The Day Ahead: Electronics for Imaging backs up bullishness with bucks

Shares of the company were rocked Tuesday after the company issued a profit warning, but officials plan to buy back $100 million of its shares -- starting today
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Lost in the second quarter outlook was the fact that Electronics for Imaging, which makes networked digital printing software, authorized a big stock buyback. According to officials, there's a 48-hour blackout window from the time a company announces a buyback to the time it actually starts buying.

CEO Joseph Cutts said Wednesday at the PaineWebber Technology and Growth Conference that EFI (profile) would start buying shares as early as this morning. When asked if EFI would spend $100m (£66.25m) by the end of 2000, Cutts said "it could be within a week." He was only half joking -- the company would have to stop buying the closer it gets to its earnings report.

You could be wary about EFI, but usually when lots of dough goes pouring into a stock it goes up. This common knowledge could be the reason, many investors were overheard saying yesterday, "I'll play it for a couple weeks."

A couple weeks, or $40 a share to be exact. Cutts said the buyback wouldn't be accretive to earnings per share beyond the $40 range.

So why should EFI be so bullish about it's own stock when it's going to miss estimates by a wide margin and fall about $20m short of its sales target?

The company said it would post a profit of between 38 cents to 40 cents a share in the quarter, well below the First Call consensus estimate of 51 cents a share. It also sees total sales coming in around $150 million, slightly lower than the $152 million it recorded in the first quarter.

CEO Guy Gecht said the second quarter was a blip. "There is no long-term issue," he said. "We're either keeping or growing market share."

"It's a growing market," said Cutts. "It's a question of when not if."

But the second half also won't be easy for EFI. The company projects growth of ten percent to 13 percent compared to a year ago. Product delays from original equipment manufacturers that bundle EFI software are partially to blame.

Officials said major partners such as Hewlett-Packard, Canon and Xerox were pushing back product rollouts until the first quarter of 2001. EFI embeds its software into printers and other products. Once the new products roll out, EFI's sales will roll in. EFI said it will continue to invest in its technology and expand into services and consulting.

The company could do well for one simple reason: folks tend to print as much as they surf the Web. Meanwhile, as long as colour printing continues to get faster EFI will thrive -- the company makes colour printer servers.

And EFI also has about $500 million in cash, or $8.50 a share, for strategic acquisitions. The company recently bought a company that zaps white board scribbling to the Web.

MCI WorldCom (Nasdaq: WCOM) Vice Chairman John Sidgmore is very optimistic about the growth of the Web. To illustrate his point, he used charts from Chase H&Q and Morgan Stanley Dean Witter.

The problem? He was speaking at a PaineWebber conference much to the in-house analysts' chagrin. Oh, well.

On other, much more notable, topics, Sidgmore said the company is essentially buying Sprint for its wireless PCS unit. "Wireless is the next great growth platform," he said.

It'll all work out fine -- if only regulators approve the marriage. But Sidgmore added that he feels better about approval than he did just a few weeks ago.

Broadcom copies Cisco acquisition strategy. Doesn't this sound familiar? A big company just can't stop acquiring small startups with no revenue and hot technology.

Sounds a lot like Cisco. It's also a lot like Broadcom. The communications chipmaker has made nine acquisitions in recent months and has no plans of slowing down.

"We'll continue to be aggressive," said William Ruehle, Broadcom chief financial officer. "If you look at the Cisco model there are similarities here."

Ruehle said acquisitions are the best way to get engineers. Broadcom has lost less than two dozen employees since going public, and has 800 engineers out of 1,200 employees.

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