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Is Autodesk Stock a Buy?

By Will Healy - Mar 19, 2020 at 7:22AM

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A volatile market makes what could be a Foolish stock more difficult to evaluate.

Stock in Autodesk (ADSK -0.15%), much like the general market, has sold off heavily in recent weeks. It has moved lower as investors try to process how the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic will affect both the company and the overall economy on which Autodesk depends.

However, many have recommended buying when there is "blood in the streets." Thanks to coronavirus, this also appears to apply when the public sees contagion in its surroundings. Indeed, Autodesk stock trades at a considerable discount. Given both the current market conditions and the much lower stock price, investors should evaluate the Foolishness of buying Autodesk in these conditions.

The short-term effect of coronavirus

Autodesk stock logged an impressive 43% gain in 2019, well ahead of the 29% gain posted by the S&P 500 over the same period. The full-year results backed up these gains as revenue for the software services company increased by 22%, and non-GAAP earnings more than doubled to $803 million, or $2.79 per share.

However, this occurred before COVID-19 became an issue. Thanks to coronavirus-driven fear, Autodesk has seen nearly all of its 2019 and 2020 gains wiped out in just over a month. Now, Autodesk stock has lost more than one-third of its value.

ADSK Chart

ADSK data by YCharts

This had made Autodesk stock more difficult to evaluate. The forward price-to-earnings ratio of just over 36 may look reasonable against previous Wall Street forecasts concerning earnings growth. For now, analysts predict profit increases of 54.8% for fiscal 2021 and 39.4% the year after. As a result, the price-to-earnings-to-growth ratio comes in at around 0.9. That places the PEG ratio just above a level analysts might consider "inexpensive" for the average company. Still, with the lowered economic activity surrounding coronavirus, it remains unclear whether those growth numbers will hold as earnings estimates continue to fall.

Autodesk remains a Foolish investment

While this may sound dire, none of this affects Autodesk's status as a long-term winner. This comes, in large part, because of one key decision the company made in the middle of the last decade.

Autodesk, much like Adobe, Microsoft, and Oracle, transitioned from selling a stand-alone license of its software to a monthly subscription service beginning in 2015. That made both revenue and earnings tumble in the short term. As a result, profit growth averaged 8.7% per year over the last five years.

Schematic of a home shown from four different sides.

Image source: Getty Images.

However, investors have to remember that the company was now earning steady, yearly revenue. Before, it saw one temporary revenue surge after the company released a new version of AutoCAD or other software packages. This has helped to drive revenue higher over the long term. As a result, Autodesk began to reap the benefits in 2019 when revenue finally returned to 2016 levels.

Investors also have to remember that Autodesk has existed since 1982. Considering its longevity and the continued demand for AutoCAD and other products, I see this as a lucrative Foolish investment.

Should I buy Autodesk stock now?

For now, the worry is timing. As much of the world shuts down due to coronavirus, it could mean lower demand for Autodesk products. Investors may not want to pay more than 40 times forward earnings for a stock affected by such conditions.

However, as mentioned before, the PEG at just under 1.0 may seem inexpensive, but only from an average market perspective. Some have argued that software-as-a-service stocks have commanded bubble-like valuations. However, considering the premium many of its peers command in the stock market, the PEG ratio of 0.9 seems especially reasonable for a company like Autodesk.

Still, the market remains volatile, and understandably, many investors do not want to put hard-earned cash to work if they think stocks can fall further. However, this too shall pass. Companies small and large will continue to formulate new designs, and many will likely turn to Autodesk products as their platform. For those who can tolerate the risk, they should consider opening a position at this heavily discounted stock price.

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