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ITT's Back

By Rich Smith
April 23, 2004

Well I'll be darned. For-profit tech educator ITT Educational Services (NYSE: ESI) released its earnings report yesterday, and things appear to be going just dandy for it, despite an ongoing federal investigation into... no one is quite sure just what.

Since the first quarter of 2003, ITT's student enrollment is up 19%. Earnings were flat at $0.19 per share, but only because the company set aside $0.13 per share to cover the legal costs of defending itself against... whatever it is the Justice Department plans to accuse ITT of, as well as a bunch of class action lawsuits by shareholders angry about... see above.

And basically that is the story. The company's earnings are, or rather should be, up 68% year-on-year on an increase in revenues of only 19%. ITT does not have Career Education's (Nasdaq: CECO) problems with bad debt on student loans: Bad debt expenses barely twitched upward over the past year, from 1.7% to 1.8%. Nor is it excessively diluting its existing shareholders. Dilution over the past year remained under 2%.

As for the federal investigation, you have to wonder whether its announcement late in the first quarter has prevented its effects from showing up in the company's results yet. But management reassures that the investigation has had no "significant effects on [the] operations." That last word, operations, is key here. Had ITT said its "results," for instance, were unaffected, then that would tell investors little. We already know that the quarter's results were almost finalized by the time the investigation was announced, so it could not have affected those results much. But if operations have not been affected, then that bodes well for the future (unless and until Justice says otherwise).

That appears to be the view that Wall Street is taking as well. Since plunging to the upper $20s in mid-March in the wake of Justice's investigation and the filing of the class action lawsuits, the stock has rebounded strongly and is about 50% off its lows.

That said, thrill-seekers, risk-takers, and anyone who believes that the Justice Department has nothing better to do with its time these days than investigate non-crimes, may be intrigued at the chance to buy ITT at today's discount of 30% off its 52-week high.

Tom Gardner's on the prowl for small, undervalued companies. Take a free trial to Motley Fool Hidden Gems to learn more.

Fool contributor Rich Smith owns no interest in any of the companies mentioned in this article.

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