1 Big Reason I've Had It With Avid

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Everything is not as it seems for Avid Technology (NAS: AVID) . I'm willing to bet my professional reputation that today's shocking price jump can't last.

The stock is soaring more than 20% today after a stellar fourth-quarter report. Analysts expected modest non-GAAP earnings of $0.06 per share on $177 million in sales. That would have been a 9.4% year-over-year revenue decline and a very steep profit drop from $0.37 per share.

But Avid absolutely crushed those targets with adjusted EPS of $0.38 on $185 million in sales -- a 5.1% revenue swoon.

Notice how the towering majesty of the day's share price action fades away when you apply a more historical perspective? Avid shares have in fact lost 45% of their value in the past year. The company has been in full turnaround mode since last summer, when management started issuing downright depressing guidance numbers.

Down the drain we go
At the start of this fiscal year, Avid thought it could reach about $710 million in revenue in 2011. That quickly shrunk to $700 million, then $670 million. The final full-year tally landed at $678 million, still far short of the original, happy outlook.

That's in spite of some pretty significant tailwinds from head-to-head competitor Apple (NAS: AAPL) . Cupertino started scaring away video editing professionals when its Final Cut Pro X package turned out to be a major break from earlier versions, to the point that existing Final Cut projects and processes no longer worked with the new software.

And some essential tools in the editing professional's arsenal went missing altogether, like the Edit Decision List that keeps your project consistent as it moves between versions and workstations. Digital workflow pro Jude Mull told Ars Technica that Apple's changes made no sense: "When I read Final Cut Pro X didn't have the ability to generate an EDL I figured Apple is targeting a different audience, the Tweeners, people with a little $, time and creativity, the Indie crowd. This looks stupid to even read, so again, kind of baffled."

Avid's Media Composer and the Adobe Systems (NAS: ADBE) Premiere Pro still see Final Cut defectors making the switch, including some high-profile users like reality TV producers Bunim/Murray. Avid CEO Gary Greenfield made a point of landing the Bunim/Murray account and talked about stealing customers from Final Cut. But he wanted to make it look like an Avid achievement, not Apple's mistake. I think that's dishonest, but media spin is unfortunately a common task for public company executives.

But wait -- there's more!
What's worse, Greenfield doesn't see any growth opportunity in 2012. "We're taking a focus on how we can improve our profitability with no growth," he told analysts on the earnings call. Sure, he'll take any revenue growth that falls in his lap, particularly in the professional market at the expense of low-margin enthusiast sales. But he's essentially admitting that sales growth is dead in Avid's core markets.

So this quarter wasn't the hyper-success Mr. Market makes it look like. There's little or no sales growth ahead, and Avid has become a margin story from head to toe. And there's that Apple-made opportunity that seems to be slipping through management's fingers. Adobe, on the other hand, is accelerating.

I think investors will wake up from this euphoric jump to find that Avid's long-term prospects don't measure up. Cost-cutting is a delicate balancing act, and you can't really force customers to flock to your richer-margin products. Focusing on margin growth without destroying the underlying business is very, very hard. It's a risky turnaround plan. That's why I'm putting my all-star CAPS rating on the line here with an angry, red "underperform" CAPScall. That way, you can hold me accountable when I say that Avid is going nowhere -- fast.

At the time this article was published

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