The past year has been extremely busy for me and the decline in blogs produced has been one of the consequences. On the one hand, I’m mortified that my annual Top Ten list has been delayed by 2 months. On the other hand, it turns out that the steep decline in tech valuations affords an opportunity for acquiring recommended stocks at much lower cost than they were on January 2. Because I don’t want to delay recommendations further, I am going to publish the recap of 2021 picks after the new Top Ten blog is out. Suffice it to say the recap will be of a down year after posting my best year ever in 2020, but that means (at least to me) that there is now an opportunity to build a portfolio around great companies at opportune pricing.
Starting in November of 2021 the Tech sector has taken a beating as inflation, potential interest rate spikes, the Russian threat to the Ukraine (followed by an invasion), a Covid jump due to Omicron and supply chain issues all have contributed to fear, especially regarding high multiple stocks. What is interesting is that the company performance of those I like continues to be stellar, but their stocks are not reflecting that. For 2022, the 6 stocks I’m recommending are Tesla, DocuSign, Amazon, Zoom, CrowdStrike and Shopify (the only new one on my list).
In the introduction to my picks last year, I pointed out that over time share appreciation tends to correlate to revenue growth. This clearly did not occur over the last 14 months as illustrated in Table 1.
The average revenue gain in the last quarter reported by these companies was 43%, while the average stock in the group was down 17%. It should also be noted that Amazon reported that its major profit driver, AWS, had grown 40% while eCommerce had been relatively flat year over year and the stock reacted positively due to the AWS increase. Over time I expect share performance to be highly correlated to revenue growth, but clearly that has not been the case for the past 14 months. Shopify, Zoom, DocuSign and Amazon had revenue growth largely distorted by Covid, with 2020 growth being well above their norm and 2021 growth coming down dramatically. This caused their stocks to plummet as the interpretation of 2021 results was that long term growth had slowed. Yet in all cases the 2-year compound growth rate was well above the previous norm.
Table 2 highlights this abnormality.
In Q3 2019, Zoom’s revenue growth was 85%. Such a high rate of growth usually declines each year barring some abnormal situation. Instead, the growth rate soared in 2020 and the jump was followed by additional growth in 2021. The 2-year CAGR was 151% and Zoom had over 6 times the revenue in Q3 2021 than it did 2 years earlier. Yet, its share price is now roughly only 10% above where it was 2 years ago and down 63% from January 1, 2021. While Zoom is the most extreme situation of the four companies in Table 2, each of the other three have had a similar whipsaw of its revenue growth rate and in each case its stock soared in 2020 only to heavily trail revenue growth in 2021 despite its 2-year CAGR being above pre-pandemic levels in every case. While revenue growth at Tesla and CrowdStrike were not impacted in a similar way by the pandemic as both had more normal revenue growth patterns in 2020 and 2021, they still saw share performance significantly trail revenue growth for the past year.
Given the compression in revenue multiples across the board in tech stocks, the opportunity for investing appears timely to me. Of course, I cannot predict that the roughly 59% average decline in revenue multiple among these stocks represents the bottom…as I never know where the bottom is.
2022 Stock Recommendations (Note: base prices are as of February 25, 2022)
- Tesla will continue to outperform the market (it closed at $810/share)
a. Tesla demand has far outstripped supply, as backlog increased steadily during 2021. And this is before the Cyber Truck with it’s over a million pre-orders, has come to market. This has been partly based on a substantial surge in demand and partly due to a shortage of some parts. While Tesla has made and will continue to drive up capacity by launching multiple new factories, supply of parts has prevented the factories from operating at capacity. Rather than overspending to secure more supply (a major error by Peloton), Tesla has chosen to raise prices and to prioritize production of more expensive (and more profitable) versions of its products. As of December 31, wait times for the standard Model 3, Model Y and Model S were approximately 10-11 months while the more expensive high-performance version of each had delivery times of 2-3 months. For the Model X, delivery dates were even longer. As we forecast in prior letters, Tesla gross margins have been rising and in its most recently announced fourth quarter were the highest in the industry. Yet, we believe they will still go up from here as:
- Tesla, like Apple did for phones, is increasing the high margin software and subscription components of sales;
- the full impact of recent price increases is not yet in the numbers;
- its factories are not yet operating at full efficiency; and
- Tesla will have lower shipping cost to European buyers once the Berlin factory begins to ramp.
