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Can Palo Alto Networks Turn Up the Heat This Earnings Season?

By Harsh Chauhan – Nov 27, 2018 at 11:20AM

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Investors will be looking for a solid performance.

The broader weakness in the tech sector has taken a toll on Palo Alto Networks (PANW -2.77%). Shares of the cybersecurity specialist have pulled back substantially of late after a nice start to the year, as investors have scurried to book their profits and avoid further losses.

However, Palo Alto Networks can put an end to this negativity when it releases its fiscal first-quarter results on Nov. 29. The company has quite a few trends working in its favor that should help it deliver a strong report, assuring investors that the long-term story is still intact. Let's see what Palo Alto can deliver later this month.

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Image source: Getty Images.

The headline numbers

Wall Street expects Palo Alto to deliver $1.05 per share in earnings on revenue of $631.9 million. Both numbers are significantly higher than the year-ago quarter's numbers: revenue of $505.5 million and earnings of $0.74 per share. Those numbers are in line with the company's own guidance, so I'm sure it will meet those numbers and may even beat them.

That's because the company has a solid history of outperforming consensus estimates thanks to a rapidly improving customer base. In fact, the rate of growth in Palo Alto's customer base is getting better with each passing quarter; at the same time, customers have been increasing their spending on its products and services.

As a result, there's a good chance that Palo Alto will trump Wall Street's expectations yet again and issue sunny guidance. More importantly, the results should reinforce the view that the company's long-term growth is secure.

What to watch

Palo Alto not only ensures that it gets new customers into its fold, but also sells more products to the existing base of customers. The strategy has worked wonderfully so far.

For instance, its deferred revenue growth of 44% for the last-reported quarter easily outpaced the actual revenue growth of 29%. Deferred revenue is the money received in advance by a company for services that will be provided at a later date. So Palo Alto will witness impressive top-line growth when that revenue is actually recognized on the income statement.

So investors will be keeping an eye on the company's deferred revenue growth in the most recent quarter. And it's unlikely that Palo Alto will disappoint this time, as it recently made a move that should ensure rapid customer additions and higher spending.

The company has used acquisitions to get into various fast-growing cybersecurity niches, ensuring its rapid growth quarter after quarter. Its latest move -- acquiring cloud security provider RedLock -- is an extension of this strategy. Palo Alto completed this acquisition last quarter with an aim of combining RedLock's features with those of, a cloud infrastructure security company that it acquired earlier in the year.

Palo Alto aims to offer an integrated cloud security service that brings a plethora of features -- such as real-time security, advanced threat detection, analytics, and compliance monitoring -- onto a single dashboard.

Once that happens, Palo Alto will have a new offering for its existing base of more than 6,000 cloud customers. Also, the company is now better equipped to attack the fast-growing cloud security market, which is clocking an annual growth rate of above 25%.

Palo Alto Networks has been sucked into the whirlpool of broad market weakness of late, but investors shouldn't forget that it's making smart moves to take advantage of the expanding cybersecurity space. The company's upcoming results should provide confirmation, and help Palo Alto win back investor confidence.

Harsh Chauhan has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Palo Alto Networks. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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