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March 14 (Reuters) - SkillSoft Plc SKIL.O posted a fourth-quarter profit that topped market expectations on strong revenue growth, and forecast first-quarter and fiscal 2009 revenue above analysts' estimates, sending its shares up as much as 15 percent.
Despite concerns of a recession, SkillSoft customers surprisingly did not hold back, as shown in the strong non-cancelable backlog and deferred revenues recorded, BMO Capital Markets analyst Jeffrey Silber said in a note to clients.
Silber kept his "market perform" rating on the stock.
Separately, the E-learning services provider also filed a proxy statement with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission seeking to buy back 10 million shares, ahead of a shareholder meet.
The company had about 109.2 million shares outstanding as of Jan. 31, according to the latest quarterly statement. SkillSoft expects revenue of $79 million to $81 million for the first quarter, and $328 million to $336 million for fiscal 2009.
Analysts were looking for a quarterly revenue of $76.3 million and fiscal 2009 revenue of $320.7 million.
SkillSoft expects first-quarter earnings of 4 cents to 5 cents a share, and fiscal 2009 earnings of 32 cents to 35 cents a share.
Analysts were expecting first-quarter earnings of 5 cents a share and fiscal 2009 earnings of 33 cents a share, excluding special items. RETENTION, RATES REWARD
The company reported fourth-quarter earnings of $34.3 million, or 31 cents a share, compared with $8.2 million, or 8 cents a share in the year-ago period.
Net income for the latest fourth quarter included tax benefits of 25 cents per share. Revenue rose 34 percent to $77.5 million, mainly on higher-than-planned retention and renewal rates and incremental revenue related to the NETg business.
SkillSoft had acquired NETg from Canadian data services provider Thomson Corp TOC.TO TOC.N in May last year.
Analysts had expected earnings of 1 cent a share, before special items, on revenue of $75.5 million for the fourth quarter, according to Reuters Estimates.
The Nashua, New Hampshire-based company's stock was up 89 cents at $9.57 in late afternoon trade on Nasdaq. (Reporting by Esha Dey in Bangalore; Editing by Gopakumar Warrier)