b. Cyber Truck preorders are now estimated at over 1.25 million units (approximately $79 billion in sales value) according to a fan tracker site, or 50% more potential revenue than 2021 total revenue. Obviously, some of the orders will be cancelled given the long wait times before delivery, but still, this virtually assures large revenue increases for 2022 and 2023, only gated by obtaining enough supply of parts. The Cyber Truck is not expected to ship until mid-2022 and is not material to meeting revenue forecasts for this year. The Tesla Semi appears close to being ready to go into production, but battery constraints will probably mean any deliveries will be truly minimal for Q1 (Pepsi expects to take delivery of at least 15 in the near term). The Berlin factory, a key to increasing its share in Europe, will likely begin manufacturing in the first half of 2022. What this all points to is high revenue growth continuing, stronger GMs in 2022, and earnings escalation likely faster than revenue growth. While revenue growth is gated by supply constraints it should still be quite strong. And the high backlog not only assures that 2023 will be another high growth year but also means there is little pressure on Tesla pricing.
- Shopify will outperform the market (it closed at $677 per share)
Shopify, like Amazon, Zoom and DocuSign experienced elevated growth in 2020. This was due to Covid keeping people out of stores (many of which weren’t even open). If we look at pre-Covid growth the company’s revenue increased by 45% year/year in Q3 2019. A year later revenue growth had escalated to 96% due to Covid. In Q3 2021 growth was 46%, returning to pre-Covid levels. The compound 2-year rate of growth was 70%. If Shopify can continue at a 35-40% revenue growth rate it will mean it has absorbed its higher level of revenue and is growing quite nicely from there.
Shopify has established a clear leadership position as the enabler of eCommerce sites. Its U.S. eCommerce market share, at 10.3% in 2021, is second to Amazon and well ahead of its closest competitors Walmart, eBay, and Apple. Net revenue retention for the company continues to be well over 100% as Shopify has successfully expanded services it provides to its eCommerce business customers. Additionally, because successful eCommerce companies are growing, Shopify also grows its portion of the customer revenue it shares. I expect continued growth to be well over 30% for several more years given three things:
a. Ecommerce should continue to take share from offline.
b. We expect Shopify to continue to gain share of Ecommerce.
c. Shopify will leverage expanded services leading to higher revenue per client.
In 2022 revenue growth is expected to be lower in the first half of the year than the second due to the benefit Covid had on the first half of 2021 and some changes Shopify made in its method of charging customers that took effect in the second half of 2021.
- CrowdStrike will outperform the market (it closed at $182 per share)
CrowdStrike continues to gain substantial share of the data security market. Given its leadership position in the newest technology coupled with what is still a modest share of its TAM, the company remains poised for continued high growth. This coupled with over 120% net revenue retention for 12 straight quarters (primarily driven by expanded module purchases) makes CrowdStrike a likely long-term grower at over 50% per year.
The recent threats by Russia to create a Cyber attack on the U.S. could be an additional boost to the entire security industry. CrowdStrike stands to be a disproportionate beneficiary as it has the most advanced technology for defending companies against such attacks.
- Amazon will outperform the market (it closed at $3076 per share)
Amazon, like Shopify, benefitted from the substantial number of people who shopped from home in 2020. This caused an expansion of its growth rate from 24% in Q3 2019 to 37% in in Q3 2020. In Q3 2021 growth was down to 15% against the tough compare. Looking at the 2-year compound rate the company appears to have had a modest benefit to growth. We expect the company to return to a 15-20% growth rate in the second half of 2022. This would mean that it has absorbed extra revenue and returned to the normal curve of growth declining. One thing that helped the stock was that higher margin Amazon Web Services (AWS) grew at 40%, much higher than modestly profitable commerce. AWS continues to be quite attractive relative to its peers and its quality and sophistication continues to improve.
A second potential driver for the stock is that new CEO Jassy may decide to increase the focus on earnings growth which is available to Amazon if it chooses to do so. If he does that could be a catalyst to share appreciation. To that end, on the Q4 earnings call the company announced that it would be increasing the cost of Prime by about 17%. This increase will go into effect in Mid-February for new members and in Mid-March for existing members. The impact will roll out over 12 months as existing members renew their annual membership. Despite this increase, Prime remains a distinct bargain as it not only includes free shipping but also a number of other benefits such as video streaming of movies and TV shows, some free eBooks, discounts at Whole Foods and more. Given that Prime has over 200 million members, the increase adds over $4 billion to revenue once it fully rolls out or about 1% of revenue. While this may not appear to be that much, it is worth about $8 per share in pre-tax earnings.
