Software shares set new records as tech rallies

In another up for technology shares, software companies saw their values reach new heights today.

The day’s trading comes after a sell-off last week eased some of technology companies’ rebounds from their COVID-19 lows; stocks in tech companies have more than made up for their early-year declines in mid-2020, with the Nasdaq reaching 10,000 points before giving up some ground.

Today the Nasdaq Composite index rose 0.15% to 9,910.53 points, just a few bips short of its all-time highs. A thematic tech index focused on fintech also saw their values recover to a mote under previous highs. The S&P 500 fell 0.36% to close at $3,113.41 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average Index decreased 0.65% to $26,119.13.

But software companies, tech’s highest fliers, set new records as measured by the Bessemer cloud index. According to the Financial Times, the software-and-cloud tracking index has seen gains of more than 45% during the last year, a sharp advance during a year of economic uncertainty and occasional stock market carnage.

Looking around more broadly, tech shares with a bit more of a value flavor — GAAP profitability, regular dividends, etc. — performed well, with Apple setting new record highs as well. The smartphone giant and services shop is worth more than $1.5 trillion, underscoring how attractive stable-tech has proved in 2020. On the same theme, Microsoft is a few points from all-time highs, and is worth around $1.48 trillion.

But while software’s growth has proved attractive, as has the stability of megacorp tech shops, less certain bets have also proved attractive. Nikola, an electric vehicle company that went public recently in a reverse debut, is still worth around $26 billion despite having no reported revenue. On a similar theme, Tesla shares are up from around $225 a year ago to over $993 today, a gain of 340% or so. In Q1 2020 the company posted 38% year-over-year growth.

$420 per share feels like a long time ago.

Speaking of transportation, Uber and Lyft had separate announcements Wednesday that should have primed the ol’ investor pump. Instead, shares of both companies bopped from flat to slightly down throughout the day.

Uber announced Wednesday that it will manage an on-demand service for Marin County in the San Francisco Bay area, marking the company’s broader push to Software as a Service and public transit.

Transportation Authority of Marin (TAM) will pay Uber a subscription fee to use its management software to facilitate requesting, matching and tracking of its high-occupancy vehicle fleet, starting with a service that operates along the Highway 101 corridor. Marin Transit trips will show up in the Uber app and let users book and even share rides.

This fundamental piece of news should have appealed to investors. Today they responded with a resounding “meh,” even though it represents the first steps into generating a new stream of revenue.

Uber shares closed down 0.60% to $33.29.

Meanwhile, rival Lyft pledged Wednesday that every car, truck and SUV on its platform will be all electric or powered by another zero-emission technology by 2030, a commitment that will require the company to coax drivers to shift away from gas-powered vehicles.

The target, which Lyft plans to pursue with help from the Environmental Defense Fund, will stretch across multiple programs. It will include the company’s autonomous vehicles, the Express Drive rental car partner program for rideshare drivers, consumer rental cars for riders and personal cars that drivers use on the Lyft app.

Perhaps investors understand that even with a decade-long timeline, the target could be difficult to meet.

Lyft shares closed at $35.32, down 3.79%.

TechCrunch has slowed its public market coverage as tech equities have returned to a more stable period; that they have made back lost ground has been worth noting, but lower volatility has lowered the market’s newsworthiness. Still, from time-to-time when new all-time highs are hit, it’s worth putting our toes back into the water. And on days when different blocs of public tech set records, we can’t help but make a public note.

Tech and tech-ish stocks: still in fashion.

Why are unicorns pushing back IPOs when the Nasdaq is near record highs?

The unicorns are still at it, Vision Fund 2 or no Vision Fund 2.

This week, Instacart announced that it has raised fresh capital at a valuation north of $13 billion. And, on the tail of that news item, DoorDash is looking to add more cash at a valuation that could stretch to a pre-money valuation that exceeds $15 billion, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Both announcements make it plain that late-stage unicorns are still able to attract huge sums despite a putatively uncertain, if recently excitable IPO market.

