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Alphabet, Workday, CrowdStrike among top tech picks for 2023

LeoPatrizi

Equity markets have had a rough time in 2022, with the S&P 500 (SP500) and tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite (COMP.IND) down more than 17% and 30% year-to-date, respectively. Rising inflation has kept the Federal Reserve raising interest rates and the global economy has continued to get weaker, with many forecasting a recession of some kind next year.

With all of that in mind, investment firm William Blair noted that several long-term trends, such as increased cyber security spending, advertising on the internet, software-as-a-service and the cloud are not likely to go away even with the economy hiccuping next year. As a result, the firm has put out its top tech picks for 2023, listing Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL), Workday (NASDAQ:WDAY) and CrowdStrike Holdings (NASDAQ:CRWD) among them.

Alphabet: Analyst Ralph Schackart, who covers Alphabet (GOOG) (GOOGL), noted that the tech giant has “relative strength of search in advertising budgets,” as search spend has grown every year since 2000. And with this category seen as less discretionary compared to other advertising strategies, such as social or connected TV, it’s likely to keep performing as the best strategy, with Alphabet as the primary beneficiary.

Schackart also noted that Alphabet (GOOG) (GOOGL) has diverse revenue streaming, including Google Cloud. Google Cloud, which competes with Microsoft (MSFT) Azure and Amazon (AMZN) Web Services, could represent 11% of 2023 revenues and grow at a 31% year-over-year clip.

There’s also the opportunity for cost savings, as the company slows hiring.

On the downside, Schackart pointed out potential headwinds such as Google Cloud losing ground to the other cloud players, additional weakness in the global economy and more regulatory pressure over its businesses.

With all that in mind, Schackart said there is the potential for as much as 20% upside from current levels.

Equinix: Analyst Jim Breen, who has an overweight rating on Equinix (EQIX), noted the data center real estate company has a “resilient” business model and the demand for data centers is still “fundamentally healthy,” despite the weak global economy.

“Against a backdrop of global uncertainty, Equinix’s portfolio is highly diversified, mitigating the risks of supply/demand imbalance and supply chain disruption, and its interconnected ecosystem drives high recurring revenue and low customer churn,” Breen wrote.

Breen added that shares are “attractive” at current levels, given Equinix’s (EQIX) long-term growth potential and the quality of its business model.

Risks to Equinix (EQIX) include the fact that it is in a capital intensive industry, with roughly 30% of sales being invested in expansion, Breen explained. Equinix (EQIX) is also in a “highly competitive” industry, and one that varies from market to market, which could result in pricing or market share losses, the analyst added.

Workday: Analyst Matthew Pfau, who covers Workday (WDAY), noted that the software-as-a-service company has a “strong competitive moat and large addressable market” in both the human capital management and financial cloud spaces.

Workday (WDAY), which recently reported strong third-quarter results, is growing in both arenas, with the human capital management market valued at $52B and the financials market valued at $73B, suggesting “plenty of runway for growth.”

Given the fact that Workday’s (WDAY) software is seen as “mission critical” for its customers, primarily selling to large enterprises, Pfau said there is not likely to be a “material increase” in churn, even if the global economy gets much weaker, as gross retention levels are roughly at 98% currently.

Risk include a longer sales cycle and deals being delayed, as well as not gaining enough traction in the financial space, which is earlier along in its transition to the cloud than human capital management.

CrowdStrike Holdings: Analyst Jonathan Ho, who has an overweight rating on CrowdStrike (CRWD), noted that the cybersecurity company has a “highly recurring” business model and significant operating levels, while still maintaining high levels of growth, given its industry. It also has a large total addressable market, one that is expected to reach $126B by fiscal 2026. Th which suggests that the company has a large runway for growth in the cloud cybersecurity space.

With free cash flow margins of over 30% in 2022 and the same expected for next year, CrowdStrike (CRWD) is likely “to be able to weather and navigate a challenging macro environment better than most companies,” Ho wrote.

Risks include continued macroeconomic weakness, which have already started to cause smaller customers have longer sales cycles and large customers splitting deals. New markets, such as cloud, vulnerability management, data loss prevention and identity could also cause hiccups for CrowdStrike (CRWD), given it is less proven in these areas.

Smartsheet: Analyst Jake Roberge, who has an overweight rating on Smartsheet (SMAR), noted that the collaboration and work management company is likely to keep growing at an “impressive rate,” notable given the fact that the company’s management is working to improve its leverage to boost bottom line growth.

“We expect Smartsheet to be free cash flow positive in 2022 and the company remains committed to its 10% free cash flow margin target by calendar year 2024,” Roberge wrote in a note to clients, adding that the company gained more than 600 basis points in incremental operating margin improvement in its most recent quarter.

Roberge added that although Smartsheet (SMAR), which competes with the likes of Microsoft (MSFT), monday.com (MNDY), Adobe (ASAN), Asana (ASAN) and others, is not immune to the current environment, it may fare better than peers given its customer base. Smartsheet primarily deals with large enterprises and has “limited” exposure to the tech sector, as well as startups and Europe, all of which account for less than 15% of total revenue.

Smartsheet (SMAR) has grown the number of customers who spend $1M or more from 12 to 40 over the past two years and annual recurring revenue growth from customers spending $50,000 or more has grown 59% year-over-year.

It is also innovating with its product portfolio, including new capabilities such as Advance, Control Center and Data Shuttle, all of which have helped it gain new footing and continued traction in the enterprise space.

And with most knowledge workers still using legacy tools such as spreadsheets or email for collaboration, Smartsheet (SMAR) is going after a market that could be worth more than $25B, Roberge explained.

Aside from increased competition from the aforementioned companies, other risks for Smartsheet (SMAR) include the continued weakening of the global economy, as well as sales execution, as the company is “partially” relying on enterprise businesses to drive growth. Any unexpected delays or elongated sales cycles could impact revenue growth.

Five9: Analyst Matt Stotler, who has an overweight rating on Five9 (FIVN), noted that the company is one of the leaders in the cloud contact center space and facilitates more than 7B annual interactions for more than 2,000 clients. While it has a broad set of competitors, including Zoom (ZM), Microsoft (MSFT) and others, Five9 (FIVN), has a number of strengths, Stotler pointed out, including its platform, a “broad” application suite, automation capabilities, services offerings and pre-built integrations that let customers use the software immediately.

“We believe that these differentiators position Five9 well to capitalize on a large market opportunity and will help the company maintain high win rates and sustainable double-digit growth for the next several years,” Stotler wrote in a note to clients.

Key risks for Five9 (FIVN) include competition, as the contact center software market is still “fragmented.” Other risks include the ability to execute on its strategic plans, including moving upmarket towards the enterprise, which could result in longer sales cycles, higher costs and less visibility into when deals close.

Other top picks from William Blair for 2023 include Dyntrace (DT), Toast (TOST), Procore Technologies (PCOR), Confluent (CFLT), Thoughtworks Holding (TWKS), SiTime Corporation (SITM) and Sprinklr (CXM).

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