These three companies just didn't live up to Mr. Market's expectations last week. Whether a target was set by the company's own management, by Wall Street analysts, or by the market at large, that miss can have serious consequences, and share prices may suffer -- or prosper -- in response.
Sometimes an earnings stumble is a signal to sell, but digging in the dirt is also a good way to find turnaround candidates while they're getting beaten down. Today, it's a duo of household names slipping into the mists of time, only to be replaced by our third entrant.
The tax man giveth, the mortgage man taketh away
Tax preparation expert H&R Block
Even discounting that laggardly operation, H&R missed Street estimates by $0.07 per share. That means that tax preparation and consumer financial services will have to shoulder some of the blame, despite CEO Mark Ernst calling this "possibly our best year ever operationally." Looks like management's putting a positive spin on negative news, leaving investors without much confidence in the news coming out of the Kansas City headquarters.
A weak earnings report coupled with shady reporting tactics adds up to the conclusion that our CAPS players have the right idea about this company. H&R is a one-star stock (out of a possible five), compared to four stars for rival Intuit
Dance of death
Next up on our dance card, there's a familiar face. Pier 1 Imports
With net sales down 5.2% from a year ago, the company cleaned out its excessive inventory with price markdowns, causing margins to plummet across the board. Aggressive sales hurt sometimes, and in this case, it wasn't even enough to keep sales at the levels of yesteryear. That's gotta hurt.
The board of directors voted through some serious changes to the company's direction, in conjunction with this depressing report. There will be 100 fewer Pier 1 stores this year rather than the 60 closings previously expected; all 24 clearance stores and all 33 Pier 1 Kids stores will be closed over the summer. It's an effort to focus on "what really matters," according to conference call comments by CEO Alex Smith.
It's only one part of a six-step plan meant to return the company to profitability. It's a sound strategy, though I'll personally miss the Kids outlets -- the only Pier 1 property my family would buy anything from. But this is a company in need of a new focus, and if the core stores are the best performers, go ahead and work on turning that strength into cash.
However, I suspect we'll see Pier 1 in this column again before the end of the song. Turnarounds don't happen overnight, and this one might never happen at all. It's all up to us fickle consumers and our darn fashion trends, and discount furniture at our local Wal-Mart
Smoke and mirrors
Our last underperformer this week is digital cinema specialist Access Integrated Technologies
The massive losses mainly resulted from increased depreciation of the company's increased asset base. Additionally, a $2.5 million charge for dumping off a couple of data centers that no longer fit AccessIT's cinematic strategy didn't help much, either.
But these are good things, I think. Data center operations used to be this company's bread and margarine, but that's a pretty mature industry by now, with plenty of larger competitors. Digital projection, distribution, and film library management services, on the other hand, make up a massive growth opportunity with only a couple of serious competitors in a fledgling sector.
As for depreciation, that's a non-cash charge that mainly reduces the company's income tax basis, and there are far worse ways to miss a target than by saving tax dollars. All in all, I say AccessIT is in good shape going forward, growing quarterly revenues a staggering 285% year over year and setting itself up for a shot at dominance in this tasty market. Carry on, gentlemen.
Some of these underperformers are victims of larger circumstances, while others might have only themselves to blame. It's up to you to decide which down-on-their-luck companies should be able to pull themselves up by the bootstraps, and which really are stuck in the mud. Come back next week, and we'll take a look at another batch of mishaps and disappointments. It'll be fun and educational.
Further Foolish reading:
- H&R Block's Taxing Subprime Exposure
- Pier 1 Cleans House
- Foolish Forecast: Integrated Access to Access Integrated
- Take cheap when you can get it.
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Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in the companies discussed this week and would like to reduce his taxes like AccessIT. The Fool has a disclosure policy, and you can see his current holdings for yourself.