Often, consumers are more aware of the products and services they use than the companies that provide them. That's almost certainly the case with Nuance Communications (NASDAQ:NUAN), whose voice-recognition software has become an integral part of Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) well-known Siri and other similar services. From an investing standpoint, though, the question that Nuance has long faced is whether it can survive the decreasing reliance from Apple on its services and the need to diversify further into promising fields like medical transcription. Even as it has moved forward to try to generate more recurring revenue, Nuance has had investors concerned coming into its fiscal fourth-quarter report that the best of times for the company is behind it. Yet overall, Nuance had some encouraging numbers in its report Monday afternoon. Let's look at how Nuance did this quarter and what we're likely to see from the voice-recognition giant in the near future.
What Nuance Communications' earnings numbers told us
Considering Nuance's headline revenue and earnings numbers gives a general sense of how the company did compared to what investors expected to see. On the sales front, Nuance managed to post 6.4% higher revenue to $502.3 million, which came in faster than the 4.2% growth that investors had expected. On an adjusted basis, that translated into earnings per share of $0.33, versus the $0.27 per share that many had expected and the $0.30 per share Nuance earned last year.
But looking more deeply at the numbers tells a less clear story. Nuance's healthcare business has been a standout in past quarters, as the need for voice recognition in transcribing medical records is obvious to anyone who's ever seen the typical doctor's handwriting. This quarter, healthcare segment revenue climbed at a 7% clip compared to last year's quarter. Enterprise revenue climbed at an even faster pace above 10%. At the same time, though, mobile and consumer sales have held back Nuance's potential growth, and this quarter's numbers continued the downward trend, falling 2% from year-ago levels.
Looking forward, one piece of positive news is that Nuance is even closer to completing its transition to a subscription-based model. During the quarter, product and licensing revenues fell slightly, while professional services and hosting revenue climbed by more than 12%. For the full 2014 fiscal year, Nuance got 64% of its overall adjusted revenue from recurring revenue, up from just over half in fiscal 2012. Meanwhile, perpetual licenses now represent just 26% of adjusted revenue, down from 38% two years ago. With increased reliance on the subscription model, Nuance should see steadier results without the turbulence that changing volumes of perpetual licenses can create.
Nuance CFO Tom Beaudoin was pleased with the results. "Fiscal 2014 bookings and execution in strategic markets position us well for a return to growth in fiscal 2015," Beaudoin said. With bookings up more than 27% for the fiscal year to $2.44 billion -- well above the $2.35 billion to $2.4 billion that Nuance had projected -- the potential for accelerated rises in earnings and revenue in the coming fiscal year look promising. Yet Nuance's projections for the fiscal first quarter and for fiscal 2015 were below or at levels that investors expected to see, which could weigh on shareholder enthusiasm in the future.
How patient will Icahn remain?
Another source of uncertainty comes from the stance of activist investor Carl Icahn. With a huge stake in the company, other shareholders have looked to Icahn to work his magic and get Nuance to start generating more share-price gains. Yet even though Icahn controls two seats on Nuance's board of directors, his efforts haven't yet yielded the positive returns that many investors have counted on. If at some point in the future, Icahn loses his patience with his investment and sells out, then it could send Nuance stock back on another wave downward.
For now, though, Icahn is likely to be pleased. After Nuance's earnings announcement, the stock climbed more than 3% in after-hours trading, as traders appeared to ignore any concerns about fiscal 2015 guidance.
Nuance's latest results could drive the stock higher in the near-term as traders get optimistic about a possible recovery for the company. In the long run, though, Nuance will need to follow through on its efforts to generate faster business growth if it wants to sustain its turnaround efforts.