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Investment management company Vulcan Value Partners recently released its fourth-quarter 2023 investor letter. A copy of the same can be downloaded here. The firm has five strategies, and all trailed their benchmark indexes in 2023. In the fourth quarter, the fund’s Large-Cap Composite returned 8.2% net of fees and expenses, the Small Cap Composite returned 11.2% net, Focus Composite returned 7.6% net, the Focus Plus composite returned 7.7%, and All Cap Composite returned 7.2% net. You can check the top 5 holdings of the fund to know its best picks in 2023.
Vulcan Value Partners highlighted stocks like Splunk Inc. (NASDAQ:SPLK) in the Q4 2023 investor letter. Headquartered in San Francisco, California, Splunk Inc. (NASDAQ:SPLK) is a cloud solutions and software provider. On February 8, 2023, Splunk Inc. (NASDAQ:SPLK) stock closed at $105.66 per share. One-month return of Splunk Inc. (NASDAQ:SPLK) was 18.91%, and its shares lost 10.28% of their value over the last 52 weeks. Splunk Inc. (NASDAQ:SPLK) has a market capitalization of $17.297 billion.
Vulcan Value Partners made the following comment about Splunk Inc. (NASDAQ:SPLK) in its Q4 2023 investor letter:
"We exited our position in Splunk Inc. (NASDAQ:SPLK) during the quarter. A number of developments caused us to question whether Splunk’s competitive position was eroding. Splunk is a premium product, and less expensive alternatives have made progress increasing the quality of their offerings. Our research has confirmed Splunk is losing market share to these players, including Microsoft’s Sentinel. Sentinel has made a number of improvements over time and integrates with Microsoft’s other products. Notably, both of Splunk’s Co-Presidents left Splunk in 2023 to work for Microsoft. Splunk’s Chief Financial Officer left a few months later. Before the CFO left, Splunk lowered its annual recurring revenue guidance for the year. While the company attributed the change to the macro environment, we were unable to differentiate to what extent the slowdown was caused by the macro environment versus competitive factors. Based on our primary research and competitive concerns, we no longer had sufficient confidence in Splunk’s value stability. Splunk no longer qualifies for investment, and we exited the position."
Splunk Inc. (NASDAQ:SPLK) is not on our list of 30 Most Popular Stocks Among Hedge Funds. As per our database, 46 hedge fund portfolios held Splunk Inc. (NASDAQ:SPLK) at the end of the third quarter, which was 47 in the previous quarter.
We discussed Splunk Inc. (NASDAQ:SPLK) in another article and shared the list of best big data stocks to buy. In addition, please check out our hedge fund investor letters Q4 2023 page for more investor letters from hedge funds and other leading investors.
Disclosure: None. This article is originally published at Insider Monkey.
Investment bank KeyBanc Capital Markets upgraded Splunk (NASDAQ:SPLK) and downgraded Datadog (NASDAQ:DDOG) on Monday as the research firm said it is getting "increasingly selective" on cloud software stocks, citing the potential for a "meaningful" slowdown this year.
Citing a fourth-quarter survey that showed lowered IT growth expectations for 2023, analyst Michael Turits raised his rating on Splunk (SPLK) to overweight from sector weight and cut Datadog (DDOG) to sector weight from overweight.
"During the last 2 quarters, slowing has spread even to cloud, potentially impacting a range of 'cloud enablers' in observability, data, and devops; and to security as well, if less than IT overall and with consolidators benefiting," Turits wrote in a note to clients.
Regarding Splunk (SPLK), Turits said the company has performed better under new CEO Gary Steele and made a "smooth transition" to being a multi-tenant cloud, as evidenced by better gross margins and improvement on more customer-friendly workload pricing.
Turits added Splunk's (SPLK) "pervasive enterprise presence" and entrenched position in security and data and analytics in a tough spending environment is a positive. It has also performed strongly in both on-premise and off-premise spending.
Under Steele, who took over in April 2023, Splunk (SPLK) has continued to increase its efficiency and become cash flow profitable, along with a continued refocus on its core security business.
"Plus, while chatter has existed for many years regarding Splunk as a takeout target, we continue to see private market value support for the stock at 4.4x revenues vs. 5.1x accurate infrastructure takeout multiples," Turits added.
