This week has been a poor one for investors, and Wednesday morning brought a little relief from what Wall Street's been through over the past couple of days. Weak economic data from China continued to suggest that a global economic slowdown might be inevitable, and ongoing trade tensions showed few signs of improving anytime soon. As of 11:15 a.m. EDT, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI) was up 113 points to 26,078. The S&P 500 (SNPINDEX: ^GSPC) climbed 13 points to 2,897, and the Nasdaq Composite (NASDAQINDEX: ^IXIC) picked up 38 points to 8,002.
Earnings season is winding down, but there are still some companies releasing their latest quarterly results, and today's batch included some particularly poor news. 2U (NASDAQ: TWOU) has ambitious goals to reinvent education, while 3D Systems (NYSE: DDD) has been at the forefront of the 3D printing industry nearly since its inception. Yet both growth stocks showed signs of weakness that sent their share prices plunging, and that helped cast a pall over the entire market.
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2U flunks out
Shares of 2U plunged 27% after the education technology specialist reported a wider loss in the first quarter of 2019 than it did in the year-ago period. 2U's revenue came in at $122.2 million, which was higher by 32% from last year's first quarter, but the company lost $8.6 million on an adjusted basis.
2U was pleased with the results, arguing that it continues to invest in a promising future. "Our business is transforming and diversifying in exciting ways," said CEO and co-founder Chip Paucek, "that further cement 2U's market-leading position and allow us to better meet the demands of lifelong learners."
High-growth companies often spend money to build up their businesses, and so the red ink by itself shouldn't be a red flag to investors. 2U has said that it's boosting the amount it pays for marketing expenses in order to broaden its awareness within the educational community. At the same time, partnerships with key educational institutions have helped build up 2U's reputation.
However, the one thing that a company like 2U can't afford at this stage in its development is to disappoint growth-oriented investors in its top-line projections, and that's what the educational specialist did. With guidance for $534 million to $537 million in revenue for fiscal 2019 representing growth of about 30%, 2U couldn't live up to the 33% growth expectations among investors. Today's share price drop seems harsh in light of that modest shortfall, but it's the price a stock pays after having seen sixfold gains between 2016 and mid-2018.
3D Systems goes flat
Elsewhere, shares of 3D Systems were down 24% following the 3D printing specialist's latest quarterly results. The company said that revenue fell 8% during the quarter compared to year-ago levels, and adjusted losses tripled on a per-share basis.
Looking more closely at the results, 3D Systems had mixed performance. On one hand, the number of 3D printers it sold almost doubled in unit terms, with particular strength in the healthcare services and simulation businesses. However, because of the efforts that 3D Systems has gone to in order to make its printers more affordable, more of those printers were lower-cost products, and so dollar revenue from the printer segment sank 29%.
The rest of 3D's business didn't help. Sales of materials, software, and on-demand services were all down from year-ago levels. Margins fell, and even with the first quarter typically being seasonally slow, CEO VJ Joshi attributed some of the difficulties to timing of shipments and weak industry conditions.
3D Systems will do what it can to fight back, with cost-cutting efforts and attempts to boost market share likely to continue. Yet with some of its 3D printing rivals doing better, some fear that the problems might be specific to 3D Systems rather than reflecting weakness in the overall industry.
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