Why Principal Financial's Shares Dropped

Although we don't believe in timing the market or panicking over market movements, we do like to keep an eye on big changes -- just in case they're material to our investing thesis.

What: Shares of wealth manager Principal Financial (NYS: PFG) were sagging today, falling as much as 11% in intraday trading before closing with a more modest 5% loss.

So what: After yesterday's close, Principal released first-quarter results, and they weren't quite what investors were hoping for. Total revenue for the quarter clocked in at $2.1 billion, up roughly 3% from a year ago. Expenses, however, rose faster and operating earnings declined 3% to $213 million.

A declining share count, thanks to share repurchases, helped earnings per share move in the right direction -- finishing at $0.70, up from $0.68 in 2011. That $0.70 tally, though, was still short of the $0.74 that Wall Street was looking for.

Now what: Despite missing Wall Street's bar for the quarter, Principal's management was upbeat about the results. CEO Larry Zimpleman pointed to the company's record in assets under management and strong top-line performance in multiple business lines and said, "I am more confident today than ever that The Principal has the right business mix and the right global footprint to fulfill our strategy of being a global investment management leader."

That's some nice-sounding corporate-speak, but with investors clearly disappointed with the first quarter of the year, Principal may have some convincing to do to get the market to believe that assessment.

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