Splunk (SPLK) shares rose more than 1% in premarket trading on Monday.
Turits downgraded Datadog (DDOG) citing the continued worsening macroeconomic conditions seen in December, the expected continuation, at least for the first half of 2023, as well as decelerating growth in the cloud, as evidenced by Microsoft's (MSFT) weak guidance for Azure.
The analyst also noted that there may be issues for Datadog (DDOG) generating higher margins, due to increases in sales and R&D investments to keep its high revenue growth.
As such, he lowered his 2023 and 2024 estimated revenue growth rates to 32% and 30% year-over-year, down from 35% and 30% year-over-year.
Datadog (DDOG) declined 3.1% to $77 in premarket trading on Monday.
Earlier this month, Splunk (SPLK) said it would reduce roughly 4% of its global workforce, mostly in North America, as part of a reorganization to optimize its processes and cost structure.
Analysts are largely bullish on Splunk (SPLK). It has a BUY rating from Seeking Alpha authors, while Wall Street analysts rate it a BUY. Conversely, Seeking Alpha's quant system, which consistently beats the market, rates SPLK a HOLD.
The early-year market rally is showing no signs of stopping, and it's a great time for investors to re-tilt their portfolios toward forgotten growth names that are ready to burst out of the gate again. In this regard look no further than Splunk (NASDAQ:SPLK), a big data software company that specializes in mining companies' internal machine data in order to generate insights.
Splunk spent much of the past two years in transition mode. It was late to the subscription game, and just recently started moving over its customers onto recurring subscription contracts instead of perpetual licenses. As expected, the company took a near-term growth hit during this transition and profitability metrics also started fraying. But now emerging from this subscription transition with tremendous growth rates in both revenue and ARR, and with the market ready to bet on growth again, Splunk is an excellent choice for a rebound play.
I remain bullish on Splunk as a core holding in my portfolio. I have long favored technology companies with broad, open-ended platforms serving countless use cases and horizontal applicability to all industries. Splunk has emerged from its two-year transition as an incredibly margin-rich company as well, which will be a major draw in a relatively more risk-averse market that has started paying more attention to tech companies' bottom lines.
Here is my full bull thesis for Splunk:
The use cases for Splunk are infinite. In its early days, Splunk's machine data-mining capabilities were often used for security purposes to flag and respond to anomalies within corporate systems. But as Splunk has evolved, the company's machine data capabilities are applicable across virtually any industry and across many functions.
Usage-based pricing. Some of the most successful software stocks are usage-based, meaning that revenue climbs proportionally to a customer's usage of the product. Splunk's platform is charged on a data volumes/computing power basis. As data volumes continue to explode and companies push the boundaries of how they integrate data into operations and decision-making, Splunk has a tremendous opportunity to derive growth from within its install base.
Splunk isn't without competitors, but the company's focus on machine data is unique. It's also the largest company in the space. The company's closest large/public peers are the monitoring companies like Datadog (DDOG) and New Relic (NEWR), which primarily focus on monitoring the performance and uptime of applications and infrastructure. Splunk focuses on visualizing and analyzing machine data (information passively generated by computers, phones, and other endpoints within networks). We note as well that Splunk's ~$3.7 billion annual revenue scale makes it twice as large as its next-closest competitor, Datadog.
Industry-wide recognition - More to the point above, it's fine to have competition when Splunk also is widely considered the best-in-breed vendor for machine data analytics. Gartner, the software industry's leading analyst and reviewer, has bestowed the "Leader" designation to Splunk in the security information and event management space, and also named it as the vendor with the highest ability to execute. These commendations don't come lightly to IT buyers when making a purchase decision.
Significant international expansion opportunity - Splunk has become a global brand name, and it's time for Splunk to chase more opportunities overseas. Currently, only about ~35% of its revenue base comes from international markets (and an even smaller ~20% slice of the cloud business is overseas). I see significant opportunity for Splunk to expand its presence outside of the U.S.
In spite of all these strengths, Splunk's rather muted price appreciation during its subscription transition has left its valuation metrics quite sparse. At current share prices near $95, Splunk trades at a market cap of $15.60 billion. After we net off the $1.80 billion of cash and $3.87 billion of debt on Splunk's most accurate balance sheet, the company's resulting enterprise value is $17.67 billion.
