What happened

The stock price of data-capture company Zebra Technologies (NASDAQ:ZBRA) surged 33.4% in November, according to data provided by S&P Global Market Intelligence. Those gains came on the back of an excellent set of quarterly results released early in the month. In addition, positive news on the coronavirus vaccine front raised investors' hopes that some of Zebra's more-challenged end markets, such as retail, aviation, and auto manufacturing, would recover soon as a consequence of the pandemic being brought under control.

Zebra designs and manufactures mobile computers, barcode scanners, RFID readers, and printers that capture real-time data. The company's key end markets include retail and e-commerce, transportation and logistics, and manufacturing.

Men working in a warehouse.

Image source: Getty Images.

As such, the bull vs. bear debate on the stock in 2020 has centered on the question of whether the strong secular trends that favor the company (the Internet of Things, automation, and data analytics all require the capture of real-time data) would outweigh the negative impacts of COVID-19 on its business.

That question was answered in Zebra's third-quarter earnings report. Sales increased by 0.2% -- a far better result than the 3% to 7% revenue decline that management had forecast. Moreover, the positive momentum is expected to continue. Management is now guiding for a 3% to 7% year-over-year increase in the fourth quarter. The narrative of Zebra's results was backed up by the earnings report of key competitor Honeywell, which cited strong demand for scanning and mobility products.

So what

Last quarter's results served to affirm that Zebra continues to benefit from strong long-term trends that favor its solutions. Indeed, adoption of its offerings may even be accelerated due to the pandemic pulling forward companies' investments in automation and Internet of Things technologies.

On a related note, positive news about COVID-19 vaccines might encourage Zebra's retail and manufacturing customers to loosen up their budgets in anticipation of economic conditions improving in 2021.

Now what

If the theory is correct that optimism regarding the eventual end of this pandemic will encourage businesses to pick up their spending, Zebra's fourth-quarter sales might come in toward the high end of management's guidance. That will be something for investors to look out for early in 2021.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.