Faced with disruption from the pandemic last year and ongoing uncertainty about shifting consumer trends, many businesses are in need of help. Artificial intelligence can add a much-needed shot of predictability, efficiency, and flexibility to business operations, making it a hot item in the software realm right now.
As corporate budgets start to thaw this year along with a gradually reopening economy, AI applications are expected to receive plenty of attention. As an investor, if you want to get in on that increased attention, three names in AI worth considering in April are Alphabet (GOOGL 0.02%) (GOOG -0.09%), Invitae (NVTA -5.77%), and Medallia (MDLA).
1. Alphabet: A new breed of value stock
Plenty of tech stocks got clobbered in March. Many of them were overdue for a pullback after rising double- or triple-digit percentages in 2020. But Google-parent Alphabet wasn't one of them, and shares are only down 5% from all-time highs as of this writing.
The reason? Well, it's Google. There are few businesses so well-integrated into daily life that their very names double as verbs. The sultan of search will also soon be lapping depressed financial results from last spring during the initial lockdowns put in place to try and halt the spread of COVID-19. The company could be in store for some seemingly dramatic increases in revenue and profitability as a result -- not to mention ongoing long-term growth as digital ads and cloud computing continue to expand. Given this situation, and the fact that the stock is trading for just 35 times trailing 12-month free cash flow, Alphabet stock is bordering on value territory.
In the wake of the pandemic, AI applications are picking up steam. Google itself uses AI throughout its operations, from its core internet search engine to its moonshot upstart subsidiaries like autonomous vehicle subsidiary Waymo. But Google is also helping customers make use of AI. This is especially evident in its fast-growing Google Cloud segment, where a myriad of cloud computing services enhanced with AI can be unleashed to help businesses manage their online presence, update their old IT infrastructure, manage data, and build new applications.
Digital advertising and internet personalization are still long-term growth industries, but Google is quickly becoming a diversified tech giant benefiting from multiple secular trends. It's growing sales by double-digit percentages, it's highly profitable, and it's trading for a reasonable price. I remain a buyer.
2. Invitae: A sale on fast-growing genetics testing
Invitae is one of those clobbered tech names I mentioned earlier. As of this writing, the genetics testing stock price has been nearly halved from its all-time high. However, share prices are still more than double where they were at the beginning of 2020. Suffice to say this is still a high-flying business, and its shareholders have high hopes.
However, trading for about 16 times trailing 12-month sales, Invitae could be a pretty good long-term deal. The company's wide array of genetic testing capabilities is helping enable all sorts of predictive and preventative medicine and informing patients of possible medical genetic conditions they might be prone to. The recent acquisition of Archer DX adds cancer testing and treatment to the company's growing list of healthcare proficiencies. Genetics could also hold the key to more personalized medicine, helping physicians deliver treatments for diseases tailor-made for individual patients.
Obviously, the potential is massive. The healthcare industry is worth over $4 trillion a year in the U.S. alone, so there's no shortage of room for Invitae to grow. And genetic testing could help make the entire system more efficient over time, driving better outcomes at lower cost. Where does AI come into the picture? Analyzing genetic code is incredibly complex, but AI software is helping enable the process.
This is also still a very small company, with a market cap of just $6.5 billion after the sharp sell-off in recent months. Invitae isn't profitable yet -- free cash flow was negative $321 million last year on revenue of $280 million due to the effects of the pandemic -- but it's on pace to get to breakeven within the next few years if it continues to expand. Invitae could be in for a big jump in financial results this spring as it laps the lockdown from a year ago. I'm eyeing an initial purchase of this next-gen healthcare provider at these levels.
3. Medallia: Automated analysis of digital experiences
Cloud computing software company Medallia has had a rough go of things since its IPO in the summer of 2019. Shares have been stuck moving sideways since their public debut. Naturally, the coronavirus was a significant factor in that: Many of the company's enterprise customers put software spending on hold last year while they reevaluated their situations. But one thing is becoming clear: Consumers are interacting with businesses via the web, and they're not turning back.
This bodes well for Medallia, which records and then gathers information on digital experiences and uses AI to help businesses decide how to improve. And even though the last year was a forgettable one, revenue still managed to increase 19% to $477 million. The company expects a similar pace of growth over the next 12-month stretch too. But shares have taken a hit recently, as the outlook for the first quarter of this year implied year-over-year growth of only 12% to 14%.
But investors may not be seeing the long-term potential here. The stock price is down 17% so far in 2021, but shares look like a deal at just 8 times trailing 12-month revenue. The company also used some of its cash ($682 million at the end of January, offset by convertible notes of $448 million) to acquire analytics firm Decibel for $160 million. Medallia thinks this will make its platform for improving online interactions even more compelling as organizations around the globe update their operations for a new digital age.
I expect this cloud software stock to remain highly volatile, but the business is still growing and Medallia is poised to benefit from digital transformation in the years ahead.