RALEIGH – Jim Whitehurst, the new chief executive officer at Red Hat, makes in many ways his Wall Street debut today when the Linux software developer and services provider announces fourth-quarter earnings.
Right now, analysts are divided about where Red Hat (NYT: RHT) seems to be headed. On Wednesday, Robert W. Baird analysts reiterated their “outperform” rating and set a target price of $25. According to reports, Baird analysts believe Red Hat will get a boost from growing enterprise sales.
However, Red Hat shares have tumbled some 40 percent over the last nine months and closed at $18.05 on Wednesday. In after-hours trading the stock dipped to $17.99.
That slide in price follows last Friday’s cut in Red Hat stock projections by analyst Katherine Egbert at Jefferies & Co. to $20 from $21.
Whitehurst took over at Red Hat to open the New Year following the resignation by longtime CEO Matthew Szulik, who remains Red Hat’s chairman.
Whitehurst can likely expect to get questions about the recent acquisition of Amentra, an information technology consultancy firm with expertise in JBoss, the middleware Red Hat now owns and is incorporating into its product suite. The Amentra deal could provide a major boost for JBoss sales.
In her analysis, Egbert noted “strength in JBoss sales …most likely aided by the turmoil at BEA and a push to close deals before the fiscal year end. Jboss has scored a multi-million win in every quarter since purchase, and we think February can follow the same trend. The core [Red Hat Enterprise Linux] business seems steady.”
She also said “Amentra seems like a good strategic fit.”
“The acquisition speaks to the strength of the opportunity for Jboss (we don’t think Red Hat mgmt would spend $15-20mm to build a pipeline),” she added. Red Hat has not disclosed the Amentra deal price at this point.
So why the pressure on Red Hat stock? Well, the market in general is getting hammered. Oracle, for example, took a beating on Thursday after its earnings report and forecast.
Here’s a snapshot of analyst rankings, which shows lukewarm support for Red Hat:
• Stanford Research, initiated on Jan. 31: Hold
• Bank of America Securities, downgrade to “neutral” from buy on Dec. 13
• RBC Capital Markets, initiated last September at “sector perform.”
• Credit Suisse, downgrade to “neutral” from “outperform” on Sept. 24.
Where will Red Hat go from here? Whitehurst’s comments today could be very important. Earlier this week at an open source conference in San Francisco, he spoke quite positively about the Hatters. Today, the Street will be listening to see if numbers and projections are in line with those comments.