Are we at the beginning of a slump in enterprise tech demand? It's a worthwhile question, because it determines whether or not one should dip a hand into several beaten-down tech stocks of companies that are real gems.
Nvidia (NVDA - Get Report) , Intel (INTC - Get Report) , Micron Technology (MU - Get Report) , Lumentum Holdings (LITE - Get Report) are four names that are fine companies, but whose shares have lagged this year, even as younger tech darlings such as Roku (ROKU - Get Report) and Twilio (TWLO - Get Report) and Veeva Systems (VEEV - Get Report) have soared. All four of those are worth a look, but it's also important to ask what's happening with the broader marker that could affect demand.
Economic signs are healthy, generally speaking, but worries over tariffs and trade make one wonder if enterprise buyers of technology could become cautious because of a of "visibility" in their markets.
That worrisome prospect is raised by a couple of earnings reports this week from the tech world. Two software operators, Zuora (ZUO - Get Report) and Nutanix (NTNX - Get Report) , both came up short on Thursday night with their quarterly earnings reports, and both stocks have been punished, with Zuora down 30% at $14.01, and Nutanix off 16% at $27.44.
Both companies cite self-inflicted wounds. The question is, is that all it is, or are they the canaries in the coal mine? When busy buying slows, one of the early effects of that wave can be cutbacks by companies on purchases that may be less essential, such as novel software to re-engineer operations.
Zuora, which makes software to move product sales from single transactions to subscriptions, had issues with its sales team and its product integration that constrained its sales, as chief executive Tien Tzuo told TheStreet. In the interview, when asked about the macro-economic backdrop for his company, Tzuo acknowledge there are what seem to be signs of some softness in the enterprise software market.
"We are hearing analysts talk about that happening with other software companies," said Tzuo, meaning, some indications of softness among their buyers. As for Zuora, he said, it was not the case. "I don't want to pin any execution issues on major economic issues, I believe everything is within our control."
Similary, Nutanix's chief, Dheeraj Pandey, in his remarks Thursday night on a conference call with analysts, insisted the company has to "focus inward," to examine its own behavior. But as TheStreet's Annie Gaus writes, analysts covering the company have been speaking of a slowdown in sales of cloud storage.
In fact, the slowdown in cloud is one of the things that has hit all four companies mentioned above, Nvidia, Lumentum, Intel and Micron. The question for all four is whether that slowdown is a "hiccup," which is what it's been described as to date by the companies, or something more. The standard refrain from the companies, and from Wall Street, is that large cloud computing vendors such as Alphabet's (GOOGL - Get Report) Google, and Microsoft (MSFT - Get Report) and Amazon (AMZN - Get Report) , have increasingly unpredictable buying habits, and that they have been limiting purchases of technology for a variety of reasons, including the fact they had already built up a lot of inventory of technology last year.
That may well be so, but that doesn't rule out the prospect that weak sales of things such as Nutanix's software may now be part of a change in the confidence of corporate CEOs about their own prospects, because of things such as the daily tariff talk.
The valuations for Intel, Micron and Lumentum are bargain basement prices, after declines in Intel and Lumentum stock this year, and a mere 5% rise in Micron. TheStreet discussed Micron on Monday as a name where bears may be too bearish. Intel trades at just 10 times next year's expected earnings per share, and Lumentum just nine times.
Nvidia, which has had several quarters in a row of confusing signals for its cloud business, is trading at 24 times next year's projected earnings, after rising just 3% this year. That is not a super-cheap deal, but Nvidia a year ago was increasing its profit by double digits. If it can get back to that kind of earnings growth, then 24-times might not be unreasonable.
Time to watch the tea leaves, in other words. If there is some kind of general malaise developing in terms of business sentiment, there will be more pain to come for not just these beaten-down names but for just about everyone.