Don't let anyone tell you that there's no glory in counting beans. H&R Block
Strength in the mortgage business and an 8% jump in filing fees saved the quarter, which is no small matter. This obviously is H&R Block's seasonally strong quarter with the April 15 filing deadline wedged in there. H&R Block even held its own against rival Intuit
But, with the company having grown its earnings at an annualized clip of nearly 30% over the past five years and holding true to its long-term profit growth target of 13% to 18%, fiscal 2005 will be a disappointment. H&R Block is looking to earn between $4 and $4.25 a share this coming fiscal year, implying a bottom line growth rate of as little as 4% on the low end and no better than 10%.
With the prospects of higher interest rates clouding the mortgage picture, the company will have to get back to its tax-filing roots, and that's not such a promising notion at the moment. The one blemish this past quarter -- that 0.8% decline in filing customers -- is going to fester into a full-blown zit if the tax crowd doesn't show up.
In its defense, the company will open hundreds of new offices in underserved markets. That's a sound strategy if the potential customer was inconvenienced by having to travel too far to the nearest H&R Block outlet. However, it won't mean squat if this is all part of a grander trend of more educated filers being won over by the cheaper and self-empowering simplicity of bargain-priced software. The popularity of our excellent Tax Center seems to bear the possibility out.
On a more upbeat note, H&R Block will be hiking its dividend. Income Investor readers can applaud the fact that the company has distributed its payouts for 168 consecutive quarters and will also be ramping up its share buyback program. That's comforting news, but H&R Block may have a more taxing problem.
Do you rely on a tax pro like H&R Block to help you file your return or do you go it alone? Are you already making the right moves to make sure you don't pay more in taxes than you have to next year? All this and more -- in the Tax Strategies discussion board. Only on Fool.com.
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz is a happy filer with Block's TaxCut program. However, he does not own shares in any company mentioned in this story.