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Three cloud-based global equities to counter recessionary forces

Vikram Barhat  |  15 Jul 2022Text size  Decrease  Increase  |  
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Successive rate hikes from central banks on both sides of the Atlantic have triggered trepidation among investors about a tightening cycle that could result in a recession.

While the definition of a recession may vary depending on who you ask, there is no denying weaker trade data, the war in Ukraine, residual economic effects of Covid-19 and the supply chain crisis continue to hobble economies in much of the developed world.

With more interest rate hikes in the cards, likely putting the skids on borrowing, on both sides of the border, Australian investors may want to look at recession-proofing their portfolios. The following stocks make products and services that enjoy relative immunity from economic upheavals and are regarded as a good counterweight in recessionary environments.

Cloud computing behemoth Salesforce Inc (CRM) offers customer relationship management technology that brings companies and customers together. It also offers Service Cloud for customer support, Marketing Cloud for digital marketing campaigns, Commerce Cloud as an e-commerce engine, the Salesforce Platform, which allows enterprises to build applications, and other solutions.

Salesforce.com represents one of the best long-term growth stories in software. "After introducing the software-as-a-service model to the world, Salesforce.com has assembled a front-office empire that it can build on for years to come," says a Morningstar equity report.

The software major benefits from natural cross-selling among its clouds, upselling more robust features within product lines, pricing actions, international growth, and continued acquisitions, the report adds.

The firm is widely considered a leader in each of its served markets, which is attractive on its own, but the natural fit its solutions have with one another makes for a powerful value proposition.

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"Investors looking for signs of broader enterprise software slowdowns will have to look elsewhere after wide-moat Salesforce reported solid results in the face of a variety of macroeconomic headwinds," says equity analyst Dan Romanoff.

Salesforce reported Q1 revenue of more than US$7 billion, up 24% year over year. Non-GAAP operating margin also topped expectations.

"Salesforce remains one of our top software picks and we view shares as attractive, as we think investors are overly pessimistic on near-term fears,” says Romanoff, who recently lowered the stock’s fair value to US$305 from US$320, prompted by “the macro storm clouds."

Okta (OKTA) sells solutions for identity and access management. The firm’s software solutions are cloud-delivered, and its integrated network gives customers security protection and access across a wide variety of applications that are critical to business and government needs.

Okta's cloud-based solutions disrupted the existing methodology of protecting users and provided access to digital resources based upon on-premises products. "Okta's innovative solutions for user access and security will provide it with a durable presence, and strong revenue growth alongside significant margin expansion," says a Morningstar equity report.

It benefits from the growing reliance of companies on user-based cybersecurity. "We believe that enabling access management and protecting networks from malicious actors based upon identity credentials are cornerstones of cybersecurity," says Morningstar equity analyst, Malik Ahmed Khan.

Apart from a rapidly expanding customer base and snagging larger deals, Okta is migrating upstream to land more enterprise clients and expand internationally. "We expect Okta's solutions to be in high demand due to entities desiring a seamless experience for its employees and customers when accessing requested applications, while also ensuring that networks are protected," says Khan, who recently lowered the stock’s fair value to US$193 from US$280, due to a more conservative stance on long-term profitability assumptions.

However, he maintains the stock’s fair value is still well above the company’s current share price. "We continue to believe that the market’s reaction to recent macroeconomic events has been overdone," he contends.

A cloud-first software company, Splunk (SPLK) focuses on analyzing machine data and is a major player in two markets: security and full-stack monitoring & analysis. The company is in the middle of a cloud transition, moving its on-premises customers over to its cloud products that are delivered as software-as-a-service.

On the security front, Splunk’s security information and event management (SIEM) operate as a well-refined alert system, putting out alerts if any nefarious activity appears on a client’s network.

"Splunk is a leader in ingesting, indexing, and analyzing machine-generated data," says a Morningstar equity analysis, adding that "the company will maintain its leadership status for the foreseeable future."

Splunk has a long runway for growth as it seeks to continue to dominate the enterprise market where machine data is becoming more pervasive, impacting every part of an enterprise’s operations, the report adds.

"We view more than 90% of Fortune 100 firms using Splunk’s offerings as a vote of confidence in its enterprise product lineup,” asserts Khan, further pointing out that “Splunk’s strong cloud dollar-based net retention (DBNR) has consistently remained above 120%."

With the ability to land big customers and consistently upsell them, Splunk is positioned well for long-term growth.

"Our bullish thesis is underscored by our belief that Splunk will continue to benefit from secular tailwinds across its end-markets and that the firm’s sticky product portfolio and entrenchment in its clients’ systems will allow it to deliver shareholder value," says Khan who pegs the stock’s fair value at US$175, and forecasts an annual revenue growth of 20.5% over the next five years.

A Toronto-based financial writer, Vikram also writes for CNBC, BBC, The Globe and Mail, and Toronto Star.

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