The good news for both Palo Alto Networks (NYSE: PANW) and Check Point Software Technologies Ltd. (NASDAQ: CHKP) is that the long-awaited rise of the cybersecurity market appears to be taking hold. Virtually all of Palo Alto's and Check Point's peers have enjoyed a banner 2017, and there are no signs of slowing.
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Check Point stock has climbed an impressive 34% in 2017, while Palo Alto shares have climbed a more modest 15%. But it's not what's happened in the recent past that separates the two -- it's the manner in which each has conducted its respective business that makes one the better buy, by a wide margin.
The case for Palo Alto Networks
The $509.1 million in sales for the fiscal fourth quarter 2017 was a pleasantly surprising 27% jump year over year, which put the icing on a solid fiscal year of $1.8 billion in revenue, equal to a 28% improvement. This quarter's guidance, which was slightly disappointing but not unexpected, was for a modest 21% to 24% rise to $482 million to $492 million.
The days of Palo Alto's 50%-plus revenue growth each quarter are a thing of the past, though spending remains sky-high. Palo Alto added more customers last quarter than ever before and spent heavily to do it.
Last quarter's operating expenses jumped 24% to $397.9 million, 62% of which -- equal to $245.4 million -- were sales and marketing-related costs. CEO Mark McLaughlin has vowed to manage overhead more diligently, beginning with curbing sales spending. However, Palo Alto's sales and marketing costs still equaled a mind-boggling 48% of total revenue last quarter.
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The result of Palo Alto's overhead was a 20% decline in per-share earnings to negative $0.42 compared to last year's loss of $0.35 a share, despite its 27% revenue gain. The primary reason Palo Alto posted a non-GAAP per-share gain of 39% to $0.92 a share, was because the figure does not account for the $120.9 million the company forked out in share-based compensation. An acceptable accounting practice but one that many people -- myself included -- believe skews the numbers a bit.
The case for Check Point
Last quarter's results for CEO Gil Shwed and team couldn't have been more different compared to Palo Alto. Check Point's $459 million in revenue was also a pleasant surprise, just as with Palo Alto's, but that was an 8% increase year over year. Unlike Palo Alto, Shwed has always been stingy about spending, which has sometimes pressured Check Point's stock price.
However, investors have come to recognize the wisdom of Shwed's adherence to minimizing overhead -- one reason Check Point consistently grows the bottom line, as it did again last quarter. For some perspective, in contrast to Palo Alto spending nearly half its total revenue to drive sales, Check Point's $114.7 million in sales-related costs represented only 25% of total revenue.
Yes, Check Point's revenue climbed just 8%, but its earnings per share (EPS) jumped 18% to $1.12 a share. The more manageable expenses associated with Check Point's longtime adherence to its software subscription model -- which drives stable, recurring revenue -- is a big reason it reports EPS growth quarter in, quarter out.
Last quarter, Check Point's subscription revenue soared 27% to $118 million. And when you toss in the $202.34 million in subscription updates and service, approximately 70% of Check Point's total revenue is ongoing.
And the better buy is...
Given time, Palo Alto's expense management efforts combined with its top-line growth could prove to be a boon for patient investors in search of growth. However, Check Point's much further along in controlling overhead, which helps drive increased profits with each successive quarter.
Check Point's total revenue growth may not have the "wow" factor that Palo Alto's does, but it's hitting on all cylinders where it counts, which is why Check Point is, hands-down, the better buy.
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Tim Brugger has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Check Point Software Technologies. The Motley Fool recommends Palo Alto Networks. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.