Friday, October 17, 2014

Analyst on XERO: "we expect it will be a year from now before the new [U.S.] CEO will have a material impact on the business and 18 months from now before that CEO can put in place a US management team and for that team in turn to be having a material impact on the business."

Christopher Adams for the New Zealand Herald writes: If there was an award for New Zealand's most eternally optimistic chief executive, it would have to go to Xero's Rod Drury. The Wellington-based accounting software company took a beating from analysts after its operating update last week revealed a slowdown in United States growth.
Xero added 8000 US customers in the six months to March, but only 4000 in the six months to September 30, taking the total to 22,000.
Analysts questioned how well positioned the company was to take on its much larger competitor in North America, Nasdaq-listed Intuit, which they say is gaining increased traction with its Quickbooks online accounting product.
Xero shares hit a record $45.99 in March, valuing the company at almost $6 billion, but have shed 63.1 per cent since then, closing yesterday at $16.96.
But Drury says there's no shortage of confidence at Xero about its US push. "We've been here before with all our markets and we don't have any real concerns about the US.
"We told everybody at our annual meeting it will take some time. I know people are a bit down on us at the moment but we're not concerned at all."
Drury says the only thing Xero has got wrong in the US is its North America chief executive, Peter Karpas, who resigned last month after only six months in the job.
At the time, Drury said the decision was mutual and as the company looked ahead and eyed partnering opportunities it was clear Karpas didn't have the right set of skills.
CEO setback
In a research note this week First NZ Capital analyst James Schofield says Karpas' departure is a major setback.
"This essentially means a lot of the progress expected in the US will be partially delayed for the best part of a year," Schofield says. "Essentially we expect it will be about a year from now before the new CEO will have a material impact on the business and almost 18 months from now before that CEO can put in place a US management team and for that team in turn to be having a material impact on the business."
Xero chief financial officer Ross Jenkins is running the US show in the meantime. Drury says the company is "talking to lots of people" and expects to make an appointment in the next few months.
Downgrades
Goldman Sachs downgraded its recommendation on Xero to a sell after the operating update and other brokers slashed their 12-month price targets on the stock.
Schofield, one of the most bullish analysts on Xero, reduced his 12-month target from $43 to $27 on Monday. Analysts at Wellington's Woodward Partners, which has a 12-month target of $15 on Xero, went as far as suggesting the company abandon its US plans and instead focus on consolidating its presence in Australasia and Britain.
"We don't expect New Zealand-based analysts to understand our business as well as we do," Drury says.
"We've just got our heads down, executing."
Xero has estimated a potential customer base of 29 million small and medium-sized businesses in the US. Drury reckons with annualised revenues running at $132.3 million, up 87 per cent on the same time last year, Xero is one of the world's fastest-growing software-as-a-service firms.
"It's kind of frustrating to get such a beat-up when we're one of the best performing companies and have continually delivered on our promises."
Value pressure
Xero's heady valuation has been both a blessing and a curse. It has boosted the firm's high profile, but it also means the market has little patience for worse-than-expected results.
At market open yesterday, Xero shares were 61 per cent down on their March record but the company was still valued at more than $2 billion.
Analysts want to see customer growth in the US that justifies Xero's market capitalisation, which remains eye-popping for a firm that expects to post a net loss of $25 million in the six months to September 30.
Bad timing
The timing of Xero's operating update was unfortunate, coming as investor fear spread through global equity markets after a downgrade of the International Monetary Fund's global economic growth forecast and a less rosy picture of the US economy from the Federal Reserve.
Markets are also getting jittery on the back of the Ebola outbreak, the advance of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
The Vix, also known as the "fear index" , which measures market volatility, jumped to its highest level in two years this week.
Northern Hemisphere markets fell sharply again overnight on Wednesday as fears of a global economic slowdown intensified. At the close, Wall Street's S&P 500 was 7.4 per cent down on its September 18 peak, edging closer to the drop of 10 per cent or more that's considered a correction.
The Dow Jones Industrial index fell 1 per cent, while London's FTSE was off 2.8 per cent and the CAC 40 in France dropped 3.6 per cent.
The market jitters have taken a heavy toll on growth stocks like Xero. Other NZX-listed tech companies' share prices were knocked this week, including Wynyard Group and Pacific Edge, which closed at $1.99 and 87c yesterday respectively.

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