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Business Intelligence Bucks IT Spending Slowdown

Business Objects, Crystal Decisions, and Ascential all report solid sales gains.

Business-intelligence software vendors continue to buck the slowdown in IT spending. Business Objects, Crystal Decisions, and Ascential Software on Wednesday all reported robust sales gains for the quarter ended in December.

Business Objects says revenue rose 8%, to $126.2 million, in its fourth quarter ended Dec. 31. But higher operating expenses resulted in net income of $12.8 million, or 20 cents per share, down 9% from the same period a year ago. License fees also declined 9% year over year to $66.1 million, but service revenue surged 36%, to $60.1 million, because of the high number of customers renewing maintenance contracts.

The company reported strong sales of its fledgling line of analytic applications--$9.1 million in the fourth quarter and $20.9 million for the year. Business Objects also is signing more large deals--five worth more than $1 million in the quarter, up from three such deals in the third quarter, and 73 valued at more than $200,000. This could be an early indicator that IT spending is starting to turn around. "We're seeing some bounce back there," says David Kellogg, worldwide marketing senior group VP.

For the year, Business Objects reported earnings of $40.6 million, or 63 cents per share, down almost 10% from 2001, while revenue increased 9%, to $454.8 million. For the current quarter, Business Objects expects earnings per share in the range of 10 to 15 cents and revenue between $112 million and $118 million. For 2003, the company is projecting revenue growth of 10% and earnings growth of more than 10%.

Crystal Decisions reported that revenue grew 38%, to $71.2 million, in its second quarter ended Dec. 27. License revenue increased an impressive 43% year over year, and net income grew as well, CFO Eric Patel says. Crystal Decisions, a privately held company, doesn't disclose detailed financial data.

The company increased the number of its reseller partners to 345 in the quarter, but Patel says direct sales still account for more than half of its sales. Crystal Decisions is meeting the demand for "meat-and-potatoes reporting" capabilities, says Marc Smith, a Ventana Research analyst. "Kudos to them."

Ascential reported that revenue in its fourth quarter ended Dec. 31 rose 13% year over year to $34.1 million, including a 32% jump in license revenue to $18.9 million. Despite the sales growth, the company reported a loss of $10.2 million, or 4 cents per share, compared with a loss of $31.2 million, or 12 cents per share, in the year-ago quarter.

For the year, Ascential reported a loss of $63.6 million, or 26 cents per share, on revenue of $113.0 million. That compares to 2001 earnings of $624.9 million, including gains from Ascential's sale of its Informix database business to IBM, on sales of $481.3 million.

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