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Apollo's Woes (APOL)

Douglas A. McIntyre

Burning Money PicApollo Group Inc. (NASDAQ: APOL) is the clear leader of the private-sector public education companies.  Yet, that leadership position is coming with some severe pain after its earnings.  Apollo reported that its profit fell by some 60% on one-time litigation and write-off charges.  Earnings were $91.5 million, or $0.59 EPS, but outside of items its non-GAAP earnings was listed as being $1.06 EPS. Revenue rose by almost 30% to $1.08 billion.  The consensus estimates from Thomson Reuters were $1.04 EPS (non-GAAP) and $1.03 billion in revenues.  The bomb is here: the Securities and Exchange Commission has launched an informal inquiry over the company’s revenue recognition policy.

Add in what was already government reform that could influence incentive and compensation practices for enrollment counselors and employees and contractors.  The company’s degreed enrollment grew by 22% to 443,000 at the University of Phoenix and new degreed enrollment rose 23%.  If job losses are getting smaller and if more are going to go back to work in 2010, it seems that the huge enrollment growth is not going to be sustainable indefinitely.

Cash and equivalents, excluding restricted cash, came to $987.8 million, up from $511.5 million a year ago.  The company also noted that total deferred revenue increased by over $100 million to $333.0 million.

We did not see guidance issued, so consider this unfinished business.  Because the beat on earnings might be lackluster to many, that SEC inquiry is being treated as a deathblow.  Regulatory issues are not a new event at online education centers, although traders are shooting first and they might not even ask questions later.  This one closed down 0.3% at $72.97 today and the after-hours reaction is down a sharp 20.7% at $57.85. The 52-week trading range is $48.30 to $90.00.

JON C. OGG