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Tech Stocks: Software

 

CA Shareholders Tested Again

By Bill Snyder
TheStreet.com Senior Writer
5/30/2006 3:58 PM EDT
Click here for more stories by Bill Snyder

Shares of CA (CA:NYSE) moved to a new 52-week low as investors digested another round of disquieting news from the troubled business-software giant.

"The company has asked shareholders to believe that restatements are a thing of the past -- well, here we go again," says Con Hitchock, outside counsel and spokesman for Amalgamated Bank LongView Funds, a holder of CA shares.

The object of Hitchcock's annoyance was CA's prebell announcement on Monday that it is lowering its already-reduced earnings estimates for the fourth quarter and delaying the release of the full results because of accounting problems related to commission expenses. The company also said it will restate third-quarter results.

Trading following the announcement was very heavy, with nearly 11 million shares exchanged so far (compared to an average of 2.7 million), but the stock was only off modestly, probably because the steady drumbeat of bad news has already been baked into the share price. In recent trading, the stock had shed 60 cents, or 2.7%, to $21.56, after climbing back from a new 52-week low of $20.80.

Before Tuesday's slide, the stock was off 21% on the year.

Even so, the bottom is not necessarily in sight. "The stock is approaching what has generally been trough valuation levels for software, but we see no positive catalysts on the horizon, and with declining cash flows, the stock isn't going to look any cheaper," wrote Cowen analyst Walter Pritchard. His company does not have an investment-banking relationship with CA.

Pritchard also said the latest restatement indicates that at least some of the executives who have departed recently were pushed out because of the problems, a contention reported earlier this month by TheStreet.com.

"The ongoing sales transition had been proceeding slower than expected, and on top [of that,] sales commissions were paid well in excess of what they should have [been,] due to [the] flawed compensation plan. Commission expense was also not properly accounted for. This falls on the shoulders of CFO, COO and head [of] world wide sales (who is still with the company), indicating that those who have departed were likely pushed out to some degree," Pritchard wrote.

So far, the bad news has not appeared to undermine the position of CEO John Swainson, who promised to clean house and reverse the company's sagging fortunes. But some analysts are beginning to question his role. "The financial problems are not over, they have not come up with any major product initiatives and his core team has left," says Trip Chowdhry, managing director of Global Equities Research.

In some respects, says Chowdhry, disgraced former CEO Sanjay Kumar was doing a better job. "He at least understood that CA needed to be customer-focused. [The company] isn't even holding CA World [the company's annual customer convention] until 2007. That's a very big mistake for a company trying to win back customer confidence," Chowdhry said in an interview. His company does not have an investment banking business.

CA announced earlier this month that it was putting the show on an 18-month schedule but didn't give a reason for the change.


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