Will Rackspace Hosting, Inc. Deliver a Love Letter to Investors Today?

By Tim BeyersFool.com

Rackspace Solve summits bring prospects together with existing customers. Image credit: Rackspace Hosting.

Shares ofRackspace Hosting stock entered Tuesday up nearly 7% year to date. Will the rally continue, or is a sell-off lurking in the shadows? A lot depends on how well the business performs. Here's a closer look at what analysts expect to see when the web hosting provider reports fourth-quarter earnings Tuesday afternoon:

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Source: S&P Capital IQ.

A miss would be surprising and could lead to a sharp sell-off. Why? Rackspace has either met or exceeded Wall Street's projections in each of the last four quarters:

Source: S&P Capital IQ.

Looking at the overall business, I'm watching for momentum in each of these three areas:

1. Improving margins.Gross margin surged in the third quarter -- both sequentially and year over year -- as Rackspace focused on selling more high-value services. As investors, we want to see sustained margin growth because it indicates that Rackspace can maintain pricing power and stay above the bandwidth wars being waged by the likes ofAmazon.com andGoogle .

2. Bigger deals.CEO Taylor Rhodes has long insisted that when Rackspace gets a chance to sell the virtues of hands-on "Fanatical Support" customers buy.The company's relatively new "Solve" summits are designed to create more of these encounters, leading to what the company claims is a pipeline of big deals. Q3 saw a record of sales worth more than $100,000 a month in revenue. At the time, Rhodes said there was an "even larger number of these type of deals that we've got in the pipeline for Q4." Investors should be expecting him to make good on that estimate.

3. Leverage leading to higher cash flow.In Q3, cash flow from operations fell year over year. Look for that to change in Q4 as Rackspace gains leverage from higher margins and rising revenue per server. (The latter has risen sequentially in each of the last five quarters -- from $1,290 per month in the third quarter of 2013 to $1,405 per month last quarter.)

Rackspace reports Q4 results Tuesday after the market closes; check back here for our take on the report. And in the meantime, leave a comment to let us know what you're expecting, and what you think of Rackspace stock at current prices.

The article Will Rackspace Hosting, Inc. Deliver a Love Letter to Investors Today? originally appeared on Fool.com.

Tim Beyers prefers writing earnings previews to shoveling snow. He's also a member of theMotley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team and the Motley Fool Supernova Odyssey I mission and owned shares of Apple, Google (A and C class), and Rackspace Hosting at the time of publication. Check out Tim'sweb homeandportfolio holdingsor connect with him onGoogle+,Tumblr, or Twitter, where he goes by@milehighfool.The Motley Fool recommends Amazon.com, Apple, Google (A and C shares), and Rackspace Hosting. The Motley Fool owns shares of Amazon.com, Apple, and Google (A and C class). Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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