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Novell financials mind the GAAP

Dec 13, 20053 mins
Enterprise Applications

* Novell's latest financials are puzzling

Last issue I promised I’d have something to say about Novell’s fourth-quarter financials in this issue and I will, in just a moment. First, though, I want to share a picture with you. In an issue a couple of weeks ago, in which I talked about servers that have a lot of uptime, I mentioned that there were no great longevity claims yet for NetWare 6. My friend and Avanti Technology CEO Steve Meyer took that as a challenge and sent me this picture purporting to show that his NetWare 6 server had been up for almost 2,720 days – that’s roughly 7 and a half years!

Now even though Meyer gets early beta and even alpha releases so he can develop the great utilities he publishes, there were no copies – even alpha copies – of NetWare 6 back in 1998! Meyer said, “I swear that I did not alter or edit the image in any way shape or form.” And I believe him. On the other hand, he also said: “All right, I admit that I might have played around in the kernel a bit.” I hope the guys at Novell Cool Solutions don’t accept entries from developers!

Now back to those financials…

I purposely waited so that those analysts who claim to understand profit and loss statements and other financial documents could have a chance to weigh in. I’m just a simple guy when it comes to that stuff – I figure you add up all the revenue that comes in, subtract the expenses you pay and the difference is your profit (or loss). I always thought that Charles Dickens’ character Mr. Micawber got it right when he advised David Copperfield: “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.”

Revenue was up (some 6.3%), but all of the increase can be attributed to one sale – to the U.K.’s National Health Service, which purchased $39 million in licenses and services. Without that one sale, revenue would have been down. The company actually posted a net loss of $5 million, but after waving the magic wand and excluding some one-time expenses (such as a “restructuring charge” – the cost of laying off 600 people), Jack Messman posted a “profit” of 7 cents per share.

I’m not saying Novell did anything improper, or anything that every other corporation doesn’t also do, but you try explaining to the loan officer that even though you paid out more than you made last year you still were profitable on “a non-GAAP basis” (GAAP = Generally Accepted Accounting Principles.) That is, once you throw out best accounting practice, you can make the numbers say anything you want! The explanation is that the “restructuring” costs, for example, will be offset in later years by savings from the staff reduction. That strikes me as remarkably similar to the plaintive cry of the character Wimpy in the Popeye comic strip: “I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.”

Novell frequently of late, it seems, reports a non-GAAP rosy picture while actually continuing to lose money. One of these days, it’ll actually have to show a profit on a GAAP basis as well as non-GAAP. Next issue, I’ll suggest one area where it can save.