Why Fortinet, CrowdStrike, and Palo Alto Networks Stocks Zoomed Higher Today

Wednesday is shaping up to be a good day to own cybersecurity stocks: Powerful fourth-quarter earnings from network security company Fortinet (NASDAQ: FTNT) sent its stock up by 3%, and provided a tailwind to shares of peers CrowdStrike (NASDAQ: CRWD), and Palo Alto Networks (NASDAQ: PANW). Through 11:45 a.m. ET, those two stocks were up 5.8% and 7%, respectively.

Reporting its fourth-quarter results Tuesday after the close, Fortinet beat expectations on both the top and bottom lines. Instead of the $0.43 per share (adjusted) profit on $1.41 billion in sales it was expected to report, the company earned $0.51 per share on sales of $1.42 billion.

Fortinet Q4 sales and earnings

TheFly.com has counted no fewer than 16 analysts raising their price targets on Fortinet in response to its report. And yet, how good was Fortinet’s news, actually?

You might be surprised to learn that it actually wasn’t all that great. True, sales for the quarter grew by a respectable 10% year over year. But billings — which foreshadow future revenue growth — grew by only 8.5%, implying a slowdown may lurk just around the corner.

Non-GAAP profits exceeded expectations, and were up a strong 16%. But earnings as calculated according to generally accepted accounting principles were only $0.40 per share for the quarter — flat year over year. Worst of all, free cash flow plummeted by 67% to just $165 million.

Most of these numbers, by the way, reflected a significant slowdown in growth compared to Fortinet’s performance earlier in the year. Over the course of 2023, Fortinet scored sales growth of 20%, billings growth of 14%, non-GAAP profits growth of 37% — and GAAP earnings growth of 38%. (To give credit where credit is due, however, its free cash flow for the year did grow 19%.)

What does Fortinet’s earnings beat mean for CrowdStrike and Palo Alto Networks?

So yes, Fortinet “beat earnings.” And yes, investors in peer cybersecurity companies CrowdStrike and Palo Alto Networks have reason to breathe a sigh of relief … for now. All that being said, as an investor in one of these three stocks…

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