I am fascinated by the varying types of spin put on earnings releases. Autodesk released what are really quite positive year-end results but one media headline read only “Autodesk FY10 revenue down 26%.” True, but not even the tip of the news iceberg and reflecting mostly the first half of the year, when the comparables were dire. A broader picture:

• Q4 revenue was $456 million, up 9 % sequentially but down 7 % from the fourth quarter of fiscal 2009. To put this in perspective, Autodesk reported Q3 revenue of $417 million, flat sequentially but a drop of 31% from a year earlier. A less steep decline isn’t an uptick, but maybe it’s a flattening out.
• Autodesk said that most of the “top products” showed sequential growth in Q4 – with mention of Autodesk Vault Manufacturing, something we don’t often hear about; large deals activity was up, driven by pent-up demand and end of year budget drawdowns; revenue from commercial new seat licenses was up 14% led by AutoCAD and Inventor; 3d “model-based” revenue was again 29% of total revenue, constant through the year.
• The AEC business reported revenue of $137 million, up 10% sequentially, led by Revit which was up 11%.
• The Manufacturing segment reported revenue of $108 million, up 20% sequentially, led by Inventor which was up 15% sequentially.
• License and other revenue was $270 million down 13% year/year but up 14% sequentially.
• Maintenance grew during the year, ending in Q4 at $186 million
• All geographies were up sequentially but down year/year. The strongest sequential gain was in EMEA, up 18%; the weakest was the Americas, which increased 3% sequentially. Revenue from Asia was up 6% sequentially.

For the year, total revenue was $1,714 million, down 26%. Guidance for FY2011 (scary even to type that!) is limited to Q1 at this point, with the company forecasting revenue of between $420 million and $440 million, a 14%ish decrease from a year ago and a 6% sequential decrease. Keep in mind that Autodesk normally has a pretty steep drop-off from Q4 to Q1, as do most PLM vendors.

More after the earnings call.