DALLAS – Driven by solid sales of laptops and a more diverse product line, computer maker Dell Inc. (DELL) finally had some good news for investors amid an ongoing federal investigation of the company's accounting and financial reporting.
In a delayed, preliminary earnings report for the third quarter, Dell beat analysts' expectations, earning $677 million, or 30 cents per share, on revenue of $14.4 billion, compared with earnings of $606 million, or 25 cents per share, in the same quarter a year ago.
Analysts, on average, had been looking for third-quarter earnings of 24 cents per share on sales of $14.44 billion, according to a survey by Thomson Financial.
The markets reacted positively as Dell gained 17 cents to close Tuesday at $24.82 on the Nasdaq Stock Market. Shares rebounded further in aftermarket trading, gaining another $2.18 to trade at $27. Prices have ranged from $18.95 to $33.22 in the past year.
Sales of the company's "mobility products," including laptops, grew 17 percent from the year-ago period, while sales of desktop PCs actually fell 5 percent because of what Dell termed a "decision to focus on more profitable products."
Overall, sales of laptops and desktops in the period accounted for $8.6 billion, or 59 percent, of Dell's revenue, the company said.
In a break from its normal practice, Dell did not provide year ago results in its report. It also didn't offer the usual post-earnings conference calls, where reporters and analysts could directly question founder Michael Dell and Chief Executive Officer Kevin Rollins.
Dell stressed the preliminary nature of the earnings, saying the results could change due to a Securities and Exchange Commission probe that has grown since it was first announced in August. Dell also included warnings about the uncertain outcome of the investigations that could show "a material weakness in the company's internal controls over financial reporting."
Dell spokesman Bob Pearson declined to elaborate but said comments from executives on any financial issues would continue to be limited. "The one thing we can do is cooperate with them fully," he said of the SEC probe.
Tuesday's report was filed six days later than expected because of the "level of complexity the company is facing in the preparation of its preliminary results." But the company said the delay was unrelated to the investigations.
Dell, which suspended its share repurchase program in mid-September, spent $335 million to repurchase 15 million shares in the third quarter. And in a separate announcement described as part of the company's $150 million customer service overhaul, Dell said it stopped offering mail-in rebates across its U.S. consumer product lines, including laptops, desktops and televisions, to help simplify the buying process.
Dell's shine as an industry juggernaut has been tarnished this year following a streak of disappointing earnings, struggles with competitors, and the recall of more than 4 million faulty laptop batteries since August.
Last month, Dell lost its No. 1 ranking in personal computer shipments to Hewlett-Packard Co. (HPQ), according to market research firms IDC and Gartner Inc. HP saw its fiscal fourth-quarter earnings quadruple last week on higher sales of laptop computers and printers.
Frank Gillett, an analyst with Forrester Research Inc., said the Round Rock, Texas-based company is having problems but remains a force to be reckoned with.
"They've hit the limits of their direct model and they've got to figure out where to go now," he said. "They're like any other computer company that's evolved over time. But they're a solid performer, one of the top two or three PC vendors."