By Wallace Witkowski, MarketWatch
Cybersecurity stocks received a boost Friday following strong earnings results from Symantec Corp. and Proofpoint Inc.
Shares of Symantec Corp. rallied 9% to close at $22.91, touching an intraday high of $24.05, after the security company’s earnings topped Wall Street estimates late Thursday. Symantec also announced Chief Financial Officer Nicholas Noviello would resign in the coming months, as well as a $500 million boost to its share buyback program.
William Blair analyst Jonathan Ho said Symantec’s return to 3% growth for its enterprise business helped to top estimates.
“The company indicated that it benefited from $30 million in appliance-based sales (likely Blue Coat on-premises gateways) but also saw strength in its [cloud access security broker], data protection, and other cloud solutions,” Ho said.
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Wedbush analyst Daniel Ives, who raised his price target to $24 from $21, said the company’s enterprise segment was the “clear star of the show.”
“The company’s Blue Coat acquisition and expanded product footprint is putting fuel in the engine for enterprise sales which is starting to show growth rates we have not seen in many years for Symantec, which has been a one step forward, two steps back story for the past decade,” Ives said.
Stifel analyst Gur Talpaz, however, said the revenue beat was due “in large part” to a shift in how enterprise revenue was reported.
“This is significant because it showcases that Symantec’s enterprise revenue performance materially benefited from a higher mix in sales that resulted in upfront revenue during the period (i.e. Blue Coat appliances), implying that the enterprise revenue beat, albeit sizable, was relatively less high-quality than it would have been had recurring revenue as a percentage of enterprise revenue remained stable on a sequential basis,” Talpaz said.
Proofpoint Inc. /zigman2/quotes/207816916/composite PFPT -1.16% shares rallied 12.4% to close at $114.51, touching an intraday high of $117.30, after the company’s quarterly results and outlook topped Wall Street estimates late Thursday.
Proofpoint reported adjusted fourth-quarter earnings of 51 cents a share on revenue of $198.5 million, while analysts polled by FactSet had been looking for earnings of 35 cents a share on revenue of $192.4 million. Proofpoint also forecast first-quarter earnings of 31 cents to 35 cents a share on revenue of $198 million to $200 million, while analysts had forecast first-quarter earnings of 31 cents a share on revenue of $197.8 million.
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William Blair’s Ho said Proofpoint results showed “continued strong execution, despite some of the uncertainty around recent sales leadership changes and hiring/onboarding issues that appear to be more under control.”
“We continue to view the company as underappreciated relative to its position as a growth company, with strong, high-quality free cash flow generation,” Ho said. “We continue to believe investors should be buying the stock, as we believe Proofpoint is largely past its sales challenges.”
Stifel’s Talpaz said overall “we believe that email remains broadly recognized as an increasingly mission-critical threat vector and while Proofpoint needs to continue demonstrating ongoing improvements within key areas of its business, particularly new hire ramping within the sales force, the company’s 4Q18 results appear to show early signs of progress.”
On Friday, both the ETFMG Prime Cyber Security ETF /zigman2/quotes/207892345/composite HACK -0.46% the First Trust Nasdaq Cybersecurity ETF /zigman2/quotes/200078153/composite CIBR -0.27% surged to close 2% higher, compared with a 0.1% advance in the S&P 500 index /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX -0.11% and a 0.3% decline in the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite Index /zigman2/quotes/210598365/realtime COMP -0.07% /zigman2/quotes/210598365/realtime COMP -0.07% /zigman2/quotes/200078153/composite CIBR -0.27% For the year, the HACK index is up 13.5% while the CIBR index is up 12.9%, compared with an 8% gain in the S&P 500 and a 9.5% gain in the Nasdaq. Symantec shares are up 21.3% for the year and Proofpoint shares have rallied 36.6%.
Coming cybersecurity earnings include FireEye Inc. /zigman2/quotes/204730283/composite FEYE -0.92% on Feb. 6, Qualys Inc. /zigman2/quotes/201504669/composite QLYS +0.19% on Feb. 12, and Cisco Systems Inc. /zigman2/quotes/209509471/composite CSCO +0.46% on Feb. 13.
Of the 29 analysts who cover Symantec, one has a buy rating, 27 have hold ratings, and one has a sell rating. Following earnings, 10 analysts hiked their price targets for an average of $22.79, compared with an earlier $21.93. Of the 28 analysts who cover Proofpoint, 26 have buy ratings and two have hold ratings. After five analysts hiked price targets Friday, the stock has an average target of $118.52, up from a previous $116.32.