Working from home used to be rare, but everybody was doing it in 2020. When the coronavirus pandemic forced office workers to get their jobs done from laptops at their own coffee tables and run meetings through web cameras, the information technology world turned upside down.
Many stocks with a connection to the work-from-home trend soared sky-high and are staying way up at the end of the year. Have Zoom Video Communications (NASDAQ:ZM), Fastly (NYSE:FSLY), and Appian (NASDAQ:APPN) peaked already? Or are they primed to climb even higher in 2021?
Fastly, which is up 346% in 2020 as of this writing, helps businesses of every stripe deliver digital content through fast, secure, and highly personalized network links. You'll find the company's edge content servers in a major network hub near you. The company is expanding its infrastructure faster than ever thanks to the dramatic influx of traffic and revenues in 2020.
The company's services were in high demand this year thanks to several game-changing events. The entire media industry was moving online in the fall of 2019. That trend only accelerated when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived. On top of that, Fastly had an ace up its sleeve in the form of a large content delivery deal with TikTok, the fastest-growing social media platform of the year.
TikTok's contributions to Fastly's financial results have been debatable for the last six months since the Trump administration issued an ultimatum to the video-sharing service's Chinese parent company: Find an American buyer for the American portion of TikTok's operations, or forget about running a business in the U.S. Fastly's skyrocketing share price ground to a halt on that announcement, but started moving again when Trump appeared to lose interest in the TikTok conflict after November's election.
Fastly won't even need TikTok's business in order to deliver stellar growth in 2021 and beyond. The digital media market can shoulder most of that burden. Fastly is expanding its service offerings to include business-friendly efforts such as edge computing tools and a specialized cloud security framework.
I believe these are the early days of what will prove to be a long-lived industry giant. Fastly strikes me as a fantastic buy.
Appian is up 303% from the start of the year as of this writing. Enterprise-scale businesses use Appian's app-building tools to create advanced business apps with a minimal need for actual coding. Appian's development tools can weave complex solutions for workflow management, automated process scheduling, and business rules compliance, all in a cloud-based service that relies more on drag-and-drop than hand-coding.
The core concept here is to let businesses spend less of their time and resources on app development so they can focus on running their own business instead. It's no surprise that this idea resonates in the digital hustle and bustle of 2020. I would also be surprised to see the customers who were exposed to Appian's low-code development model this year going back to the more expensive and labor-intensive app development processes of the past.
When the pandemic blows over, Appian's growing customer base will remain. You might want to wait for a temporary price drop before betting the farm on this stock, but Appian is going places. It makes plenty of sense to buy it even at today's sky-high valuation.
Everybody knows what Zoom does for a living because everybody is using it these days. If you haven't run across Zoom's video calls at work yet, maybe your kids attended class this way. Social events are also moving online with the help of Zoom's easy-to-use video services. Chess tournaments moved their games to cloud-based platforms in the spring with the added requirement that you can't win any money unless you and your computer screen are constantly visible in a Zoom call during games. That's one way to keep AI-based cheating at bay.
I mean, there's just no way around it anymore. That's why Zoom's revenues soared in 2020 and the stock followed suit, rising 420% year to date.
That brings me to a bit of a twist in Zoom's investment thesis. All three of the companies above have expanded their user bases exponentially in 2020, but nobody wants to get away from Appian's simple app development and Fastly's improved media experience. On the other hand, many office workers would really prefer to get back to their office desks. Their managers often feel the same way. Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) co-CEO Reed Hastings, for example, slams remote work as "a pure negative" because there really is no replacement for a real face-to-face meeting sometimes. I think he'll find a lot of people nodding their agreement in the chess world, at least.
Zoom's soaring popularity might slow down in 2021, but that's not the end of the story. Even Hastings expects the business world to find some happy medium between remote work and physical commutes, maybe landing at four days in the office and one work-from-home day per week.
Zoom is a great company, and I don't expect its video conferences to go away anytime soon, but I'd much sooner buy Fastly and Appian at a premium price. If you're buying all three of these surging growth stocks today, you should probably settle for a smaller Zoom position.