Virtual computing veteran VMware (NYSE:VMW) delivered a solid fourth-quarter report today, matching or beating analyst targets across the board. VMware's forward guidance, however, didn't exactly impress.
VMware's total sales rose 15% year-over-year to land at $1.7 billion, right in line with analyst expectations. On the bottom line, adjusted earnings increased by 6% to $1.07 per diluted share. Here, the average analyst would have settled for $1.08 per share.
However, VMware's management took a muted approach to the future. Revenue and earnings guidance fell below the current analyst views, both for the next quarter and for the just-started fiscal year.
These modest projections seem to clash with VMware CFO Jonathan Chadwick's view of the company's prospects. "Our portfolio of new disruptive products and services is experiencing significant customer momentum and driving strong growth into 2015," Chadwick said in a prepared statement. "We are pleased to announce an additional $1 billion stock buyback, which reflects the opportunity we see ahead for VMware."
On the other hand, Chadwick can lean on VMware's fast-paced headcount growth to support his rosy business forecast. The company now employs 18,000 people, a 26% increase from the year-ago headcount. With a 41% increase in the budget for cost of services, VMware looks serious about winning business via high-quality support services. Keep in mind that both marketing expenses and actual service revenues simply tracked alongside VMware's 16% sales growth.
In other words, whatever black magic the company is brewing behind the scenes hasn't started paying off yet. I think it's fair to say that Chadwick kept his guidance figures modest just to be on the very, very safe side. VMware has, after all, exceeded Wall Street's earnings targets in each of the last eight quarterly reports. Setting difficult guidance goals would not be a good way to achieve that kind of can't-miss success.
VMware's shares rose modestly on the report, but still trade close to 52-week lows. The stock is looking back at a 15% decline over the last 52 weeks, while the S&P 500 index gained 13%. VMware has a lot to prove in this new era of ubiquitous cloud computing with tough competition from every direction.