The Day Ahead: Corel tries out new buzzwords

Corel is amazing -- for all the wrong reasons
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Corel fumbled yet another quarter, but somehow still manages to string investors along with its liberal use of buzzwords. Despite its latest miscue, the company will find plenty of supporters even as shares fall. Why? Because it introduced a few more hot tech buzzwords -- WAP, ASP, B2B and XML -- last night on the earnings conference call. The theory goes like this: The more hot technologies chief executive Michael Cowpland talks about, the greater the chance that some sucker will buy Corel shares.

The latest evidence is Corel's first quarter. The company missed estimates (is that news anymore?), and said its next two quarters would mirror the one just ended. For the record, Corel had a first quarter operating loss of 19 cents (12p) a share, missing First Call consensus by three cents (2p).

As for the outlook, expect similar losses in the next two quarters. It's a "transitional period" for Corel.

Unfortunately, analysts were hoping for a second quarter profit of 2 cents (1p) a share. In the third quarter, First Call consensus called for a loss of 6 cents (4p) a share.

Of course, financial projections never mattered much to Corel anyway. Perhaps sensing this Linux thing has played itself out on Wall Street, Cowpland felt obliged to talk about the next big thing for Corel -- nevermind that the most recent big thing hasn't even paid off yet.

Enter the new buzzwords: WAP, ASP, B2B and XML. Corel management said the company is cooking up hot technologies for the day when Microsoft won't rule the computing world -- think Linux spreadsheets on wireless phones. Corel said it will enable wireless applications using the wireless application protocol (WAP) standard, cook up extensible markup language (XML) versions of its software and play in the application service provider (ASP) and business-to-business (B2B) markets. Most of these world-beating products are still in development.

Like clockwork, investors hit the message boards talking about Corel's WAP strategy and other big plans. Will Corel deliver on any of those new high-tech initiatives? Doubtful. However, investors should note Corel's use of buzzwords -- they are a great barometer for finding out what's hot in the tech sector.

Just in case the WAP thing didn't work out, Corel still managed to work the Linux angle. What's most interesting about Corel's first quarter earnings release is what the company didn't say. Corel didn't mention Linux sales. That's quite a change considering Corel couldn't stop babbling about Linux when shares were gaining along with VA Linux and Red Hat.

It didn't take long to figure out why Corel didn't mention Linux sales. On a conference call, officials said Corel Linux, a version of the free open source operating system, brought in $2.3m (£1.4m) in sales in the first quarter. Since Linux sales were down from $3.2m (£1.9m) in the fourth quarter, Corel figured it wouldn't mention that item in its press release.

To minimise the damage of the Linux sales dip and another disappointing quarter, Cowpland said Corel's WordPerfect Office 2000 for Linux is off to manufacturing. Corel's Linux office suite will sell for $159 (£98) for the deluxe version and $129 (£79) for the standard version.

Cowpland said investors should focus on the allegedly bright Linux-, WAP-, ASP-, B2B- and XML-based future of the company.

So what do you do if you're an Inprise shareholder? Corel, which is merging with Inprise/Borland, said the deal remains on track and the merged company will have $20m (£14m) in Linux revenue in fiscal 2000.

But Corel's latest quarter has to make Inprise shareholders squeamish. Corel is offering 53.7 million shares for Inprise and the value of the deal is falling fast. On 7 February, Corel was paying $1.07bn (£660m) in stock for Inprise. At Corel's Monday closing price of 13 3/8, the deal is worth $718m (£445m). Based on Corel's after hours price of about 11, Inprise is now valued at $590m (£365m).

And it gets worse. Inprise shareholders also inherit Cowpland, class action lawsuits and Corel's poor reputation. Maybe more investors should follow the lead of C Robert Coates, chief executive of Management Insights, an investment firm. Shareholders vote on the merger in May.

Coates resigned from the Inprise board in protest of the Corel/Inprise merger. Inprise was expected to be profitable in the third quarter. After Corel's latest debacle, though, all bets are off.

Cowpland said he is confident the Corel/Inprise merger will be approved. That may be a good sign for Inprise shareholders -- Cowpland usually overpromises and underdelivers.

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