J.P. Morgan Says Now Could Be a Good Time to Buy Cybersecurity Stocks; Here Are 2 Names With Promising Growth Potential

J.P. Morgan Says Now Could Be a Good Time to Buy Cybersecurity Stocks; Here Are 2 Names With Promising Growth Potential

In today’s digital world, there will always be a need for cybersecurity. Too many of our essential systems, everything from the upper levels of government and finance to the automation systems that run the traffic lights, depend on online connections for us to ignore the basics of securing our computer networks. Recent events, including the ongoing questions about election integrity, deep macroeconomic volatility, and the Russian war in Ukraine, have simply underscored the importance of cybersecurity.

Against this background of accelerating tailwinds, cybersecurity has become a top priority for tech execs. The situation has caught the attention of J.P. Morgan analyst Brian Essex, who says, “With less than $200 billion of enterprise spend to address over a trillion dollars of estimated annual cost and value destruction related to cybercrime, we expect Security budget growth will outpace IT budget growth for the full year and, with multiples now below pre-pandemic levels, we see several compelling opportunities within Security.”

Essex doesn’t leave us with a macro view of the sector. The analyst goes on to give a drill-down to the micro level, and picks out two cybersecurity stocks that he sees as potential winners in the months ahead. These are Buy-rated equities with, in the analyst’s view, promising growth potential. Let’s take a closer look.

Fortinet, Inc. (FTNT)

We’ll start with Fortinet, which is well-known for its line of high-end digital security products, including firewalls, endpoint security, intrusion prevention, anti-virus systems, and zero-trust access. Fortinet’s products and services are used to secure and protect data, networks, and system users. Over the past few years, Fortinet has seen its quarterly revenues climb steadily, as the demand for cybersecurity has increased.

A look at the numbers bears it out. In 2019, before the corona pandemic forced a major shift to online and networked connections, Fortinet had $2.2 billion in total revenues; in the 2021, the last full year with data available, the company had a top line exceeding $3.3 billion. In the last reported quarter, 3Q22, the top line came in at $1.15 billion, for a 33% year-over-year gain. The company will report Q4 and full-year 2022 data on February 7; we’ll see then how the trend line is continuing.

In the meantime, a look at the drill-downs of the Q3 data is informative. Product revenue, at $468.7 million, was up 39% y/y, while service revenue rose 28% to reach $680.8 million. Billings rose 33%, to $1.41 billion, and deferred revenue, a measure of future work and income, came in at $4.19 billion for a 35% increase over the prior year quarter. The company’s non-GAAP diluted EPS, of 33 cents, was up 65% from 3Q21.

Fortinet has deep pockets, too, to meet contingencies. The company brought in $483 million in cash from operations during 3Q22, a total that included $395.2 million in free cash flow. This was after spending $500 million in cash to repurchase shares. The company had $964 million in cash and liquid assets on hand at the end of the quarter.

J.P. Morgan’s Essex initiated his coverage of Fortinet with an Overweight (i.e. Buy) rating, and a price target of $69, suggesting a one-year upside potential of 31%. (To watch Essex’ track record, click here)

Backing this stance, Essex writes, “We view current valuation levels compelling as the company works toward its medium term goal of $10bn of billings, $8bn of revenue, and adjusted FCF margins in the mid- to high-30%’s for 2025. In our view, demand for core firewall, segmentation, SD-WAN and OT security is strong enough to support double digit product revenue growth with subscription acceleration and gross margin expansion driving continued fundamental strength ahead.”

Tech stocks tend to attract a lot of attention, and Fortinet is no exception – the stock has 20 analyst reviews on record, and they include 13 Buys against 7 Holds to give the company its Moderate Buy consensus recommendation. (See FTNT stock forecast)

Okta, Inc. (OKTA)

The second stock we’re looking at is Okta, a cloud computing firm offering security software for user authentication and identity control. The company’s cloud-based software allows enterprise customers to provide secure user authentication and identity controls, built directly into apps, devices, and website services. Okta has been in business since 2009, has been a public entity since 2017, and currently boasts over 17,000 customers.

The cybersecurity industry was valued at more than $200 billion last year, and is expected to reach $266 billion by 2027. Okta is carving itself a piece of that pie, and in its fiscal year 2022 saw $1.3 billion in total revenues. The company is beating that total in its current fiscal year; in the first three quarters of fiscal ’23, Okta has already generated $1.35 billion in revenues. Okta will release its full year data for fiscal year 2023 this coming March.

Results from the last reported quarter, Q3 of fiscal 2023, showed a top line of $481 million, for a 37% y/y gain. This included $466 million in subscription revenue, which was up 38% year-over-year. The company’s remaining performance obligations – how it reports the backlog – was up 21% y/y, to $2.85 billion, a metric that bodes well for revenues and income going forward. Currently, Okta has a non-GAAP EPS that’s breaking even, an improvement compared to the 7-cent EPS loss reported in the prior year period.

Okta’s Q3 cash flow was modest, at $10 million in net cash from operations, and $6 million in free cash flow, but the company’s cash assets at the end of the third quarter were much more impressive, at $2.47 billion in cash and cash equivalents.

Among the bulls is J.P. Morgan’s Brian Essex who describes Okta as ‘a market leader at a discount.’ Getting into details, Essex says of the company: “We believe digital transformation and Cloud adoption will continue to drive demand for cloud native Identity Management technology near term. Long term, we believe Distributed Identity could also be a meaningful underappreciated trend and we view Okta as one of the best positioned vendors to benefit from each of these trends…”

“We believe multiple compression is overdone with material opportunity considering the company’s market leadership position, growth expectations de-risked, and valuation at a meaningful discount. The stock has materially underperformed the S&P 500, as well as the rest of the coverage universe, but at 4.9x EV/NTM Sales, compared to 6.1x for the company’s Security Software peers, the setup for upside to OKTA is favorable relative to current stock price levels, in our view,” Essex added.

Putting some definite numbers on this stance, Essex sets an Overweight (i.e. Buy) rating on OKTA, along with a $90 price target, implying a 25% gain on the one-year horizon.

Essex leads the Bulls on OKTA. The stock has a Moderate Buy from the analyst consensus, based on 29 reviews that include 18 Buys and 11 Holds. (See OKTA stock forecast)

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the featured analysts. The content is intended to be used for informational purposes only. It is very important to do your own analysis before making any investment.