The Appen Ltd (ASX: APX) share price is getting crunched, down 6% in early ASX trading, after the machine learning business revealed its 2019 half-year financial results.

Appen provides data for machine learning and artificial intelligence. Basically, it provides and improves data for the development of artificial intelligence and machine learning products. With more than 20 years of experience in over 130 countries, Appen has firmly established itself as a global leader in this space.

The Appen Report

Here are the six key takeaways from the Appen report as we see them:

  • Revenue up 60% to $245 million
  • Profit up 33% to $18.6 million
  • Content relevance revenue (e.g. for search engine development) of $194 million, up 48%
  • The acquisition of Leapforce is now fully integrated
  • Underlying EBITDA of $46.3 million, up 81%

In case you need to understand why a company like Appen might favour reporting their ‘underlying’ results or ‘EBITDA’ metrics, watch our explainer video:

Appen Report: A Look Under The Hood

Looking a little deeper into Appen’s results we can see the benefit of its two large acquisitions, Leapforce and Figure Eight, juicing the revenue line.

Outside of its acquired growth, Appen’s organic growth — which in our opinion is the best/most sustainable type of growth — the company did note that revenue from the Speech and Image side of its business was gaining momentum.

“Speech and image is gathering speed,” Appen CEO Mark Brayan explained. “we’re seeing an increase in use cases and our existing customers are asking for more data to develop new AI products and to improve their existing offerings.”

In the larger Relevance business, which helps third-party software developers create programs such as smarter search algorithms, the company reported a 48% increase in revenue to $193.7 million.

“We’re very pleased with this half’s result, and the Company’s ability to simultaneously deliver growth, margin expansion and invest in future-proofing the business through technology and new markets,” Appen Co-Founder and Chairman Chris Vonwiller said.

Outlook & Dividend

The board declared a dividend of four cents per share, partially franked, in-line with last year. Analysts surveyed by Bloomberg had expected a dividend of 5 cents per share, which could explain why Appen shares are lower in trading today.

Given its recent momentum, Appen said it expects to report underlying EBITDA at the top end of its $85 million to $90 million range for the full financial year (based on an exchange rate of $US0.74).

Buy, Hold Or Sell

The tough thing for me is knowing how Appen’s core business is growing organically and then balancing that growth with what seems to be a lofty valuation for the overall business.

I don’t deny the artificial intelligence software market will be much larger than it is today but Appen isn’t the only company operating in the space and I’d like to get more clarity on the quality of its core business before buying shares for the Rask Invest model portfolio.

The last time I tried to put a valuation on it — before the Figure Eight takeover — my valuation was far lower than the current share price.

While we continue to work through this report it’ll remain on our watchlist for Rask Invest.

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Disclaimer: Any information contained in this article is limited to general financial/investment advice only. The information has not taken into account your specific needs, goals or objectives, so please consider consulting a licenced and trusted adviser before acting on the information. Please read The Rask Group’s Financial Services Guide (FSG) for more information. This article is authorised by Owen Raszkiewicz of The Rask Group, which is a corporate authorised representative No. 1264179 of Strawman Pty Ltd (ACN: 610 908 211) (AFSL: 501 223).

Disclosure: At the time of publishing Owen does not have a financial interest in any of the companies mentioned.