal health products announced earnings for its fiscal Q4 2019. Analysts had expected Patterson to report $1.4 billion in sales and profits of $0.39 per share. The company actually hit the sales target, but it earned only $0.30 per share, and $0.37 pro forma -- missing on both counts. 

Red arrow crashing into floor

Image source: Getty Images.

So what

Were these bad results? It depends on how you look at them. On the one hand, yes, Patterson "missed estimates." On the other hand, though, the company scored 4% sales gains in each of its two main divisions (dental and animal health) and grew its profits 30% year over year.

Now what

The problem with Patterson's results wasn't what it earned last quarter (or at least, not entirely), but rather the guidance the company gave for what it will earn next year.

In fiscal 2020, Patterson says it expects earnings to range from $0.99 to $1.09 per share, as calculated according to generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) -- or $1.33 to $1.43 per share pro forma. Wall Street, however, had been expecting Patterson to earn $1.51 per share. Granted, that may be a pro forma estimate -- but regardless, Patterson appears to be predicting an earnings miss for all of the coming year, on top of the miss from Q4 of last year.

No wonder investors are upset.

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.