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Red Hat tries financial tease

update CFO's surprise resignation hits stock; Linux maker counters with promise of earnings.

update Red Hat on Tuesday announced expected earnings per share that are 1 cent better than analysts have forecast for its most recent quarter, citing growth in subscriptions to its Enterprise Linux software.

That word comes two days before the Raleigh, N.C.-based Linux maker is scheduled to announce financial results for the first quarter of its fiscal year 2005--and one day after it announced a surprise resignation plan for CFO Kevin Thompson.

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The resignation news sent Red Hat's stock down in after-hours trading Monday. It fared somewhat better Tuesday, closing down $2.24, or 9 percent, to $22.06.

Red Hat said it expects net income of $10 million, or 5 cents per share, which would surpass the average projection of 4 cents per share by analysts surveyed by First Call.

The resignation raised analyst eyebrows on Monday, but W.R. Hambrecht analyst Victor Raisys said that, after speaking with Red Hat, he believes nothing is amiss.

"After speaking with company management, we believe the company, in an effort to provide full disclosure to investors, genuinely misjudged market reaction to the timing of the announcement. We accept the company?s statements at face value and do not believe there are additional underlying reasons for the odd timing of the announcement," Raisys wrote in a report Tuesday. "The company didn't expect the market response."

However, Raisys, who rates Red Hat a "hold," said he views the change "as a negative data point for Red Hat, as we expect we will see some short-term disruptions in the business during the search and transition for a new CFO.

The company sold 98,000 subscriptions to Red Hat Enterprise Linux, an increase over the 87,000 subscriptions it said it sold three months earlier. The average price was $430 per subscription per year, a drop from the $455 of three months ago.

Of the subscriptions, 75,000 went to businesses and 23,000 went to a category that pays less: Web hosting companies and high-performance technical computing customers.

Red Hat said it will post full financial results Thursday.

Red Hat said it expects operating income of $6.3 million, a figure that excludes $1.6 million in stock-based compensation.

Analysts surveyed by First Call expected revenue of $43 million. Red Hat didn't explicitly release revenue figures, but said that its $6.3 million in operating income was about 15 percent of revenue, which would place revenue around $42 million.