Capella Education Co.'s stock rose 9 percent Tuesday after its second-quarter profit handily beat Wall Street estimates despite falling from a year ago.
It was the second quarter in a row in which the Minneapolis-based online education provider beat earnings expectations and saw its stock jump sharply as a result.
Capella said its new enrollment, an indicator of future revenue and earnings, increased 12.7 percent from a year ago. However, executives warned investors that new enrollment figures are volatile and likely to decrease in the current quarter. They said that total enrollment could be down as much as 4 percent and that revenue is likely to be flat in the July-to-September period.
Capella's enrollment is weighted toward adults seeking graduate degrees and, like other online universities, it was hurt badly by the economic downturn that began in 2008. Even so, the new results suggested that Capella is now recovering. Executives said they have not changed their goal to return to total enrollment growth in the first half of next year.
"We are pleased with our performance in the second quarter and continue to be encouraged by the progress we are making in a still-difficult market," CEO Kevin Gilligan said in a statement.
Capella said it earned $10.4 million, or 83 cents a share, in the April-to-June period. In the same period last year, the company earned $11.4 million, or 85 cents a share.
Analysts were expecting a profit of about 66 cents a share. Capella's shares rose $3.96 to $47.93 on Nasdaq, their highest close since June 2011.
Revenue was $103.7 million, down about 2 percent from a year ago, although above analysts' estimate of $102.7 million.
"We continue to expect quarterly volatility in new enrollment growth in the current market environment," Steve Polacek, Capella's chief financial officer, said in a statement.
Following the results, Jerry Herman, an analyst with Stifel Nicolaus in Baltimore, raised his 2013 per-share profit estimate for Capella to $2.71 from $2.60. Herman was already above the consensus estimate of $2.53 before Tuesday's earnings report. Herman also raised his 2014 profit estimate, but said the stock was fairly priced, and rated it a hold.
He said Capella's use of scholarships and grants, marketing changes and some attractive pricing have helped the company to increase the number of new students and to outperform the broader online education sector.
"The second-quarter message was generally upbeat, although management cautioned that total student volume growth in the first half of 2014 may be more difficult to achieve due to nearer-term trends," Herman said.