Workday Inc (NYSE:WDAY) is having a fantastic 2017, with WDAY stock up more than 50% for the year-to-date. But come Wednesday, Aug. 30, after the market closes, the cloud application company faces the most important moment in its corporate history.It’s profit time!
Analysts are expecting Workday to report 15 cents per share of earnings on $507 million in revenue, and there is hope for 17 cents, if you believe the whisper number. This would not be extraordinary. There are only 131 million shares, so we’re talking about $20 million, give or take.
Save for this: Since coming public in 2012, Workday has not been profitable.
This is not a mortal sin for a fast-growing company, and Workday has grown fast, with revenues more than tripling between 2014 and 2016. But that vaunted growth rate is starting to slow, as the numbers get bigger. Revenues came in at $480 million last quarter, so $507 million is just a 5% bump.
Time to justify that $21 billion market cap.
The Bear Case
Workday was built to focus on human resources applications. It’s software, sold as a service, that runs in a cloud. This had been a sweet spot in the market, the one occupied by companies like Salesforce.com, Inc. (NYSE:CRM).
But when a bunch of people blow up balloons all at once — as when they occupy a market niche — there will come a time when all the space in the room is occupied, and the balloons start to bump against one another. That’s what is happening in cloud applications, which are sold to large enterprises as an alternative to on-premises operations.
Of the 34 analysts now following Workday, only 12 still have it on their buy lists, with 22 saying hold. That’s not what new investors want to see. The stock now trades at 8.4 times anticipated sales, leading some analysts to expect a fall from the Aug. 29 opening price of $102.45 after earnings. After all, Workday is no longer competing against a server in a closet, but Oracle Corporation (NYSE:ORCL) in a cloud.
The Bull Case
Workday still has its bulls. Royal Bank of Canada even has a $116 price target on the stock. And WDAY stock isn’t up more than 50% in 2017 for nothing.
Optimists will point out that Gartner still has Workday listed as a leader in its “magic quadrant” analysis, meaning it considers the software first-rate.
Workday CTO Stan Swete points out the software is built around an open-source database, but that the application definition is in a set of Java language objects, managed in memory, designed to let customers move it into different environments. The goal is to be independent of Oracle, which bought a lot of open-source-enabling technology with Sun Microsystems in 2010 and now is a key Workday competitor.
Workday also is continuing to buy new software and teams, like Pattern, a service that was trying to manage customer relationships for salespeople. This is becoming a key way to acquire talent. Workday shut down the online learning company it bought last year, and brought the data analytics team it bought in-house.
Bottom Line on WDAY Stock
For investors, this is a case of “it’s not you, it’s me.”
The problem with investing in Workday today isn’t Workday. The company’s software is excellent, its management is good, and it has its eye on change.
The problem is that the cloud application space looks exhausted. Cloud applications do not excite people as they once did. The area is becoming mature. It’s no longer about developing great apps, but about dividing up the potential market, and engaging in consolidation.
Given that, a profit is overdue. Profit expectations will only grow from here. Workday is moving off the growth track, and onto the value track. But there are bound to be bumps on the road from here to there, and WDAY stock may suffer for it.
Dana Blankenhorn is a financial and technology journalist. He is the author of the historical mystery romance The Reluctant Detective Travels in Time, available now at the Amazon Kindle store. Write him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @danablankenhorn. As of this writing he owned no shares in companies mentioned in this article.