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Viant posts bigger-than-expected loss

The Internet consulting company misses analysts' estimates for the fourth quarter and sees challenges ahead as clients spend "cautiously."

    Internet consulting company Viant on Wednesday posted a wider-than-expected loss for the fourth quarter, missing analysts' estimates by 7 cents a share.

    The Boston-based company, recently buffeted by earnings warnings and layoffs, reported a loss for the quarter of $7.1 million, or 14 cents a share, excluded restructuring charges related to work force reductions and office closure costs. That compared with a profit of $3.7 million, or 7 cents a share, in the same period a year ago.

    Analysts polled by First Call had expected the company to post a loss of 7 cents a share.

    Viant shares ended the regular session down 13 cents to $4 on the Nasdaq.

    For the quarter, which ended Dec. 31, revenue showed a slight increase, up 5 percent to $25 million from $23.7 million in the same period a year ago. However, Viant said revenue fell 24 percent from $33.1 million in the third quarter.

    "This was another difficult quarter for Viant," Chief Executive Bob Gett said in a statement. "We are feeling the effects of an uncertain economic environment, which we believe is delaying clients' plans to invest in projects."

    Gett added that a few challenging quarters may lie ahead for Viant, primarily because of uncertainty in the Internet consulting market. The company said that spending on consulting and other computer-related services should rise in 2001 but that clients still appear to be spending "cautiously."

    Like several players in the once-hot Internet-consulting sector, Viant staggered under the sudden market downturn and slowdown in spending, primarily among dot-com clients, which forced consultancies to shift their focus. Most are aiming to nab lucrative consulting engagements from Fortune 500 clients.

    Viant, along with competitors such as Scient, Lante and MarchFirst, has cut its work force in an effort to reduce costs. In December, Viant trimmed about 125 employees, roughly 17 percent of its worldwide staff. At the same time, the company announced plans to shut its Dallas office.

    Viant on Wednesday said it had 621 staffers as of Dec. 31, down from 737 employees in the third quarter. Billable consultants totaled 467 at year-end compared with 561 the preceding quarter.

    Revenue for the year increased to $127.2 million from $61.3 million the previous year. Analysts expected Viant to post revenue of $130.3 million.

    The company, which expects savings of approximately $18 million this year, said it signed several big-name clients during the quarter, including investment research companies Lehman Brothers and First Call. Viant said it intends to continue investing in its sales and business development resources.