For next fiscal year FY24 (the fiscal year for Splunk ending in January 2024), meanwhile, Wall Street analysts have a consensus revenue target of $4.03 billion for the company, representing 16% y/y growth (data from Yahoo Finance). This puts Splunk's valuation at just 4.4x EV/FY24 revenue, which to me is quite low for a company with 80%+ pro forma gross margins and current revenue growth rates in the ~40% range.
Stay long here, there's plenty of upside to go.
It took a lot of patience as Splunk fine-tuned its business model transition, but now we're here to reap the rewards. The company posted excellent fiscal Q3 results:
Revenue grew 40% y/y to $929.8 million, which handsomely beat Wall Street's expectations of $836.3 million (+26% y/y) by a huge fourteen-point margin. And as shown in the chart below, revenue growth accelerated sharply from 32% y/y growth in Q2. The right-hand side of the snapshot below also shows how growth has materially skyrocketed since the days of Splunk's subscription transition.
The company noted that cloud migration remained strong, though major headwinds have made some customers exert some caution. Per CEO Gary Steele's remarks on the Q3 earnings call:
Our top line outperformance was driven by strong term license demand from existing customers, underscoring the value our customers continue to gain from Splunk's mission-critical security and observability solutions powered by our one-of-a-kind data platform. That said, as noted last quarter, we continue to see caution from customers on the timing of their cloud migrations and expansions setting ongoing macro concerns."
Splunk also displayed excellent profitability results. Pro forma grow margins rose to a sky-high 72.6%, up 330bps sequentially and an increase of nearly eight points year over year:
This was driven by ongoing optimization efforts with the company's infrastructure delivery partners. In addition to gross margin boosts, Splunk also managed to exhibit extreme opex discipline, slowing down hiring, shrinking its real estate footprint, and reducing travel and entertainment to bare essentials. As a result of these actions, the company out $30 million out of its opex relative to Q2, and reduced opex by 2% y/y. With both operating leverage plus gross margin gains, the company managed to boost pro forma operating margins to 21%: more than thirty points of gain since the prior year.
Rich profitability, a resurgence in growth driven by a now nearly pure recurring-revenue business, net revenue expansion rates in the ~130% range, and a wide-open $100 billion TAM to grow into - these are all of the key reasons to stay long on Splunk. Continue to bank on this stock for upward momentum.
As companies tighten their budgets ahead of a potential recession, enterprise software spending is likely to slow in 2023. That has consequences for many stocks in the group.
KeyBanc Capital Markets analyst Michael Turits said in a research note Monday that a accurate survey of technology resellers found expectations for just 0.8% growth in spending on information technology this year, compared with a 3.6% increase in 2023. Growth is slowing at the large cloud players, including Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud, and nine of the companies he covers have announced job cuts since last June, Turits wrote.
Splunk Inc. intends to lay off about 4% of its staff as cutbacks in the software industry intensify.
The move will impact about 325 employees at Splunk SPLK, -1.95%, mainly in North America.
“This decision is another step in a broader set of proactive organizational and strategic changes that include optimizing our processes, cost structure and how we operate globally to ensure Splunk continues to balance growth with profitability through these uncertain times and drive success over the long term,” Chief Executive Gary Steele said in a note to employees that was also filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Steele said that Splunk’s “proactive steps” in accurate months “have minimized the scale of the changes we are making now.”
The company previously set out to reduce its reliance on “external resources” like agencies and consultants. Going forward, the company will be “more judicious about what work we outsource and what we will stop doing,” according to Steele’s note.
Splunk plans to notify employees today if their roles will be affected.
The company expects to incur about $28 million in charges and future expenditures related to its “reorganization” plan, it said in an SEC filing. Splunk anticipates that it will book “substantially all” of these charges in the first quarter of fiscal 2024.
Splunk’s layoff announcement follows other accurate ones from fellow software companies Salesforce Inc. CRM, -1.75%, Workday Inc. WDAY, -1.04%, and SAP SE SAP, -0.52%. The cuts are also part of a wave hitting the tech sector more broadly.
See also: PayPal joins IBM, SAP, Spotify, Google, Intel, Microsoft, Amazon and other major companies laying off thousands of people
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