Instead of the more than 4% growth expected in the third quarter, Apria is now projecting that growth won't even achieve 1%. What's worse, this stagnation will apparently extend into the next quarter, and the company is thus reducing its full-year earnings guidance to a range of $1.68 to $1.72 -- well below both the mean analyst expectation of $1.88 as well as the company's earlier guidance of $1.90 to $1.95.
Apria's excuses pretty much run the gamut. You have weak sales of medical equipment, respiratory medications, and infusion therapy products hurting the top line. Elsewhere, higher fuel and health costs, hurricane-related expenses, and lower selling prices for drugs that Medicare reimburses are going to hurt the bottom line. Somehow you just knew that there had to be a hurricane reference, didn't you?
Management made a point of singling out its discounted hospital contracts as a source of weakness. Given the relative proportion of business that goes through that channel, I find that a little odd, unless that business really just fell apart. Frankly, I think the bigger issue is that competitors like Lincare
In any case, while I think that Lincare is definitely a better company in this market, Apria still has a potential ace in the hole. You might remember that Apria has put itself up for sale. While this sort of financial performance won't help the sale price, the company's announcement that it has resolved all pending litigation (and on pretty reasonable terms) should help reduce the risk to a potential buyer. Although I do not recommend buying a stock because you think the company will get bought out at a better price than what you'll pay, I can't ignore the fact that the possibility (probability?) of a sale does offer some protection here for aggressive investors.
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Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).