It would seem the broader indexes have entered a period of uncertainty, given the gyrations seen in both the S&P 500 (SPX) index and the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI) . But this has had little impact on shares of Red Hat (RHT) - Get Report , the world's largest provider of open-source Linux software solutions.
Since reaching a low of $67.01 in August, the Raleigh, N.C.-based company has seen its stock surge some 22%, including a 12% increase in the past three months. With RHT shares now trading at around $82, investors who have held RHT stock since the start of 2015 have gained some 18% (RHT shares closed at $69.14 last Dec. 31), compared to a decline of 0.11% in the S&P 500 index. All told, Red Hat -- having beaten earnings in all four reporting periods in 2015 -- was red hot, as we predicted this time last year it would be.
Investors now want to know can Red Hat's winning streak continue? While it would be foolish to part with a winner like Red Hat, the company -- owing to its own success -- is not going to sneak up on analysts as it did this year. Not only has the stock gotten a bit pricey, trading at 44 times fiscal 2016 estimates of $1.86 a share, compared to a forward P/E of 17 for the S&P 500 index, Red Hat is approaching periods of much harder quarterly comparisons that it has to beat to keep its shares climbing.
Last week, the cloud and software virtualization specialist, which competes with the likes of VMware (VMW) - Get Report and Citrix (CTXS) - Get Report , extended its streak of consecutive quarterly earnings beats to fourteen. Red Hat's guidance for its fiscal fourth quarter (ending in February), however, was below consensus estimates. That's not a huge red flag, given the rate a which the company continues to grow revenue (14%-plus). It does, however, signal slightly higher operating costs in the quarters ahead.
That its third-quarter operating expenses climbed 15%, compared to revenue growth of 14.8% underscores the balance management is working to create. Red Hat has momentum on its side. To maintain that momentum, it is looking to increase its investments in areas such as marketing and research and development to seize market share from its competitors. But one earnings shortfall can send shares lower.
Based on fiscal 2016 estimates of $1.86 a share, Red Hat is projected to grow earnings at a rate of 16%, while estimates of $2.17 a share for fiscal 2017 implies earnings growth to 16.6%. These are impressive numbers. But the apparent lack of growth acceleration in fiscal 2017 estimates is something to keep an eye as Red Hat's expenses tick higher.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.