Even after almost a year since its IPO and down some 30% in price from where it was in initial public trading, Snowflake (NYSE:SNOW) remains one of the most notoriously "expensive" stocks out there. Shareholders are pricing in years' worth of torrid growth. Snowflake recently added fuel to that fire, though, issuing some very specific and very ambitious revenue goals targeted for completion nearly a decade from now. 

There are pitfalls with projecting financial results too far into the future. Business is an unpredictable game, and we live in a fast-changing world. Nevertheless, cloud computing is an unstoppable force, and Snowflake is in pole position in a very important area of that expanding market. Don't go off and buy this stock hand over fist, but if you are willing to give this one a shot for a decade or more, there are reasons you might want to add it to your watchlist at the very least. 

Someone working on the equipment inside a data center.

Image source: Getty Images.

When even stellar financial results don't really matter

Snowflake continues to deliver the goods since becoming a public concern. Revenue in Q1 2021 notched a 110% year-over-year increase to $229 million, and full-year 2021 guidance is calling for a first-ever $1 billion in annual sales -- implying growth of no less than 84% from 2020. The company also anticipates reaching break-even on an adjusted free cash flow basis. Not bad at all, Snowflake.  

However, the rub for many investors is that the stock still trades for over 65 times full-year 2021 expected sales to enterprise value (market cap minus cash and equivalents). It's an incredible valuation, pricing in not just the expectation that the cloud computing industry will grow by double-digit percentages for the foreseeable future, but also that Snowflake's leading "Data Cloud" service will remain a leader among its peers in data management.  

Companies projecting growth too far into the future (and investors paying up for that growth and accepting a steep premium price tag) can be problematic. Business trends can change quickly, and competitors both old and new can present headaches for a company's growth trajectory. It thus comes as little surprise that Snowflake stock has been stuck in a volatile downward-trending line since its IPO last autumn.

Snowflake is happy to oblige those who have been willing to take on the risk of buying, though. While most companies shy away from providing any sort of specific guidance beyond a year, not Snowflake. During its 2021 investor day presentation, it provided a product revenue goal all the way out to fiscal year 2029: $10 billion. If 2021 expectations for just over $1 billion transpire, the 2029 projection represents an average annual compound growth rate of over 33%, and it values the stock at under seven times 2029 sales.

A pie-in-the-sky goal?

Before you balk at such an ambitious very long-term projection, consider a few items. Cloud computing is a massive secular growth trend. Spending on cloud computing could reach $1 trillion per year by the end of this decade. And within the current greater cloud industry -- pegged at just over $330 billion in global spend this year by tech researcher Gartner -- application and infrastructure services (the corner of the cloud sandbox Snowflake is making snow angels in) are over one-third of the total spend.

Put another way, this is a massive space, and Snowflake is indeed just one flake among a blizzard of cloud services out there.  

Cast in that light, $10 billion in sales in nearly a decade, in an industry that could soak up over a trillion dollars per year, suddenly doesn't seem so ambitious. In fact, Snowflake's goal could be downright achievable. And don't forget this company has nearly $4 billion in cash, another $1.2 billion in long-term investments, and no debt. That's quite the war chest it could deploy on new products or acquisitions -- making its long-term plan that much more easily within reach.  

The most pressing question, of course, is this: Is the stock a buy? If you need the money within a couple of years, or don't have the patience or temperament to wait out what is sure to be a wild ride over the next eight to 10 years, probably not. But if you're ultra-long on the cloud industry, you're still saving money and can plan to buy more Snowflake stock over time if the bull thesis plays out, maybe paying less than seven times sales projected into 2029 isn't such a bad idea.

At the very least, put this stock on your watchlist and do some more due diligence to flesh out whether or not you believe management's messaging. I, for one, am warming up to the idea of making an initial investment.

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.