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Capella Education Company (CPLA - Analyst Report), the provider of online education, recently delivered fourth-quarter 2011 earnings of 91 cents a share that dropped 16.5% from $1.09 earned in the prior-year quarter due to fall in students’ enrollment. On a reported basis, including one time items, earnings came in at 85 cents, down 22% from the year-ago quarter. The Zacks Consensus Estimate for the quarter was 91 cents.
Behind the Headline
Total active enrollment dropped 4.5% to 37,704 during the quarter. Management had earlier guided enrollment to fall by 4% to 6% in the quarter. New enrollment tumbled 9.4%, reflecting tough market conditions, changes with respect to program accreditation, and stringent admissions criteria.
The quarterly revenue of $110 million came in line with the Zacks Consensus Estimate but fell 4.1% from $114.7 million in the year-ago quarter. The decline in the top line dovetails with management’s guidance range of 3% to 4.5% fall. Capella now expects revenue to drop by 1% to 2% in the first quarter of 2012.
Operating income, adjusted for charges related to workforce reduction, plummeted 28.7% to $20.2 million, whereas operating margin contracted 640 basis points to 18.3%.
Capella now expects operating margin in the range of 15% to 16% in the first quarter of 2012, down from 20.2% in the first quarter of 2011, reflecting planned investments in learner success initiatives, rise in depreciation charges and expenses related to Resource Development International, acquired in July 2011.Management’s target is to attain operating margins between 15% and 17% for 2012.
Enrollment Falls, Forecasts Softer Declines
We observe that Capella is witnessing a fall in enrollment. After falling 7.5% in third quarter of 2011, total active enrollment dropped 4.5% in the fourth quarter. However, Capella now projects total enrollment to decline between 5% and 6% in the first quarter of 2012. Management expects that the rate of decline in total enrollment will decelerate as the year progresses due to improvement in new enrollment.
The potential risk looming over the education sector is the regulation proposed by the Department of Education that is weighing upon students’ enrollments and the company’s profits. The Department of Education proposed that an educational program could only qualify for Title IV funds, if it helps in achieving gainful employment, which includes the criteria of loan repayment rate and debt-to-income ratios.
The institutions are under the scanner due to the rise in the default rate of student loans, and are now being asked to submit information relating to recruitment procedures and use of student’s grant.
Capella hinted that new enrollment in the first quarter of 2012 is expected to decline marginally, following a drop of 9.4% in the fourth quarter and a fall of 36% in the first quarter of 2011, as it expects re-registration of existing apprentices to remain robust.
Capella generally focuses on working adults, and in order to draw students it is also ramping its marketing and promotional expenditures. To counter sluggishness in students’ enrollment, education companies are also resorting to restructuring their cost base. The company lowered its headcount by about 63 non-faculty workforces, and for this it incurred a charge of about $1.3 million in the quarter. Management hinted that the eliminations will result in cost savings of approximately $5.2 million per year.
Other Financial Details
Capella boasts a healthy balance sheet with no debt. It ended the quarter with cash and cash equivalents of $62 million and shareholders’ equity of $162.6 million. Cash flow from operations for fiscal 2011 period was $80.3 million.
During the quarter under review, the company repurchased 775,000 shares, aggregating $25.2 million. In fiscal 2011, it bought back 2.5 million shares for a total amount of $103.4 million. Capella indicated that it has $59.6 million at its disposal under its share repurchase authorization.
Currently, we have a long-term ‘Neutral’ rating on the stock. However, Capella, which competes with Apollo Group Inc. (APOL - Analyst Report) and Strayer Education Inc. (STRA - Analyst Report), holds a Zacks #2 Rank that translates into a short-term ‘Buy’ recommendation, and it well defines the company’s initiatives to improve students’ enrollment; its diversification strategy as evident from the acquisitions of Sophia, a social teaching and learning platform and Resource Development International, an online provider of UK University qualifications by distance learning; and introduction of new products offerings and new program accreditations.