Another day, another hack … another reason to buy cybersecurity stocks.
I’ve been saying that for a few years now, and over the past three years, cybersecurity stocks have indeed roared higher. The First Trust Cybersecurity ETF (NASDAQ:CIBR) is up over 65% over the past three years. The S&P 500 is up just 38% over that same stretch.
Why the huge out-performance in cybersecurity stocks? Because — drawing back to the opening statement — data hacks have simply kept happening … all the time … everywhere.
In 2016, personal and financial information on hundreds of millions of accounts were compromised thanks to data breaches at Adult Friend Finder, Yahoo and Uber (NYSE:UBER). In 2017, it was Equifax (NYSE:EFX) and Verizon (NASDAQ:VZ) that were hit hard by data breaches which similarly exposed information on hundreds of millions of accounts. Marriott (NASDAQ:MAR), Twitter (NYSE:TWTR), Under Armour (NYSE:UAA) and Chegg (NASDAQ:CHGG) were big hack victims in 2018. In 2019, the headline hack so far has been the Capital One (NYSE:COF) data breach, which exposed info on more than 100 million Capital One customers.
As these hacks have kept happening, enterprises have increasingly doubled down on cybersecurity solutions, spending an arm and a leg on cybersecurity to make sure they protect customer info and data, which, for what it’s worth, is an increasingly valuable asset in today’s data economy.
As such, the saying still rings true today. Another day, another hack, another reason to buy cybersecurity stocks. So long as this saying remains true, cybersecurity companies will stay in rally mode.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at four cybersecurity stocks to buy to play this secular growth trend.
Palo Alto Networks (PANW)
At the top of this list of cybersecurity stocks to buy, we have global cybersecurity leader, Palo Alto Networks (NASDAQ:PANW).
The saying “another day, another hack, another reason to buy cybersecurity stocks” could easily be substituted for the saying “another day, another hack, another reason to buy PANW stock”.
Palo Alto Networks is that big, that dominant, and that good.
This company has been the leader of the cybersecurity industry for a long time. It has a long track record of 20%-plus revenue growth, and actually grew revenues at a 40% compounded annual growth rate between 2014 and 2018. It has an equally long and robust track record of customer growth, going from 4,000 customers at the end of 2011, to 54,000 customers by the end of 2018.
At the same time, the business model is highly attractive. It’s a software business, so gross margins are sky high. Above 75% to be exact. The opex rate has dropped consistently with scale, and operating margins have climbed from 11% in 2014, to above 20% last year. Further, the business generates a lot of cash because capex is so low, with 40%-plus free cash flow margins.
Going forward, Palo Alto Network reasonably projects as a 15%-plus revenue grower with favorable margin drivers. That should drive somewhere between 20% and 25% profit growth over the next few years, which puts 2025 earnings-per-share somewhere around $16. Based on a software average multiple of 25-times forward earnings, that implies a long-term price target for PANW stock of $400, substantially higher than today’s price tag.
All in all, then, PANW stock looks like a solid long-term investment at current levels.
Next up, we have hyper-growth cybersecurity company Okta (NASDAQ:OKTA), whose unique approach to the cybersecurity problem has gained tremendous traction over the past few years.
Okta has developed what it calls the Identity Cloud, which is essentially just a cloud-based cybersecurity solution that puts individual identity at the core of the solution. In so doing, Okta’s solutions enable individuals in enterprises to seamlessly and securely adopt any new software, since the security is based on the individual identity, which doesn’t change from app to app.
This unique approach to cybersecurity has gained tremendous traction recently. Okta has consequently posted 50%-plus revenue growth rates in each of the past several quarters, alongside 30%-plus customer growth. Much like Palo Alto Networks, Okta also employs a highly attractive software business model which runs at 70%-plus gross margins. Revenue scale has also sparked continued and significant operating leverage.
All in all, Okta has all the right ingredients for huge profit growth over the next few years as sustained big revenue growth drives significant operating leverage on top of huge gross margins, creating a visible pathway toward big operating margins on big revenues one day.
From this perspective, I think this company could easily be a $5 billion-plus revenue business one day, with operating margins of 30% or higher. That combination could realistically output around $10 in EPS. Based on a 25 forward multiple, that equates to a long-term price target of $250.
To be sure, it will take a while for Okta to get there. But, the long-term upside here is nonetheless compelling.
Another cybersecurity name to buy for the long haul is Proofpoint (NASDAQ:PFPT).
The narrative at Proofpoint is very healthy. Proofpoint is the leader in email security. Email is the No. 1 channel through which personal hacks happen. Yet, email security spend accounts for a very small piece of the total IT security spend. This disconnect implies secular growth potential in email security spend. Most of that spend will find its way into Proofpoint. As such, Proofpoint projects as a big revenue growth company for as long as cyber and email security tailwinds remain vigorous.
The numbers here corroborate the healthy growth narrative. Proofpoint has grown SaaS revenues at a 35% compounded annual growth rate from 2012 to 2019 (projected). At the time of the company’s IPO in 2012, Proofpoint had just 2,400 customers, only 2% of whom subscribed to three or more products. Today, the company has 6,100 customers (nearly triple), about half of whom subscribe to three or more products. Thus, Proofpoint has shown an impressive ability to both expand its market and cross-sell its current customers.
On top of all this, Proofpoint — like many of its cybersecurity peers — operates at sky high 75%-plus gross margins, and has a rapidly retreating opex rate that is falling steadily with increasing scale.
These dynamics will persist given secular tailwinds. As such, you’re looking at a ~20% revenue growth company over the next several years, with considerable margin drivers. That should produce around 25-30% profit growth, which means EPS could get to around $7 by 2025. Based on a software average 25-times forward multiple, that equates to a 2024 price target of $175, which represents substantial upside from toady’s levels.
Last, but not least, on this list of cybersecurity stocks to buy is Splunk (NASDAQ:SPLK).
Unlike the other companies on this list, Splunk is not inherently a cybersecurity company. Splunk is a data company first. Specifically, Splunk specializes in taking machine data, and turning that data into actionable insights for enterprises. This is a huge and growing business. Data is only becoming more abundant, more important, and more useful. Splunk is enabling companies to glean the most out of all this data, and in so doing, is providing a very necessary and valuable service in today’s data economy.
The volume of data globally will only continue to grow over the next several years. The usefulness of that data will also only continue to grow. As such, companies will continue to spend big on services like Splunk to produce valuable insights from that data.
On the cybersecurity front, Splunk is relatively new to the cybersecurity game. But, the plunge into the market makes sense. Splunk has all this data, which it can easily leverage to produce data-driven cybersecurity solutions. That’s exactly what it is doing. And with great success. Splunk continues to add several customers to its security business, with the most recent notable add being Slack (NYSE:WORK).
Given its multi-faceted secular growth tailwinds, Splunk has been a 25%-plus revenue growth company for the past several years. Those same tailwinds will remain in play for the foreseeable future. As such, this company reasonably projects as a 20% sales grower over the next few years. Gross margins are high (above 80%), and operating margins will continue to move meaningfully higher as big revenue growth persists.
Net net, Splunk projects as 25-30% profit grower over the next few years. That profit growth trajectory makes $8 in EPS seem doable by 2025. Based on a 25-forward multiple, that implies a 2024 price target of $200.
As of this writing, Luke Lango was long UBER, CHGG, PANW, OKTA and SPLK.