With the Nasdaq composite index (NASDAQ: .IXIC) trading near its highest level of all time, traders appear to be betting on stability in the world of technology. Yet one top tech analyst says conditions may not be as safe as they appear on the surface.
UBS senior analyst Brent Thill said in an interview on CNBC’s ” Fast Money ” this week that tech stocks, particularly in the software space, could be heading for a slippery patch, which could lead some names to spin out.
“In software for the last decade you’ve had a term which we’ve coined ‘black ice,'” Thill said. “Things look good, the valuations go up, and then you start to see valuations have somewhat of a mini avalanche.”
Thill said the ‘black ice’ phenomenon isn’t new, and pointed to examples from last year when valuations rose rapidly-before falling back to earth.
“We saw this last March where you saw companies like FireEye (NASDAQ: FEYE), Splunk (NASDAQ: SPLK)…the multiples came in pretty hard,” he said.
Shares of cybersecurity company FireEye hit all-time highs in March of 2014, before sliding nearly 70 percent by mid-May. During that period, Thill said, FireEye went from trading at 25 times revenue to 5 times revenue.
Software provider Splunk saw a similar fall from grace during that time, with the stock dropping 55 percent from March to May of 2014.
When it comes to figuring out which companies could hit “black ice” next, the answer is a bit of a conundrum, according to Thill, as companies with the best stories tend to have the highest multiples. He pointed to companies like ServiceNow (NYSE: NOW), Workday (NYSE: WDAY), and Tableau (NYSE: DATA) as examples.
“If you look at the multiples, they’re very healthy but they’re also the best performing companies in the universe right now,” he said. “So it’s a little bit of an issue where these are the best stories, but the higher multiples…you’ve typically seen, those are the ones at the greatest risk.”
Each of these companies has outperformed the S&P 500 (INDEX: .SPX) so far this year, with cloud-based IT company ServiceNow leading the pack, up nearly 20 percent.
Regarding the companies that appear to have an ice-free road ahead, Thill said it’s best to stick with the big caps. “The least at risk are the larger-caps: Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), Oracle (NYSE: ORCL), Intuit (NASDAQ: INTU),” he said. “Intuit’s a great story that we like, no [currency] concern and great fundamentals.”
In the software space, Private Advisor Group’s Guy Adami said he liked Palo Alto Networks (NYSE: PANW). “Every time it sells off, people write them off. It’s right back nearly to all-time highs. I like that name,” he said.
Thill echoed Adami by saying the best indication of black ice valuation risk is to keep a keen eye on where the traffic is flowing-then look the other way.
“There’s really no sensitivity out here on the West Coast around valuation,” he said. “I think that when there’s no fear over valuation, that’s when you should be concerned.”
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