Salesforce needed 14 years as a public company to reach a market cap of $100 billion. Getting there required three multibillion-dollar acquisitions and four distinct revenue sources.
When Zoom topped the $100 billion mark last year, it had been public for just over 14 months. The company was reliant on a single product and had completed just one tiny acquisition.
While it’s still just a toddler on the Nasdaq, Zoom is now being forced to take on adult responsibilities for investors, thanks to its unexpectedly rapid ascent. The video chat company’s historic growth during the Covid-19 pandemic vaulted its market cap from $9.2 billion at the time of its 2019 IPO to a peak of $159 billion in October, putting it tentatively even with Cisco.
Zoom has lost about one-third of its value since then, despite reporting 191% revenue growth in the latest quarter, as investors prepare for a post-pandemic future and as competition picks up, most notably from Microsoft Teams.
Still, Zoom is among the 25-most valuable North American tech companies and the only one in that pack to go public in the last four years. Shopify and Snap, which went public in 2015 and 2017, respectively, are the only companies in the group that trade for a richer multiple to sales.
In other words, the stock market is giving Zoom the tools to become a major dealmaker. And Zoom is taking advantage, announcing earlier this week the $14.7 billion purchase of Five9, which sells cloud-based software to call centers.
“It allows them to use their currency to buy things that are impactful,” said Alfred Chuang, a partner at venture firm Race Capital who previously co-founded BEA Systems and sold it to Oracle for $8.5 billion in 2008. “I can’t imagine this will be last one.”
The Five9 deal is one of the 10 largest U.S. enterprise software transactions on record, according to FactSet, and is bigger than any acquisition ever by Amazon, Google, Oracle, Cisco or Adobe. At about 23 times Five9’s expected 2022 revenue, it’s also the second-priciest software deal on a price-to-sales basis, behind only Salesforce’s $27 billion purchase of Slack, which closed earlier this month.
Chuang, who has been friends with Zoom CEO Eric Yuan since his pre-Zoom days at WebEx, says Yuan is now in a position familiar to Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, whose company has more than doubled in value since mid-2018 to $240 billion.
Both companies are set up to be cloud consolidators as automation changes the future of work and the enterprise software stack of the future gets built, Chuang said. In the three years since reaching a $100 billion market cap, Salesforce has completed four billion-dollar-plus deals, including Slack and the $15.7 billion purchase of Tableau.
“Not everything has worked out,” Chuang said, but he argues it’s important to take take big swings, even if the business is currently in good shape.
“When you have a very fast-growing company and become very successful, most people don’t want to rock the boat,” he said. “Acquisitions are not only useful to acquire customers but are super critical to satisfy a product vision you may have.”
The Cisco connection
Zoom’s initial talks with Five9 date back to last year, according to people familiar with the matter. The CEOs, who both previously worked on collaboration products at Cisco, know each other well and forged a product integration in 2019, when Zoom launched a phone offering.
Yuan was a lead engineer at WebEx when the company was acquired by Cisco in 2007, and Five9 CEO Rowan Trollope ran all of Cisco’s collaboration products, including WebEx, until taking the Five9 job in 2018. They never overlapped at Cisco — Yuan left to start Zoom a year before Trollope joined — but the connection is key as they both saw the challenges of retrofitting a legacy technology company for the cloud era.
Acquisition talks cooled for a while and picked up in the last three months, said people with knowledge of the transaction, who asked not to be named because the discussions were confidential. That’s when Goldman Sachs started advising Zoom on a deal and Five9 hired Frank Quattrone’s Qatalyst Partners.
Zoom also shuffled internal responsibilities this year, putting CFO Kelly Steckelberg in charge of business development, a job that had previously been held by operating chief Aparna Bawa, people close to the matter said. Yuan and Steckelberg drove the Five9 deal, the people said.
Bawa has assumed increased responsibilities elsewhere in the business. She oversees security, privacy and government relations, which all took center stage as Zoom became a widely-used service at large enterprises as well as in education, health care and among religious organizations.
Representatives from Zoom and Five9 declined to comment.
