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Why Shares of Career Education Popped

By Alex Dumortier, CFA - Mar 4, 2015 at 3:09PM

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Career Education surprises with its fourth quarter results -- is that enough?

Although we don't believe in timing the market or panicking over market movements, we do like to keep an eye on big changes -- just in case they're material to our investing thesis.

Shares of Career Education (PRDO 0.74%) rose as much as 23% on Wednesday (they're up 17% in recent trading) after the company announced a loss for the fourth quarter that was much narrower than analysts had predicted.

So what:
Career Education provided mainly qualitative guidance for the current year (they do expect positive adjusted EBITDA... from ongoing operations), but no revenue or earnings-per-share forecasts. There's nothing wrong with that (in fact, some of the best businesses operate that way); however, I suspect that the lack of quantitative guidance means the market is today taking its cue from the narrower-than-expected loss in the fourth quarter: ($0.12) versus the consensus forecast of ($0.30).

However, while the company trumpets $15.6 million of "positive adjusted EBITDA" (again, for ongoing operations) in the fourth quarter, I note that cash flow from operations was negative to the tune of $17.5 million. That's nine consecutive quarter of negative cash flow from operations.

Now what:
Career Education CEO Ron McCray said that "fiscal year 2014 was an important year of operating stabilization for our business, and we're beginning to see clear indications that our evolving portfolio of academic offerings is beginning to align more closely with our students' needs."

That may well be. Indeed, continuing efforts to pare costs and raise student enrollment could lead to the Promised Land of profitability this year. However, I would suggest that individual investors avoid betting on a turnaround play – predictability is poor and it requires constant monitoring. Take a page from Warren Bufett, who reiterated in his latest shareholder letter that ""turnaround" situations... are of no interest to us" – you'll spare yourself some headaches.


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