But the year is going according to plan so far.
There's a small bunch of companies that I've come to see as best in class and, when I know they have announcements due, I just expect them to be fine -- in line with forecasts and all that. One of them is Sage Group (LSE: SGE), the accounting and business management software specialist whose products have come to be seen as de facto standards.
Sage released an interim statement today, so how are things going?
We were told that, unsurprisingly, business since 1 October has been satisfactory, and things are going according to expectations. No surprises there, then.
But what did spook the market a little was Sage's telling us that it is keeping an eye on the tough economic conditions in Europe facing small and medium-sized enterprises, which are the kind of businesses that make up the bulk of Sage's six million customers.
Chief executive Guy Berruyer told us:
"In the context of a macro-economic environment which remains challenging for our customers, we have made a satisfactory start to the year and trading is in line with expectations for the year.
"The strong fundamentals of Sage's business positions us well to cope with the ups and downs of the economic cycle. We are confident that the business priorities, on which we are focused to drive growth, will bear fruit as the year progresses but we remain watchful of the European environment in particular."
That really only reflects the same cautious outlook from Sage's last full-year announcement in November, but it was enough to shake out a few investors, leading to a small fall in the share price. As I write, it's down 7p to 303p, after having nicely outpaced the FTSE over the past six months.
Sage's cash generation is apparently going strongly, with £200m added to its coffers from the sale of Sage Software Healthcare to Vista Equity Partners. That has helped with the firm's share buyback programme, which has now snapped up 17.7 million shares for £50m, leaving £149.8m net cash on the books on 31 December.
What to make of Sage now?
My opinion really hasn't changed at all. It's still a solid company, selling great products, and which is always open about its business outlook. And as such, Sage should be quite a good barometer of small company climate over the next few years.
But that strength does mean the shares are rarely sold off cheaply, and current forecasts put them on a forward P/E of 15, with an expected full-year dividend of around 3.3% for September 2012.
Many people today would see that valuation as high, but it's pretty close to the long-term FTSE average, and I think it's a fair long-term reflection.
But what do you think? Please do tell.
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