Monday, April 8, 2013

Dot Hill Ups Guidance, Announces Quantum Parntership

Dot Hill's stock price shot up today on a series of announcements about partners and future guidance, as well as holding its annual analyst day. The last 5 years have been rocky for HILL despite gradual acquisitions of new customers since in lost Sun. In 2012 Dot Hill was developing products that it said would attract new customers [See Dot Hill's 2013 Hopes]. Today was delivery day.

New guidance was given for Q1 2013, Q2 2013, full year-2013, and (tentatively) 2014.

A recap of Q4 2012 provides perspective: revenues were $44.1 million, down 6% from year earlier. Non-GAAP earnings per share (EPS) were negative $0.03, down from $0.00 year-earlier. Not a great quarter.

Prior guidance for Q1 2013 was revenue between $43 and $46 million, with a non-GAAP EPS loss between $0.02 and $0.04.

Today's guidance for Q1 (which should be pretty close, given that the quarter is over) is revenue of $44 to $45 million, narrowing but not increasing the range, with EPS as low as negative $0.02 and as high as $0.00.

$0.00 non-GAAP EPS may not seem like much to get excited about, but that includes research and development costs for new products as well as startup manufacturing costs in costs-of-goods sold. With higher revenue and flat or lower R & D costs going forward, we get to the prettier picture for the future:

Q2 2013 guidance is for revenues between $47 and $53 million, up about 12% sequentially. Non-GAAP EPS estimated range is negative $0.01 to $0.02 per share.

For the full year 2013 revenues are estimated between $205 and $227 million. Non-GAAP EPS should be positive $0.02 to $0.10. That would be great if it happens.

For the full year 2014 revenue estimates are between $231 and $301 million and non-GAAP EPS could be $0.11 to $0.40.

While such long-term predictions should be taken with a healthy spoonful of the salt of cynicism, consider the value of HILL stock if it hit the $0.40 per share top of guidance in 2014. That would likely more than restore investor confidence, so let's give a PE ratio of 15. That would bring the stock to $6 per share. As I write it is trading at $1.53. There are a lot of hoops to jump between $1.53 and $6.00, but there are some reasons to not entirely discount the top range of estimates.

The world of data storage has been evolving rapidly. HILL does not sell disk drives. It sells storage systems for small, medium, and increasingly enterprise businesses. It used to make storage systems for Sun Microsystems until Sun brought a competitor in house. It then picked up HP and NetApp as OEM clients, plus some smaller players and system integrators. Dot Hill dumped NetApp because the margins in the deal was bad, and that made its revenues slump. But all the while it used its substantial cash to develop better systems. Now we are seeing the payoff.

The big announcement today is that Quantum is selling systems, its new QX family, supplied by Dot Hill. A rep from Quantum, at today's Hill analyst conference, reviewed how Quantum has been addressing the rapidly evolving data storage market and how Hill's new products fit into the picture. The amount of data stored in the world is climbing rapidly, largely to accommodate video, full time data feeds, and the mining of big data. Verticals with particular needs to expand their disk drive farms rapidly include entertainment, government, life sciences, and resource extraction (geology). In entertainment many company are rapidly expanding their incoming video feeds, and need all that video instantly for editing and pushing out to consumers. Clients need cheap, reliable storage, and that is what Dot Hill has been developing and is now shipping.

HP, which has provided the bulk of HILL revenues these last few years, has committed to continue using Hill as a supplier of their lower-end, mass market products, the MSA line, the market share leader in its class. While no specifics were mentioned, HP indicated a product refresh is on the horizon. HP has noted Dot Hill systems value, reliability, and interoperability (ability to work with most hardware and software).

The new data storage workloads that are driving the adoption of Hills (patented) technologies are described as a randomized sequential workload. In other words, a lot of data has to be quickly available, and it is hard to predict which data will be needed. However, in a VMWare environment, the new Dot Hill systems were shown to be rock solid reliable and capable of learning about the data demands so as to increase spread over time. With SSD still expensive and tape still much cheaper (using less electricity) than disk drives, the ability to load balance between various media has become a necessity, and Dot Hill does that well.

Also notable is that Dot Hill has greatly increased its addressable market by moving to the higher-end of the data storage market. It is also bringing high-end capabilities to the midrange and even lower range business markets, which makes all of its offering attractive at their price points.

It is an exciting time to be an owner of Dot Hill, but the usual cautions apply: data storage is highly competitive, margins could be better, and the global economy is always an issue.

So keep diversified! And congratulations if you already own HILL stock.

Disclaimer: I own HILL stock. I won't trade HILL stock for at least 3 days from the first publication of this article.

See also:

My Dot Hill main page.

My Q4 2012 Dot Hill conference notes

and of course

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