Equifax 4Q net falls 6 pct, shares slip on outlook

Equifax Inc.’s profit fell 6 percent as severance payouts dragged down fourth-quarter results. Still, the company, which provides credit histories and other background data, topped Wall Street’s projections.

Equifax said Wednesday after the market closed that its net income was $60.2 million, or 47 cents per share, in the last three months of 2009. That compares with $64.0 million, or 50 cents per share, in the year-ago period.

Excluding items, the company earned 61 cents per share in the latest quarter, ahead of the average estimate of 56 cents per share from analysts polled by Thomson Reuters.

A factor in the decline was a restructuring charge of more than $16 million that Equifax absorbed in the fourth quarter, mostly related to severance expenses for job cuts. [Read the full article]

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RightNow Technologies Inc.’s quarterly profit nearly quadrupled as sales of its customer-management software leaped. Still, its shares fell on a disappointing profit forecast.

RightNow said after the market closed Wednesday that it earned $2.6 million, or 8 cents per share, in the last three months of 2009. That compares with net income of $692,000, or 2 cents per share, in the year-ago period.

Excluding stock-based compensation expenses and a gain from a legal settlement, the company earned 10 cents per share in the latest period. That easily topped analysts’ expectation for 6 cents per share in profit on that same basis, according to a poll by Thomson Reuters.

Revenue jumped 15 percent to $41.6 million. That was ahead of analysts’ projection of $39.8 million in revenue.

For all of 2009, the company earned $5.9 million, compared with a $7.3 million loss last year. Revenue rose 9 percent to $152.7 million. [Read the full article]

Asian stock markets slid Thursday, with Hong Kong shares pulling back nearly 1 percent, as Wall Street’s fall and caution ahead of a key U.S. jobs report sidelined investors.

Selling hit every major market in the region, halting a couple days of gains in global markets following a dismal January. Oil prices were lower, while the dollar fell against the yen and was little changed against the euro.

Sentiment took a hit after Wall Street, coming off a big two-day advance, closed lower as investors returned to worrying about the pace of recovery following a disappointing report about the U.S. services sector.

The Institute for Supply Management said its index of service activity rose to 50.5 in January from a revised 49.8 in December, missing expectations. The news overshadowed reports the private sector shed fewer jobs than expected and gave investors another reason to hold back before monthly national jobs data due out Friday. [Read the full article]

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Initial claims for unemployment benefits likely dropped last week for the second week in a row as state agencies clear a backlog of claims leftover from the Christmas holiday.

A Labor Department report Thursday is forecast to show new requests for unemployment insurance dropped by 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 460,000, according to Wall Street economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters.

Two weeks ago, first-time claims jumped by more than 30,000 to 478,000, a surprise showing that undermined the hopes of many analysts that the economy might soon generate a net gain of jobs.

A Labor Department spokesman said much of the increase was due to an administrative backlog in the states that had built up over the holidays. But last week, claims fell by only 8,000, disappointing economists who had expected a larger drop once the backlog cleared.

This week’s numbers will be watched closely to see if the downward trend continues. [Read the full article]

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