- DocuSign will outperform the market (it closed at $115 per share)
DocuSign experienced some of the up and down in growth that Zoom did but to a more moderate extent. Its “normal” pre-Covid growth rate of 40% in Q3 of fiscal 2020 escalated to 53% a year later and then fell back down to 42% in its last reported quarter. As with other high growth stocks DocuSign’s rate would normally have fallen, so the 2-year compound rate of 48% was quite strong. Yet, as I write this letter, the stock is down by over 50% in the past year despite revenue increasing by 42%. This means the multiple of revenue has fallen by about 64% in a year.
As is normal for high growth companies, I expect DocuSign to continue to have a modest decline in revenue escalation from last quarter but believe growth will continue to be above 30% for several years as net retention among enterprise customers (which is 88% of revenue) is over 120% and the company continues to add new customers to this group at a solid pace. DocuSign is the dominant player in the use of eSignature and other management tools for documents. The use of these tools will be just as important in a post-Covid world.
DocuSign continues to add initiatives to keep Net Retention at or near the 120% level. These include growing its partnership with Salesforce, launching a new release of its software, Agreement Cloud which in addition to eSignature also includes the full cycle of contract creation and management. The company is also working on creating an eNotary product.
- Zoom will outperform the market (it closed at $125 per share)
Zoom is a company that has had its revenue trajectory impacted the most by Covid. Before the pandemic, the company was growing revenue at 80%+ in 2019. Such a high growth rate would normally decline the following year but when Covid struck Corporate demand increased by a higher rate than normal and individuals flocked to Zoom in order to maintain some visual contact with friends and family. As a result, Zoom growth peaked at an unheard of 365% in Q2 of fiscal 2021 (reported in calendar Q3 of 2020). As people subsequently began leaving their homes Zoom’s growth was impacted. The corporate side of its business continued to have robust growth with Net Revenue Retention of over 130% as business customers from a year earlier increasing their spend by over 30% including churns. In addition, Zoom had a net add of new customers of 18% of the prior year’s total. Putting those together means that revenue from business customers grew about 45% and continued to grow about 10% sequentially while growth of the consumer side was flattish to slightly down sequentially. Combining the two trends meant that overall growth fell to 35% year over year in Q3 of fiscal 2022 and is expected to decline further in Q4. Looking at the 2-year compound growth rate for revenue in Table 2, one can see that Zoom experienced an elevation to over 150%, nearly double their pre-covid level. We believe that over the longer run Zoom can grow over 30% once the corporate side of its business becomes a bit more dominant and the consumer side begins to show moderate sequential growth. And we expect that sequential growth will begin to rise at some point during calendar 2022 (its fiscal 2023).
GMs were over 81% in FY 2020 (ending January 31, 2020), pre-Covid. The impact of free use to schools with students being on Zoom 8 hours a day, a major expansion of consumer free users, plus paying users expanding use without generating extra revenue (there is no charge for increasing usage) caused GMs to decline to under 70% in FY 2021. By Q3 FY 2022 GM had returned to 76%. We believe further improvement in GMs is inevitable as Covid declines and usage rates diminish without impacting revenue. This should mean that earnings increase at a faster rate than revenue assuming the company keeps G&A growth at or lower than revenue growth.
2022 Non-Stock Invitations
- Republicans will recapture at least one of the Senate and House in the Interim elections
Since the Biden administration has taken power, inflation has surged to its highest rate since the Carter administration, the Ukraine crisis has emerged, Covid cases have jumped and Biden leadership and mental sharpness have come into question. While several of these issues may have come to the front no matter who was president, an ABC News/Washington Post poll shows the electorate clearly is dissatisfied. Biden’s approval rating has fallen to 37% and people believe by over a 2 to 1 margin that the Republicans would do a better job handling the economy. The poll results show that if the House elections were held today, 49% would vote Republican and 42% Democrat. Given how tenuous the Democrats majority is, this would likely lead to a change of control. It is only late February so there is still time for this to change, but many of these issues, especially the economy, may be hard to turn before the November election.