It’s an interesting state of affairs, as the prices that super-late-stage unicorns are able to charge private investors push their valuations so high that only the largest and richest companies might be able to afford buying them. The result could be a closed M&A window that leaves only an exit hatch marked “IPO.”

Amazon, for example, paid around $13.7 billion for Whole Foods, a chain of U.S. grocery stores that the technology giant also uses as distribution points for parcel delivery. Instacart, the grocery delivery service, is now worth $13.7 billion as well.

As the private company’s final investors won’t want to merely break even on their investment, Instacart

The accelerating digital transformation, redux

Earlier this week, TechCrunch covered a grip of earnings reports showing that some companies helping other businesses move to modern software solutions are seeing accelerated growth. Inside the Software as a Service (SaaS) world, this is known as the digital transformation. Based on how many software companies are talking about it, the pace of change is only picking up.

But since we published that first entry, a number of SaaS companies that have posted financial results seemed to disappoint investors. Seeing some companies in the high-flying sector struggle made us sit back and think. What was going on?

Today we’re going to explore how the digital transformation’s acceleration seems real enough, but how it’s not landing equally. We’ll start by going over a short run of earnings results, talk to Yext CEO Howard Lerman about what his B2B SaaS company is seeing, and wrap with notes on what could be coming next from software shops.

A quick word on digital transformation

We all hear about digital transformation, but it’s hard to define. Generally, it’s a broad area that includes digitization of manual processes, modern software development practices like continuous delivery and containerization and a general way of moving faster via technology — especially in the cloud.

Speaking last month on Extra Crunch Live, Box CEO Aaron Levie defined the term as he sees it. “The way that we think about digital transformation is that much of the world has a whole bunch of processes and ways of working — ways of communicating and ways of collaborating where if those business processes or that way we worked were able to be done in digital forms or in the cloud, you’d actually be more productive, more secure and you’d be able to serve your customers better. You’d be able to automate more business processes.” he said.

What we’re seeing now is that the pandemic has accelerated the rate of change much faster than many had anticipated. Efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 and its related workplace disruptions have accelerated what would have been a normal timetable. But on its own, that doesn’t mean the market is seeing equal results across every company and industry that might be part of that trend.

Earnings results

Lots of SaaS companies reported earnings this week, but two sets of returns stuck out as we reviewed the results, those from Slack and Smartsheet.

Slack drops 10%+ after its revenue growth, guidance fail to impress

Today Slack reported its earnings results for the three months ending April 30, 2020, the first quarter of its fiscal 2021.

The well-known SaaS chat service posted revenue of $201.7 million, up 50% compared to its year-ago period. Slack also reported an adjusted per-share loss of $0.02, and per-share losses of $0.13 when counting all costs. Analysts aggregated by Yahoo Finance expected the company to lose $0.06 per share against $188.12 million in revenue.

Immediately after its earnings report, shares of the company are off around 13%, after dropping around 4.4% during a down day for companies that share its business model (software as a service). Our first read of the stock decline is that investors had expected the firm to more aggressively beat expectations and had priced the company more richly in anticipation of stronger results.

Those expectations, if so, were not unfounded. The company had previously discussed how quickly it was growing thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, which pushed many organizations to buy new software services to allow their workers to labor at a distance.

Slack’s earnings come after Zoom, a SaaS video communications company, and CrowdStrike, a SaaS cybersecurity firm, both posted outsized growth due in part to an accelerated digital transformation and remote work’s necessities for new tooling.

That boom in usage was mentioned by the firm, which reported that it “added a record of over 90,000 net new organizations on either a free or paid subscription plan.” According to its earnings release, Slack added 12,000 net new customers in the same period. Given the instant market reaction to shed its equity, it’s clear investors had expected the company to sign up more paid and fewer free plans. If they had succeeded in doing so, Slack could have driven more revenue in the quarter.

