What happened

Shares of computer aided design (CAD) software-maker Autodesk (NASDAQ:ADSK) imploded Wednesday, falling 15.4% through 10:35 a.m. ET despite beating expectations in its fiscal third-quarter 2022 earnings report released last night.

Heading into Q3, analysts had forecast that Autodesk would earn $1.26 per share (non-GAAP) on sales of $1.12 billion. In fact, Autodesk earned pro forma profits of $1.33 per share, and its sales eked out a tiny win over expectations -- $1.26 billion.  

Big red arrow going down over a stock chart.

Image source: Getty Images.

So what

"Driven by strong new subscriptions growth and renewal rates," said Autodesk, sales for the quarter surged 18% in comparison to fiscal Q3 2021. Operating profit margins declined by one full percentage point, to 17%, hampering profits growth. Still, the company was able to grow its non-GAAP income 28% to the aforementioned $1.33.  

That's the good news. The bad news is that, when calculated according to generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP), earnings grew a bare 3%, to $0.61 per share. Moreover, free cash flow during the quarter diminished by more than 24%, falling to just $257 million.

Now what

What really seems to be driving the stock down this morning, however, isn't the mediocre earnings news, but Autodesk's new guidance, which seems to have underwhelmed investors. For the fiscal fourth quarter, Autodesk now projects sales will not exceed analyst forecasts for $1.2 billion, and may fall below that. Pro forma profits will almost certainly miss Wall Street targets in Q4, and GAAP earnings for the quarter will range from only $0.71 to $0.77 per share.

Granted, for the year, Autodesk says sales will still range from $4.36 billion to $4.375 billion, roughly in line with expectations for fiscal 2022. And earnings-wise, Autodesk's forecast of non-GAAP profits ranging from $4.98 per share to $5.04 per share implies the company has a good chance of beating the $4.99 that Wall Street is looking for.

Still, with GAAP profits projected to be no more than $2.60 per share, and Autodesk shares selling for nearly 100 times earnings, there's little room for error here in a stock that's priced for perfection. Merely mediocre results aren't going to cut it at these levels -- and that's why the stock is falling today.

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.