- The travel industry will experience robust growth starting in the summer of 2022
The travel industry has had a pretty rocky 2020 and 2021 as Covid elicited substantial fear of boarding a plane, traveling out of the country and/or taking a cruise. In 2021, we did see a return to travel within the U.S. and it was accompanied by increasing prices of hotel rooms and restaurants. It seems clear (to me at least) that people are worn down by Covid and appear ready to resume some of their prior vacation habits. While new Covid cases are still at very high levels (but falling rapidly), the current version is much less deadly than prior ones. In my group of friends, several of us have planned a trip to France in May which will be the first time back in Europe for any of the 4 couples since 2019. While I’m less certain of when cruise lines will be back to normal, I expect them to see some renaissance this year. The only fly in the ointment is how serious the Russian crisis becomes. As of now I believe it will be restricted (from a military point of view) to the Ukraine.
- PG&E and other utility companies will battle to dramatically increase what they charge those who convert to solar
There is a massive conflict between the drive to replace energy received from the grid with solar panels. On the one hand the U.S. government provides a 26% tax rebate for installing solar panels. And states like California are pushing to drive more solar through a net metering law (and in the past tax rebates). Also, California is now mandating roof solar panels for all new homes. On the other hand, utility companies like the three in California are battling to increase charges to those that install solar as an offset to the revenue they would lose. The Solar Rights Alliance estimates that “going big on Solar” could save American households over $473 billion over 30 years, whereas “doubling down” on new powerline installation would add $385 billion in cost to American households. When a household converts to solar, energy companies lose revenue and these companies are intent on increasing the cost to solar users to offset this.
Net Metering means a household can sell back excess energy produced to their utility company, which in turn offsets any cost they incur on days when their solar falls short of needs and they need to buy from the utility. The dollars they were entitled to by selling back is then deducted from the bill for energy used. Before 2016 the price the utility company paid for the excess they bought was equal to the price they sold energy back to the consumer. As more homes installed solar the energy companies pushed for a change and in 2016 NEM 2.0 was passed. This allowed the utilities to charge $ 0.03 per kWh for power they sold back to consumers. It also added an interconnect fee of $145 or more to PG&E and different amounts for the other California utility companies. Further, it established a policy of varying rates based on the time of day (which meant higher charges on energy purchased during the middle of very hot days).
Still, as more and more households install solar (including all new homes), the utility companies view it their right to be able to increase charges so they can grow revenue. There has been a push before the California Public Utilities Commission to pass NEM 3.0. It would allow the 3 major utility companies to charge between $56 and $91/month to any home with a new installation of solar. Additionally, it would slash the credit for selling back energy. If it had passed this would have added significant cost to homes with solar and likely reduced the number of existing homes that install it by 70% or more. For now, the public furor over NEM 3.0 caused the PUC to postpone action on this indefinitely. Instead, a large rate increase was granted to PG&E to help pay for remediating their negligence that contributed to California fires. But this battle is far from over! I’m expecting some sort of political compromise on new charges to solar homes to occur when the furor dies down. It likely will lower the added charges from the prior proposal but still increase the cost. While I am predicting this increase in 2022, it may not happen until 2023.
- If Green comes back at full capacity the Warriors will win the NBA Championship
As usual I had to have my one fun pick. Clearly this is not a “gimme” and maybe shows my fan bias. In fact, the Warriors have serious issues even getting to the championship game as the Suns have been playing great and Memphis is on the rise and easily could beat out the Warriors for second in the West. This means the Warriors could need to overcome home court advantages for each of those teams assuming each of the three wins in earlier rounds. But, before Green was injured, the Warriors were the top defensive team in the league and also playing quite well on offense and Klay Thompson had yet to play. Since his injury Kuminga has emerged as another strong cog in the Warrior wheel and Klay appears to be working towards his former production by the playoffs.
In last year’s top ten I pointed out that Wiggins was likely to shine for the Warriors and he has certainly done that on offense and defense this year. Despite a so-called slump, Curry is still the best shooter on the planet and will likely return to full form when Green returns as its no coincidence that his tail-off started under the pressure of breaking the 3-point scoring record but has mostly been with Green out. Poole has developed into a strong 6th man who is capable of providing a scoring boost when needed. Looney could benefit from a little easing of his minutes coming into the playoffs as he was playing his best basketball ever for most of the season. Iguodala should be very additive in the playoffs, assuming he is healthy. Finally, Gary Payton is a game changer on defense and Kerr has been using him very effectively.