Image: FactSet Research Systems.

Financial information specialist FactSet Research Systems (FDS -0.34%) has taken full advantage of the comeback in the financial industry following the 2008 recession and market meltdown, offering its suite of products to a host of important clients across the globe. Coming into Tuesday's fiscal first-quarter financial report, FactSet investors were optimistic about the company's near-term future, but they had noticed that the choppiness in the financial markets in recent months was a departure from the more favorable conditions that the company had enjoyed throughout most of the past several years. Major financial institutions like ETF leader BlackRock (BLK 0.52%) have seen dramatic slides in their share price as some fear fallout from market volatility. Even though FactSet gave investors another set of record results for the quarter, investors sent the stock downward as they looked ahead to a potentially more difficult future. Let's look more closely at how FactSet Research Systems did and why shareholders might be cautious.

FactSet's growth falls a bit short
FactSet's fiscal first-quarter results kept demonstrating the company's ability to grow, but they failed to live up to the full expectations that investors had. Revenue climbed almost 11.5% to $270.5 million, which was a faster growth pace than last quarter but fell short of the consensus forecast among those following the stock by almost $2 million. Similarly, adjusted net income rose 8% to $60.4 million, but the resulting adjusted earnings of $1.44 per share were $0.03 short of investor expectations.

A closer look at FactSet's results showed some solid gains in its fundamental performance. Annual subscription value climbed 9.4% to $1.11 billion on an organic basis, with roughly similar growth rates from both FactSet's buy-side and sell-side clients. Although currency impacts hurt the company's overseas results, currency-neutral growth rates for revenue were higher internationally than in the U.S. during the quarter. Margin growth from past quarters reversed itself in the most recent report, as adjusted operating margins fell six-tenths of a percentage point. FactSet blamed the inclusion of the recently acquired Portware's operations for the drop, which cut margins by more than a percentage point.

FactSet continued to do a good job hanging onto clients and attracting new customers. Retention climbed above the 95% mark, hitting record levels for the current quarter. The company's employee count has risen because of acquisition and to meet higher demand, and client counts rose 1% to jump above the 3,000 mark as of November 30.

CEO Phil Snow celebrated the progress that FactSet has made. "Our ASV growth continued to accelerate with our key client metrics rising higher," Snow said, "all generating a strong start to the fiscal year." Snow also pointed to strategic initiatives as driving future growth opportunities.

Can FactSet withstand a bear market?
One of those strategic initiatives involves the Portware acquisition, which closed in October. FactSet said that the merger cost the company about $0.03 per share in earnings, but it expects Portware to start adding to FactSet's overall earnings results by this time next year.

Still, FactSet's guidance was somewhat mixed. Fiscal second-quarter revenue of $280 million to $286 million would be mostly above the current consensus forecast among investors, but the projected earnings range of $1.49 to $1.53 per share brackets the $1.52 per share that shareholders are currently expecting somewhat less bullishly.

For FactSet, a lot depends on how its client base fares in any potential turn in the financial markets. Asset managers like BlackRock have drawn concern as the high-yield credit market comes under strain from falling oil prices and overly indebted energy companies. The potential fallout could bleed into the stock market, affecting demand for ETFs and wreaking havoc on the asset-management industry more broadly. That in turn could make it harder for FactSet to sustain growth.

FactSet stock reacted poorly to the news, falling 4% on a generally up day for the stock market. After years of extremely good performance, FactSet might now have to prove it can sustain and build on its relationships even when the financial industry isn't as healthy as it has been for a long time.