Slack noted that it expects “$206 million to $209 million” in current-quarter revenue, representing growth of 42% to 44% on a year-over-year basis. The company also expects to lose $0.03 to $0.04 per share in the three-month period on an adjusted basis.

Regardless of the market’s reaction to this particular quarter, Slack is well-capitalized, having sold $750 million in convertible senior notes, adding capital to its balance sheets at a slim interest rate of 0.50%. It can take this punch.

Not all the news in Slack’s earnings document will irk investors. There were some bright lights. First, its revenue growth did accelerate a bit compared to its preceding quarter’s 49%. And, its 132% net retention rate is still top-of-the-line. Even more, the firm GAAP gross margin improved to 87.3%, another impressive metric.

But investors, it appears, expected more revenue growth acceleration than Slack ultimately delivered.

As a final note, Slack’s “miss” of a sort will undercut some narrative that SaaS business would, generally, see their revenue growth accelerate. Slack joins Salesforce and Smartsheet in turning in earnings recently that did not delight the investing classes.

SaaS earnings rise as pandemic pushes companies more rapidly to the cloud

As the pandemic surged and companies moved from offices to working at home, they needed tools to ensure the continuity of their business operations. SaaS companies have always been focused on allowing work from anywhere there’s access to a computer and internet connection, and while the economy is reeling from COVID-19 fallout, modern software companies are thriving.

That’s because the pandemic has forced companies that might have been thinking about moving to the cloud to find tools what will get them there much faster. SaaS companies like Zoom, Box, Slack, Okta and Salesforce were there to help; cloud security companies like CrowdStrike also benefited.

While it’s too soon to say how the pandemic will affect work long term when it’s safe for all employees to return to the office, it seems that companies have learned that you can work from anywhere and still get work done, something that could change how we think about working in the future.

One thing is clear: SaaS companies that have reported recent earnings have done well, with Zoom being the most successful example. Revenue was up an eye-popping 169% year-over-year as the world shifted in a big way to online meetings, swelling its balance sheet.

There is a clear connection between the domestic economy’s rapid transition to the cloud and the earnings reports we are seeing — from infrastructure to software and services. The pandemic is forcing a big change to happen faster than we ever imagined.

Big numbers

Zoom and CrowdStrike are two companies expected to grow rapidly thanks to the recent acceleration of the digital transformation of work. Their earnings reports this week made those expectations concrete, with both firms beating expectations while posting impressive revenue growth and profitability results.

Zoom and CrowdStrike hang onto 2020 gains despite huge earnings expectations

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

Yesterday after the bell, Zoom and CrowdStrike reported earnings. The two technology shops, members of the SaaS cohort of public companies that has performed so well this year, had high expectations to meet.

This column noted on Monday that both companies could help set market sentiment regarding SaaS valuations at firms thought to enjoy a strong updraft from COVID-19 and its related market disruptions; working from home means that many companies needed new, better video conferencing abilities and more security tooling, the two things that Zoom and CrowdStrike provide.

If the pair failed to detail strong recent performance, their share prices, long rising, could have dramatically corrected.

But, in a huge boon to public SaaS companies — and, therefore, late-stage private SaaS valuations and early-stage SaaS investment — Zoom and CrowdStrike reported impressive financial gains. Notably in the case of Zoom, the improved results were sufficiently priced in that the company’s share price didn’t rise much after this disclosure, but defending huge gains was still a difficult feat.

CrowdStrike shares did rise after it reported its results.

On the heels of one of the sharpest rallies in SaaS history, let’s dig into how quickly the two firms grew and see what their new valuations and revenue multiples tell us about investor sentiment. If you are in a hurry, the short answer is that the risk-on move towards SaaS stocks doesn’t look like its about to abate. For those bullish on software companies, it’s a good week.

