UPDATE 2-Bridgepoint tops estimates, 2010 view strong; shares up

Tue Mar 2, 2010 10:24am EST

* Q4 adj EPS $0.34 vs est. $0.24

* Q4 revenue up 91 pct

* Sees 2010 results above Street estimates

* Bad debt as a pct of 2010 rev seen at 5.1 pct

* Shares rise 13 pct (Adds details, analyst comments, share movement)

By Bijoy Anandoth Koyitty

March 2 (Reuters) - Bridgepoint Education Inc (BPI.N) posted better-than-expected quarterly results, helped by a 49 percent growth in new student enrollment, and forecast a strong 2010, sending its shares up as much as 13 percent.

The company said it expects total student enrollment -- a key metric for education companies -- to be between 69,000 and 71,000 at Dec. 31, 2010, which implies a rise of 29 percent to 32 percent from 2009.

"Some concerns were that Bridgepoint would have to self regulate, given the myriad of regulatory concerns, and it is pleasing to see that, despite the concerns, the management still provided guidance above consensus estimates," Wedbush Morgan Securities analyst Ariel Sokol said by phone.

Education companies, though seen benefiting from the weak economy as people returned to schools to earn new skills, have been plagued by several regulatory concerns of late.

The U.S Department of Education is proposing several new rules or modifications that investors fear could impact the sector negatively.

Bridgepoint, which went public in April 2009, forecast 2010 profit of $1.86 to $1.88 a share, on revenue of $688.2 million to $691.2 million.

Analysts on average were expecting earnings of $1.62 a share, on revenue of $629.1 million, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

However, analyst Sokol said the 2010 outlook implied flat margins, compared with the prior year.

"Not that we are concerned about, but that is going to be the focal point -- why exactly do they not intend to increase margins, what level of investments does the company have to make into the business," he said.

BAD DEBT VIEW NOT A CONCERN

The company, which runs the Ashford University and University of the Rockies, expects bad debt as a percentage of revenues for 2010 to be 5.1 percent.

Sokol said he was "comfortable" with the outlook, which is flat with the prior year.

Last month, bellwether Apollo Group (APOL.O) forecast higher-than-normal bad debt expense for second quarter, dragging down shares of peers including Strayer Education (STRA.O), ITT Educational Services (ESI.N) and DeVry (DV.N). [ID:nSGE61I0DR]

For the fourth quarter, Bridgepoint posted a profit of $19.6 million, or 33 cents a share, compared with $5.7 million, or 4 cents a share, a year earlier. [ID:nWNAB3941]

Shares of the company were trading up 11 percent at $19.98 in morning trade on the New York Stock Exchange. Earlier in the session they touched a high of $20.40. (Reporting by Bijoy Koyitty in Bangalore; Editing by Aradhana Aravindan)