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Why DigitalGlobe, Inc. Dropped Despite a Strong Q2

By Steve Symington - Jul 31, 2015 at 5:40PM

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The satellite imagery company sees waning growth in the second half. Here's what investors need to know.

DigitalGlobe ( DGI ) may have announced stronger-than-expected second-quarter results, but it received no love from Wall Street Friday. Thanks to a light outlook for the remainder of the year, shares of the satellite imagery and geospatial products company fell more than 14%.

Quarterly revenue climbed 12.8% year over year, to $178 million, in line with DigitalGlobe's expectations. This included an 18.4% gain in U.S. government revenue, to $113.1 million, as well as a 4.2% increase in the diversified commercial segment, to $64.9 million.

Adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization rose 37.2%, to $87.7 million, and net income (less preferred stock dividends) came in at $7 million, or $0.09 per diluted share. Net income per share was bolstered by DigitalGlobe's decision to repurchase 1.08 million shares during the quarter for $32.7 million, and each of its bottom-line figures were better than the company had anticipated. Similarly, analysts were expecting DigitalGlobe to incur a loss of $0.02 per share on revenue of $173.1 million.

So why did shares so violently come back to earth?

Here's the culprit
In the earnings press release, DigitalGlobe CEO Jeffrey Tarr tempered expectations for the rest of the year by stating:

While top-line growth may be somewhat moderated in the second half relative to our original expectations, we still expect revenue to grow at a double-digit rate driven by new capacity, new products and new customers. This growth, combined with our continued focus on operational excellence, should enable us to deliver continued margin expansion, strong free cash flow and improving returns that will contribute to the creation of shareowner value.

During the subsequent conference call, Tarr elaborated that the only segment to experience a year-over-year decline in sales during the second quarter was location-based services (LBS). LBS is also expected to decline in the second half of 2015, in part due to the expiration of a contract with Microsoft due to the impending sale of some of its mapping assets to Uber.

But even more detrimental was a decision regarding sales to LBS customers of DigitalGlobe's highest-quality imagery. According to Tarr:

Based on our first few months in the market with our 30cm imagery, we've decided not to undermine our value proposition to customers in other verticals by selling our best imagery at too-low a price to a segment that would make this unique offering freely available on the web. This strategic decision is the single-biggest driver in the moderation of our near-term revenue expectations.

A prudent move
Remember, this 30cm imagery comes from DigitalGlobe's cutting-edge WorldView-3 satellite, which completed calibrations in October, 2014. After a mandatory six-month waiting period imposed by the U.S. Department of Commerce, DigitalGlobe was given the go-ahead this past February to sell its high-res imagery to all customers. This opened the door to what management described last year as a $400 million-per-year global addressable market of commercial clients, who were previously forced to rely on higher-cost, less-timely imagery provided by aerial surveyors.

It makes sense, then, that DigitalGlobe wouldn't want to sell this product at rock-bottom prices to some of its larger LBS customers, who would, in turn, incorporate it into the satellite views of their various web-based mapping services for largely free consumption by the general public. But much to investors' chagrin, this also means taking a short-term hit in the coming quarters.

At the same time, investors can take solace knowing DigitalGlobe's strength in the second quarter effectively makes it a zero-sum game relative to the company's previous expectations. DigitalGlobe reiterated the outlook it provided three months ago for 2015 revenue of $725 million to $750 million, adjusted EBITDA of $355 million to $375 million, and capital expenditures of $110 million. Wall Street's models were calling for 2015 earnings of $0.27 per share, and revenue of $735.2 million, the latter of which is slightly below the midpoint of DigitalGlobe's guidance range.

With that in mind, I still don't think patient investors have much to worry about here. To the contrary, I think DigitalGlobe is wise to foresake a near-term, lower-margin revenue boost in order to preserve its long-term financial health.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis – even one of our own – helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.

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