Props to fellow Fool Rick Munarriz -- he called it right on eCollege.com
Well, it did (report earnings). And it did (take a hit today). Analysts were expecting the company to report $0.13 in "adjusted earnings." Those actually came in at $0.11, which helps to explain this morning's drop. However, to this Fool, the drop in price was exactly the wrong reaction -- and for a reason having nothing to do with whether the company hit, beat or missed estimates. Let me explain.
My biggest beef with eCollege has always been the fact that it tries too hard to make its numbers transparent. Like a window washer so intent on cleaning the object of his fancy that he ends up with a pane of glass covered in suds and impenetrable to light, eCollege regularly spewed out -- at last count -- four separate flavors of earnings numbers: net earnings, pro forma earnings, adjusted earnings, and adjusted pro forma earnings. No more.
Yesterday's earnings release contained not a word about pro forma earnings, adjusted or not. On the contrary, the company gave a completely lucid explanation of its operations, outlining its revenue growth (10% against the year-ago quarter) and net income ($0.07, or more than twice what it earned one year ago), and even devoting a full paragraph to my preferred metric for evaluating a company's performance: free cash flow (which imitated net income by nearly doubling this quarter, compared to Q2 2004).
It's not often that a company becomes more transparent by providing fewer numbers, but that's precisely what eCollege accomplished. Combine enhancing the ease of understanding the company with the fact that its profits and free cash flow soared over the past year, and eCollege looks like a better investment prospect today than when I first looked at it one year ago. So on the off chance that someone at eCollege is reading this, I'd like to first say: Good move, guys.
And not to be a nag or anything, but while I've got you on the horn, could you do something about that balance sheet line that bundles together "Accounts Receivable (A/R) and Other Current Assets"? I don't know about other Fools, but when I see revenues rise just 10%, and A/R (possibly) jump 35% that makes me a bit nervous. It would be a big help to investors if you could break out the A/R numbers. Let us see how much of the jump reflects difficulties in collecting your bills, and how much can be shuffled off to "other."
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Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares in eCollege.