############### The Institute for Supply Management said its manufacturing index jumped to 62.8 in November, the highest since December 1983, from 57.0 a month earlier. That easily beat the forecasts of Wall Street economists.
With growth so strong and new orders still flooding in, factories hired workers for the first time in 37 months, according to the survey. The ISM figures also suggested little slow down in coming months, with factory owners struggling to keep up with demand for goods.
"It's pretty eye-popping. If you look at the components, everything is very positive," said Stephen Stanley, senior markets economist at RBS Greenwich Capital.
The leasing business is a solid business for ePlus, providing stable cash flows. But the key to expanded profitability, increased earnings (which is the key to a rising stock price) and an expanding p/e ratio is ePlus' high margin, patented software business. The sales force is making inroads in the software marketplace, but the sales cycle is extended and basically dead until the first quarter of 2004, when companywide and IT budgets are set. 2004 will be a great year if ePlus can close half of their opportunities. They have been closing a far greater ratio than that recently, and in the process, defeating previous market leaders, such as Ariba. ePlus is currently a low risk stock as the leasing business provides consistent profitability and free cash flow, which can be used to buy other businesses, repurchase stock or expand the sales force. When ePlus' software business provides the majority of its revenues and profits, then we can have a discussion of the riskiness of ePlus versus other software companies which trade at many multiples of sales and book value. Most importantly, ePlus has only ~200,000 in recourse debt. A strong balance sheet can carry you through tough times and ePlus' $20+ million cash provides a margin of safety until their software business explodes.