First, a quick look at the similarities. Both provide a comprehensive suite of data security solutions, including recent additions to address the growing number of companies shifting information to the cloud. Both companies are also in the midst of transitioning to a subscription-based, recurring-revenue model that should translate to reduced expenses over time. It simply costs less to service existing customers than to rely solely on driving new, one-time sales of products.
That said, there are also some glaring differences between FireEye and Check Point that are worth considering before investing in either.
The case for FireEye
Since announcing third-quarter earnings above expectations in early November and topping that off by raising guidance for the year, FireEye stock has risen 18% in the past month. Unlike previous quarters when FireEye shares jumped on huge year-over-year revenue gains despite a bottom line beaten down by spending, CEO Kevin Mandia's restructuring efforts are beginning to make an impact.
Cost of sales climbed 11.6% to $69 million, but FireEye's operating expenses of $228.7 million were flat compared to a year ago. The jump in sales-related costs was not only excusable, but it was necessary. Sales spending climbed due to a 29% increase in expenses to drive FireEye's subscription and services revenue. Over the long run, taking a hit today to generate ongoing sources of revenue will be well worth it.
FireEye's decision to manage costs was a welcome addition to the quarter's earnings results, but better still is that its subscription-related spending is paying off. Of FireEye's $186.4 million in revenue in the third quarter -- a 13% improvement over a year-ago -- a whopping $142.6 million was from subscriptions and services.
In other words, the bump in costs for the subscription sales push was more than offset by FireEye's 35% increase in recurring revenue. As for the bottom line, there's good news and bad. On the plus side, if not for a $22.4 million restructuring charge, FireEye would have reported $0.61-a-share loss compared to last year's negative $0.88. (It reported a GAAP net loss per share of $0.75.) The not-so-good news is the fact that FireEye is still losing money and its loss was somewhat diluted by an additional 10 million-plus shares compared to last year.
The case for Check Point
Unlike FireEye and other peers, Check Point CEO Gil Shwed hasn't sacrificed the bottom line by spending indiscriminately, which is what made last quarter a bit of an anomaly. Check Point's total operating costs climbed 11% year over year to $221 million, thanks to a 15% increase in selling and marketing expenses.
Generally, Shwed is fairly tight-fisted when it comes to spending, but, similar to FireEye, Check Point's expense increase was a mere blip on the radar to grow its subscription sales. The difference is that Check Point's overhead equaled just 52% of its $427.6 million in revenue last quarter, compared to FireEye writing checks for $111.34 million more than it generated in sales.
The result, and a common theme with Check Point, was a nearly 8% improvement in earnings per share last quarter to $0.99, despite posting "just" 6% year-over-year total revenue growth. As for Check Point's recurring revenue initiatives, sales of its subscription software blades climbed 24% to $98.6 million.
Now toss in software updates and maintenance revenue of $192 million, and more than two-thirds of Check Point's sales last quarter were non-product-related. And working with some of the industry's biggest players, Check Point is making an all-out effort to gain market share in the cloud via its vSEC and R80 security solutions.
The better buy?
The answer boils down to investors' risk tolerance and long-term objectives. For growth investors comfortable with near-term non-profitability who have the stomach for share-price swings, FireEye takes the prize. But for those in search of a steady, proven performer that will consistently report profitable quarters, Check Point is a no-brainer.