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Symantec shares tripped up by warning

Shares of the security software maker and its rivals are rattled after Symantec warns that its first-quarter earnings will fall well short of Wall Street estimates.

Shares of Symantec and its rivals were rattled Friday after the security and antivirus software maker warned that its first-quarter earnings will fall well short of Wall Street estimates.

Shares closed down $22.41, or about 37 percent, to $38.90.

On Thursday, Symantec said first-quarter earnings would fall between 39 cents and 47 cents per share, with sales coming in between $225 million and $235 million.

The Cupertino, Calif.-based company said earlier that earnings would be closer to 62 cents to 67 cents per share, and revenue would be between $255 million and $263 million.

Symantec cited weak sales in the consumer and small-business segments, as well as currency exchange problems.

The news pushed down other antivirus and security companies as well: Network Associates tumbled $1.97 to $10.60, Internet Security Systems fell 7 cents to $46.76, and VeriSign was off 10 cents to $58.33.

Symantec has been trying to expand beyond its consumer base, which accounts for 35 percent of revenue, and it's not hard to see why, given Thursday's news, analysts said. The consumer division "finally felt the impact of declining year-over-year PC growth and slowing retail sales," wrote Lehman Brothers analyst Israel Hernandez.

Hernandez said Symantec's stock could continue to suffer throughout the summer, since the company didn't give much guidance for the second half of the year because of flat PC growth. He cut first-quarter earnings estimates from 66 cents per share to 43 cents per share and dropped 2002 earnings estimates from $3.03 per share to $2.30 per share.

Stock price from June 2000 to present.  
Source: Prophet Finance
But Symantec may not want to pin its hopes on its corporate business to rescue it, Credit Suisse First Boston analyst Todd Raker said.

Up to 30 percent of those sales are being closed in the last two weeks of the quarter, "a skew which has become more severe over the past two quarters," Raker wrote. Pushing sales out so late in the quarter concerns analysts because its makes it harder to be sure that expectations will be met.

Raker lowered 2001 earnings estimates from $2.77 per share to $2.05 per share, and 2002 earnings estimates from $3.58 per share to $2.78 per share.

But he added that Symantec's competitors would suffer along with the company in a tough economic environment, as would most companies in the PC industry.

"While uncertainties remain, we suggest that weakness related to the preannouncement would be a good long-term entry point" to the stock, he wrote.