Both companies churned out double-digit revenue growth throughout the tough times and enriched investors: Adobe's stock rallied more than 40% this year as CrowdStrike's stock surged 120%. But are Adobe and CrowdStrike still worth buying near their all-time highs? Let's part the clouds to find out.
Two very different cloud-based businesses
Adobe generates its revenue from two main businesses: the digital media division, which sells its Creative and Document software as cloud-based services; and the digital experience division, which provides enterprise-oriented analytics, marketing, and e-commerce tools.
Adobe's cloud-based evolution occurred over the past seven years as it transformed its desktop software into subscription-based cloud services. That shift initially throttled its earnings growth but gradually locked in more customers and stabilized its long-term growth with recurring revenue.
CrowdStrike's core Falcon platform offers cloud-based endpoint security, threat detection, and cyberattack response services. The company was founded just nine years ago, but it already serves 44 of the Fortune 100 companies, including major banks, healthcare providers, and energy solutions companies.
CrowdStrike also gained a lot of attention for its high-profile investigations into the hack of Sony Pictures in 2014 and the Russian cyberattacks against the Democratic National Convention in 2015 and 2016.
Which company is growing faster?
Adobe and CrowdStrike serve different markets, but they share two common strengths: Their businesses are based in the cloud, so they're well protected from shutdowns during the pandemic, and most of their customers are locked in with recurring subscription plans.
Adobe's revenue rose 24% to $11.2 billion in fiscal 2019 (which ended last November), and its adjusted earnings rose 16%.
Adobe's revenue grew 16% annually in the first half of 2020, as the Digital Media unit's stable growth offset the weakness of the Digital Experience unit's advertising cloud services during the COVID-19 crisis. Its gross margin also expanded as its adjusted EPS improved 33%.
Adobe expects its revenue and earnings to rise 11% and 17% year over year, respectively, in the third quarter. For the full year, Wall Street expects its revenue to rise 14%, with 24% earnings growth.
CrowdStrike's revenue surged 93% to $481 million in fiscal 2020, which ended on Jan. 31. Its gross margin expanded, and its adjusted net loss narrowed from $119 million to $63 million.
That momentum continued in the first quarter: Its revenue rose 85% year over year, its subscriber base more than doubled, its gross margin expanded again, and it posted its first adjusted profit since its IPO last year.
CrowdStrike expects its revenue to rise 72%-76% annually in the second quarter, and 58%-61% for the full year. It doesn't expect to remain consistently profitable, but it expects its full-year adjusted net loss to narrow significantly to a midpoint of $15.2 million.
Which stock is cheaper relative to its growth?
Adobe's stock trades at just over 40 times forward earnings and 18 times this year's sales. Those valuations are high relative to its growth, but investors seem willing to pay a premium for Adobe's well-balanced mix of consumer and enterprise-facing cloud services.
CrowdStrike's stock is more difficult to value because it isn't profitable, but it isn't cheap at 31 times this year's sales. However, CrowdStrike's premium valuation could also be justified by its "best in breed" reputation in the crowded cybersecurity market, its robust growth in revenue and margins, and the long-term growth potential of the cloud-based security market.
The winner: CrowdStrike
Adobe and CrowdStrike are both great secular growth plays, but the latter is likely to outperform the former throughout the rest of the year, for three simple reasons.
First, Adobe is more exposed to macro-sensitive sectors, like digital advertising, than CrowdStrike. Second, Adobe is well insulated from the COVID-19 crisis, but CrowdStrike -- which called the pandemic a "breeding ground for cyber crime" during last quarter's conference call -- is likely to benefit from an uptick in data breaches as more people work remotely from unsecured devices.
Lastly, CrowdStrike is smaller than Adobe and growing at a much faster rate -- and that combination could attract more growth-oriented investors. CrowdStrike's stock could remain more volatile than Adobe's, but it could continue to attract more bulls if it keeps crushing analysts' expectations.