Fusion-io, Inc (FIO) Downgraded on Intel Threat

William Blair’s uber analyst Jason Ader is downgrading Fusion-io, Inc (NYSE:FIO) to Market Perform from Outperform this morning.

– Checks reveal weaker than expected performance and increasing competitive threat from Intel.

Ader is downgrading the shares of FIO from Outperform to Market Perform, based on his belief that Street consensus estimates for the second half of fiscal 2013 (March and June quarters) calling for year‐over‐year growth of 46% are aggressive. His checks point to slower‐than‐expected bookings, specifically on the enterprise side of the business (both for PCIe cards and standalone software), leading him to believe that the company will struggle to meet expectations for the full fiscal year.

Ader notes they continue to strongly believe that enterprise flash is at an inflection point, but demand for server‐attached PCIe cards appears to be developing more slowly than he expected, though he is still expecting FIO to grow its enterprise sales by 53% (down from his previous estimate of 66%) in fiscal 2013 (June). The analyst notes he is struggling to point his finger at why demand has slowed in recent months, but it is evident that macro pressures affecting the larger storage market are impacting the PCIe segment, resulting in less low‐hanging fruit being available. In addition, his checks suggest that Fusion’s software offerings (ioTurbine and ION) and recent OEM partnerships (with Cisco [CSCO $20.29; Market Perform] and NetApp [NTAP $33.24; Market Perform]), both of which he has viewed as key growth catalysts in fiscal 2013, are developing more slowly than he initially anticipated. Lastly, Ader believes that new emerging architectures such as all‐flash arrays may be causing customers to pause as they evaluate alternative approaches to flash and educate themselves on newer offerings.

From a competitive standpoint, while William Blair has not picked a material change in the PCIe flash landscape, firm’s checks indicate that Intel (INTC) is gaining steam with its recently introduced Ramsdale 910 series PCIe card. The 910 is substantially less expensive (30‐40% cheaper by some accounts) than Fusion’s ioDrive 2 product line, and according to their sources performs better than Fusion in write‐intensive environments. They believe Fusion may soon introduce a lower‐priced PCIe card that will be more competitive with the Intel card, but their fear is that this new card could cannibalize ioDrive sales.

Notablecalls: This is a big call from Ader. He is pretty much calling Fusion-io the next Mellanox (MLNX) with the exception Intel is already here with a competing product. What’s even worse Intel’s Ramsdale 910 series PCIe card is 30-40% cheaper while performing better than Fusion-io’s comparable offering. That’s going to weigh on margins sooner or later.

We had the perma bulls from Credit Suisse out yesterday touting FIO’s ioTurbine software as the main competitive edge. Here’s what Ader has to say:

‘ioTurbine failing to meet growth expectations. Our checks indicate that FIO’s ioTurbine software designed to accelerate virtualized workloads is ramping more slowly than expected’

Ader is the Axe in the networking and storage space with his calls moving smaller names such as FIO by as much as 6-10%. He is lowering his ’13 and ’14 estimates below Street. FIO trades 40x ’14 EPS.

Below $20 today and toward recent $17.50 lows in a few weeks? I would expect to see continued selling pressure in the name throughout the day.

(Note Ader is also downgrading EMC (NYSE:EMC) this morning)

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