Great expectations

Let’s talk numbers first. Here’s how things shook out:

Remote work helps Zoom grow 169% in one year, posting $328.2M in Q1 revenue

Today after the bell, video-chat service Zoom reported its Q1 earnings. The company disclosed that it generated $328.2 million in revenue, up 169% compared to the year-ago period. The company also reported $0.20 per-share in adjusted profit during the three-month period.

Analysts, as averaged by Yahoo Finance, expected Zoom to report $202.48 million in revenue, and a per-share profit of $0.09. After its earnings smash, shares of Zoom were up slightly Update: Zoom shares are now up 2.3% ahead of its earnings call; investors had priced in this outsized-performance, it seems.

Zoom grew 78% in its preceding quarter on an annualized basis. The company’s growth acceleration is notable.

Investors were expecting big gains. Before its earnings, shares in the popular business-to-business service were up by more than 3x during the year; Zoom has found itself in an updraft due in part to COVID-19 driving workers and others to stay home and work remotely. Zoom’s software has also seen large purchase amongst consumers hungry for a video chatting solution that was simple and that works.

If the company could sustain its valuation gains going into this earnings report was an open question that has now been answered.

Gains

Zoom’s growth in its Q1 fiscal 2021 generated some notable profit results for the firm. The firm’s net income, an unadjusted profit metric, rose from $0.2 million in the year-ago quarter to $27.0 million in its most recent three months.

And Zoom’s cash generation was astounding. Here’s how the company described its results:

Net cash provided by operating activities was $259.0 million for the quarter, compared to $22.2 million in the first quarter of fiscal year 2020. Free cash flow was $251.7 million, compared to $15.3 million in the first quarter of fiscal year 2020.

It’s difficult to recall another company that has managed such growth in cash generation in such a short period of time, driven mostly by operations and not other financial acts. Zoom’s customer numbers were similarly sharp, with the firm reporting that it had 265,400 customers with more than 10 seats (employees) at the end of the quarter, which was up 354% from the year-ago period.

Though not all news for Zoom was good. Indeed, the company’s gross margin fell sharply in the quarter, compared to its year-ago result. In is Q1 fiscal 2020, Zoom reported a gross margin of around 80%. In its most recent quarter that number slipped to around 68%. In short, the company managed to convert many free users to paying customers, but still had to carry the costs of free usage of its product, something that has exploded in recent months.

Looking ahead, Zoom expects the current quarter to be another blockbuster period. The company noted in its release that it expects “between $495.0 million and $500.0 million” in revenue for Q2 of its fiscal 2021 (the current period). Looking ahead for the full fiscal year, Zoom anticipates revenues “between $1.775 billion and $1.800 billion,” numbers that take into account “the demand for remote work solutions for businesses” and “increased churn in the second half of the fiscal year” when some customers might no longer need Zoom if they can return to their offices.

Its shares might have priced in these results, but the numbers themselves are simply massive. Just three months ago Zoom turned in revenues of just $188.3 million. That’s less than it generated in free cash flow during its next three months.

Zoom’s earnings to test hot tech valuations

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

This week will see two richly-valued SaaS business share their Q1 earnings reports: CrowdStrike and Zoom. Both are 2019 IPOs, but these relatively young public companies have enjoyed a strong run in the public markets this year.

Zoom started off 2020 worth around $69 per share; today it is worth $179.48 ahead of the start of today’s trading. CrowdStrike started the year at a little over $49 per share; today it’s worth $87.81 per share. The business-focused, but consumer-friendly video chat service Zoom and the cybersecurity-focused CrowdStrike are perfect examples of the updraft that SaaS businesses have rode this year.

With both firms reporting earnings at the same time, we’ll get notes on the work-from-home trend, and how it is impacting services that help make remote-work possible; and, CrowdStrike’s earnings will inform us on how the cybersecurity space is performing — are businesses shelling out more than expected to keep their networks and employees safe when so many are out of the office?

