Why McAfee's Loving This Recession

With 13 consecutive quarters of revenue growth under its belt, McAfee ( MFE) has been one of the better tech performers during the economic meltdown, and it is now gearing up to challenge Symantec ( SYMC) for the security software crown.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based firm recently reported a strong first quarter, buoyed by its U.S. and consumer businesses, and struck a bullish tone during its annual investor day last week.

"McAfee's goal is to become the largest dedicated security provider," wrote Jefferies & Company analyst Katherine Egbert, in a note. "By our estimates, McAfee is within a year of overtaking Symantec, although Symantec is likely to keep its large lead in consumer for several more years."

With recessions typically causing an upsurge in fraud, McAfee says saw more malicious activity in 2008 than the previous five years combined, underlining the need for its products.

"The type of threats we saw were very complicated threats, everything from very sophisticated phishing attacks to pretty widespread virus botworm-type threats," said Dave DeWalt, the McAfee CEO, in an interview with TheStreet.com prior to his firm's investor day.

Unlike its arch-rival Symantec, which also sells server and storage management software, McAfee has focused most of its energy on security, something which DeWalt says is key to the company's success.

"Focusing only on security is paying off very well for the company," he said. "Many of our competitors are trying to do a lot of things, including security."

McAfee, which was one of the TheStreet.com's top tech picks for 2009, also gave upbeat second-quarter guidance.

Like Symantec, McAfee is reportedly developing security software for the Apple ( AAPL) iPhone, and has a busy few months ahead. Clearly happy to flash its cash, McAfee followed up its 2008 acquisition of Secure Computing with last week's purchase of compliance specialist Solidcore Systems.

McAfee is also planning to launch a product for parents looking to monitor their kids' online activity, as well as a backup offering which will be launched with EMC ( EMC) during the summer.

"We believe that the company remains one of the best positioned companies in the security market," wrote Todd Weller, an analyst at Stifel Nicolaus, in a note. "We like McAfee's focus and its strategy of being a key market consolidator - we believe this positions the company to benefit from market growth and market share gains."

Despite its recent strong performance, Weller warns that McAfee could become a victim of its own success.

"McAfee has been a great story and stock over the past few years, which we believe translates into ever increasing expectations and a natural question of how long the company and/or stock can sustain momentum," he explained. Weller nonetheless maintained his 'buy' rating and $49 target price for McAfee.

The company's shares rose 90 cents, or 2.37%, to $38.94 in Monday trading, mirroring the broader advance in tech stocks that saw the Nasdaq rise 3.11%.

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