Fortinet's (NASDAQ: FTNT) stock jumped nearly 11% on Feb. 8 after the company posted its fourth-quarter earnings report. The cybersecurity company's revenue rose 33% year over year to $1.28 billion but narrowly missed analysts' estimates by $20 million. However, its adjusted earnings rose 76% to $0.44 per share and topped the consensus forecast by a nickel.
Fortinet also posted strong guidance for 2023. It expects its revenue to rise 24% to 28% year over year in the first quarter and grow 21% to 23% for the full year. Both estimates easily surpassed Wall Street's expectations.
That stable outlook suggests that Fortinet is still well insulated from the macro headwinds, but is it too late to buy its stock after its post-earnings pop? Let's take a fresh look at Fortinet's business and valuations to decide.
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An early mover in next-gen firewalls
Back in 2002, Fortinet launched FortiGate, a next-gen firewall that upgraded traditional firewalls with network device filtering tools. It established an early-mover's advantage in that market and now serves about 615,000 customers globally, including most of the Fortune 500. FortiGate subsequently became the foundation of Fortinet's Security Fabric, which provides end-to-end protection tools for on-premise, cloud-based, and Internet of Things devices through a blend of on-site appliances, software, and cloud-based services.
That expansion boosted Fortinet's annual revenue from $1.49 billion in 2017 to $4.42 billion in 2022, which represented a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 24%, as its annual adjusted operating margin expanded from 15% to 27%. Its stock has also rallied more than 550% over the past five years as the ETFMG Prime Cyber Security ETF, which holds a basket of top cybersecurity stocks, rose less than 50%.
Unlike many of its other cybersecurity peers, Fortinet is firmly profitable by both generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) and non-GAAP (adjusted) metrics. On a non-GAAP basis, its net income increased at a CAGR of 39% from $185 million in 2017 to $962 million in 2022.
But can it maintain those growth rates?
Fortinet believes it can generate $10 billion in billings in 2025, which implies a CAGR of 21% from its $5.59 billion in billings in 2022. That forecast implies its top-line growth will barely slow down over the next three years.
During its fourth-quarter conference call, CFO Keith Jensen attributed the company's stable outlook to the "convergence and consolidation" of "network firewalls, Secure SD-WAN, 5G and OT security" into its "single operating system." Jensen also noted that Fortinet's development of its own ASIC chips, which are customized for its own hardware and operating system, gave it an edge against other cybersecurity appliance companies that used third-party chips.
Unlike many other tech companies, Fortinet didn't fret over macroeconomic headwinds at all during its latest conference call. Instead, Jensen said that even though Fortinet faced a "challenging global supply chain environment" during the year, its product revenue still rose 42% and represented its "highest annual product revenue growth rate in over 10 years."
Fortinet expects its adjusted operating margin to dip slightly to 25% to 26% in 2023 as it ramps up its investments in its cloud services, data centers, and facilities, but it still expects its adjusted earnings per share to rise 17% to 18%.
Fortinet is also swimming in cash. Its free cash flow rose 21% to $1.45 billion in 2022, and it spent more than 100% of that total ($1.99 billion) on buybacks. It repurchased its shares at an average price of $55.37 -- a discount of about 9% to its stock price as of this writing -- and reduced its outstanding shares by 4% throughout the year.
So is it too late to buy Fortinet's stock?
Fortinet's stock isn't cheap at 51 times forward earnings, but I believe its rock-solid growth rates justify that higher valuation. It's also fairly valued relative to its industry peers. For example, Palo Alto Networks -- which provides similar services and is growing at a comparable rate -- trades at 49 times forward earnings.
I believe Fortinet's glowing track record and crystal-clear road map make it a great long-term play on the growing cybersecurity sector. If it generates $10 billion in billings by 2025 -- which certainly seems achievable at this rate -- its stock could easily double in less than three years. Therefore, it's certainly not too late to add this high-quality stock to your portfolio.
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Article initially appeared on msn.com
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