If Zoom and CrowdStrike report results that disappoint investors, they could do more than just deflate their own shares. Missed earnings reports from either could puncture SaaS valuations more broadly, perhaps impacting private valuations for companies that are in the market for new capital. Why?

Prominence and timing.

Earnings expectations

Salesforce stock is taking a hit today after lighter guidance in yesterday’s earning’s report

In spite of a positive quarter with record revenue that beat analyst estimates, Salesforce stock was taking a hit today because of lighter guidance. Wall Street is a tough audience.

The stock was down $8.29/share or 4.58% as of 2:15 pm ET.

The guidance, which was a projection for next quarter’s earnings, was lighter than what the analysts on Wall Street expected. While Salesforce was projecting revenue for next quarter in the range of $4.89 to $4.90 billion, according to CNBC, analysts had expected $5.03 billion.

When analysts see a future that is a bit worse than what they expected, it usually results in a lower stock price and that’s what we are seeing today. It’s worth noting that Salesforce is operating in the same economy as everyone else and being a bit lighter on your projections in the middle of pandemic seems entirely understandable.

In yesterday’s report CEO Marc Benioff indicated that the company has been offering some customers some flexibility around payment as they navigate the economic fallout of COVID-19, and the company’s operating cash took a bit of a hit because of this.

“Operating cash flow was $1.86 billion, which was largely impacted by delayed payments from customers while sheltering in place and some temporary financial flexibility that we granted to certain customers that were most affected by the COVID pandemic,” president and CFO Mark Hawkins explained in the analyst call.

Still, the company reported revenue of $4.87 billion for the quarter, putting it on a run rate of $19.48 billion.

In a statement, David Hynes, Jr of Canaccord Genuity still remained high on Salesforce. “If you step back and think about what Salesforce is actually providing, tools that help businesses get closer to their customers are perhaps more important than ever in a slower-growth, socially distanced world. We have long reserved a spot for CRM among our top names in large cap, and we feel no differently about that view after what we heard last night. This is a high-quality firm with many levers to growth, and as such, we believe CRM is a good way to get a bit of defensive exposure to the favorable trends at play in software.”

The company is after all still firmly on the path to a $20 billion in revenue. As Hynes points out, overall the kinds of tools that Salesforce offers should remain in demand as companies look for ways to digitally transform much more rapidly in our current situation, and look to companies like Salesforce for help.

China’s food delivery giant Meituan hits $100B valuation amid pandemic

Meituan’s shares hit a record high on Tuesday, bringing its valuation to over $100 billion.

The Hong Kong-listed giant, which focuses on food delivery with smaller segments in travel and transportation, is the third Chinese firm to reach the landmark valuation. Tencent and Alibaba respectively topped the number back in 2013 and 2014.

Tencent-backed Meituan saw shares rally to HK$138 ($17.8) on Tuesday after it earmarked a smaller-than-projected decrease in revenue during Q1 and a net loss of 1.58 billion yuan ($220 million) after three consecutive profitable quarters.

While nationwide lockdowns might have increased the need for food delivery, Chinese consumers have been tightening their belt amid a worsening economy triggered by COVID-19. Overall food delivery transactions slid as a result. Meituan also had to pay incentives to delivery riders who work during the pandemic and subsidies to merchants to keep their heads above the water.

There’s one silver lining: While Meituan’s daily average number of transactions dropped by 18.2% to 15.1 million, the average value per order jumped by 14.4% as delivered meals, which were conventionally seen as a habit for office workers, became normalized among families that stayed at home. In the first quarter, a large number of premium restaurants joined Meituan’s food delivery services, and they could continue to attract bigger ticket purchases in the post-pandemic era.

All in all, though, Meituan executives warned of the uncertainties brought by COVID-19. “Moving on to the remaining of 2020, we expect that factors including the ongoing pandemic precautions, consumers’ insufficient confidence in offline consumption activities and the risk of merchants’ closure would continue to have a potential impact on our business performance.”