Among tech stocks, few names generate a more visceral response than salesforce.com. Don't believe me? Try looking up the phrases "salesforce.com" and "overvalued" together in Google News. Here's the sort of headlines you'll see, courtesy of Seeking Alpha:
- 3 Overvalued Stocks With Extreme PEG Valuations
- 6 Unbelievably Overvalued Stocks I'm Shorting Now
- 3 Reasons Why Salesforce and Its Stock Price Are Hanging on by a Thread
Fools tend to agree. Motley Fool CAPS investor JTMcGee calls the company "mismanaged and overpumped." Another, 20MalbecRoble05, says the company "sounds gimmicky" and calls the share price "far too high." A Fool known as cubanstockpicker could only laugh in picking the stock to underperform. Mocking. Derision. Just another day in the life of a salesforce.com bull.
Why the bears have no reason to growl
Here's my problem with all this. Nowhere in these pitches do I see any mention of the differentiating aspects of salesforce.com. It's all shorthand, as if Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT ) competing Dynamics suite replicates salesforce.com precisely, down to the very last feature. Nonsense.
Drive-by traders can be forgiven for getting it wrong. Dynamics and the core salesforce.com product do both offer salesforce automation and customer relationship management (CRM). And so ingrained is CRM into salesforce.com's history that when CEO and co-founder Marc Benioff took the company public in 2004, he chose the acronym for a ticker symbol.
Yet today, salesforce.com offers a lot more than its namesake CRM suite. What Microsoft, Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL ) , and SAP (NYSE: SAP ) offer for those willing to host and manage infrastructure software, salesforce.com and its closest peer, NetSuite (NYSE: N ) , offer for those who'd rather rent infrastructure and spend dollars on customizing or creating new apps.
Use the Force.com
So while skeptics see salesforce.com as a one-trick digital pony, in reality the company is every bit the aspiring platform provider that Microsoft has become for PC software. This, in a nutshell, is why salesforce.com continues to deliver staggering losses to short-sellers.
Consider the developer statistics. During last week's call with analysts, Benioff said that there are now more than 400,000 coders using Force.com to write and deploy some 240,000 apps in the cloud, all hosted on salesforce.com's servers. That's a massive number, and it illustrates just how important salesforce.com has become as a cloud computing enabler.
My point in mentioning this isn't to convince you that salesforce.com is cheap. Only the delusional would call a stock trading for 326 times earnings a bargain. But you also can't call it expensive and ignore the underlying platform. You can't brush off hundreds of thousands of developers, pretending they don't exist. Unless, that is, you hate money.
Hello? It's history calling. Here's your cold cup of coffee...
Every significant growth story in the history of tech has, at one time, traded for north of 100 times earnings -- just as salesforce.com does today. Two names you're sure to recognize:
- Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) traded for 297 times earnings on Feb. 18, 2003. Investors with the courage to buy then are up more than 4,700% today.
- Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) traded for more than 260 times earnings on Jan. 18, 2005. The stock has more than doubled since, besting the S&P 500's 5% loss for the same period.
In all, Capital IQ found 51 companies worth $500 million in market cap trading for at least 100 times earnings five years ago. Six of those went on to at least double, including Baidu, which like salesforce.com sits proudly on our Motley Fool Rule Breakers scorecard.
I know, I'm cherry picking, here. But I've published this research before and the results always come back the same. Triple-digit P/Es simply aren't the doomsday indicator bears would like us to believe they are. A lot depends on growth, market positioning, and the underlying strength of the business. I have a hard time believing today's skeptics have taken anything other than its massive P/E ratio and competition with Microsoft into account when shorting salesforce.com. Don't be surprised if they get burned.
Do you agree? Disagree? Weigh in using the comments box below. And if you're in the mood for more stock ideas, try this free video. You'll walk away with a better understanding of the cloud computing revolution that salesforce.com is tapping into, as well as a winning pick from our Motley Fool Rule Breakers scorecard. Click here to start watching -- it's 100% free.