At a Morgan Stanley investor event in March, Steckelberg was asked about Zoom’s plans for the call center.
“Contact center is an absolutely really important part of the phone strategy,” Steckelberg said in response. “The way we approach that today is through partnering. We have great relationships with Five9. Eric and Rowan are very good friends.”
Zoom’s goal is to be not only a video service used for meetings with co-workers and clients, but to become the center of all work communication, including for customer service reps in call centers.
Yuan went a step further in June on Zoom’s quarterly earnings call. He responded to an analyst’s question about contact center expansion by telling investors, “Stay tuned, you will see something.” He followed by suggesting that details could be revealed around the time of the company’s Zoomtopia conference in September.
“I hope we will be able to do more,” he said, indicating that Zoom may go beyond integrations with call center technology providers.
Buy vs. build
A big reason why an agreement took so long to come together was because both stocks were so volatile, people familiar with the talks said. Shares of Zoom and Five9 moved 10% or more in a single week on several occasions this year, making it difficult to come to terms. Ultimately, the acquisition price was a modest 13% premium to Five9’s last closing price before the announcement.
The deal is projected to close in the first half of 2022 and Trollope will continue to run Five9 as a president of Zoom. Five9 adds a projected $650 million in revenue next year to the $4.8 billion in sales that analysts expect from Zoom, according to StreetAccount.
On the investor call following the announcement, Yuan and Trollope said that common customers have been telling them they want to count on a single vendor that can provide communications technology for internal purposes as well as customer service. Zoom could invest in building the product itself, but customers “do not want to wait,” Yuan said.
Analysts like BTIG’s Matt VanVliet said the decision to buy instead of build is the right one.
“Overall, we are encouraged by Zoom’s strategy to supercharge its platform with this acquisition rather than rely purely on its own internal R&D chops, which would have taken years to scale,” wrote VanVliet, who has a buy recommendation on Zoom, in a report on July 19.
Zoom has a long way to go before it can claim to have a portfolio of cloud software products, like Salesforce, Adobe and ServiceNow.
Late last year, the company entered the live events space with the launch of a homegrown product called OnZoom, expanding the video platform beyond the workplace and betting that online gatherings, in some form, are here to stay. In July, Zoom hired Abhisht Arora, a 21-year Microsoft veteran and Teams program manager, as its head of corporate strategy, reporting directly to Yuan.
Between development of new products and big acquisitions into parallel markets, Yuan is trying to ensure that Zoom is more than just a pandemic stock, and that its status as an enterprise giant remains long after we say goodbye to Covid-19.
— CNBC’s Alex Sherman contributed to this report.
Tech stocks just finished a five-week rally — the longest stretch since market peak in November 2021
Tech stocks on display at the Nasdaq.
Peter Kramer | CNBC
The Nasdaq just wrapped up its fifth straight week of gains, jumping 3.3% over the last five days. It’s the longest weekly winning streak for the tech-laden index since a stretch that ended in November 2021. Coming off its worst year since 2008, the Nasdaq is up 15% to start 2023.
The last time tech stocks enjoyed a rally this long, investors were gearing up for electric carmaker Rivian’s blockbuster IPO, the U.S. economy was closing out its strongest year for growth since 1984, and the Nasdaq was trading at a record.
This time around, there’s far less champagne popping. Cost cuts have replaced growth on Wall Street’s checklist, and tech executives are being celebrated for efficiency over innovation. The IPO market is dead. Layoffs are abundant.
Earnings reports were the story of the week, with results landing from many of the world’s most valuable tech companies. But the numbers, for the most part, weren’t good.
Apple missed estimates for the first time since 2016, Facebook parent Meta recorded a third straight quarter of declining revenue, Google‘s core advertising business shrank, and Amazon closed out its weakest year for growth in its 25-year history as a public company.
While investors had mixed reactions to the individual reports, all four stocks closed the week with solid gains, as did Microsoft, which reported earnings the prior week and issued lackluster guidance in projecting revenue growth this quarter of only about 3%.
Meta was the top performer among the group this week, with the stock soaring 23%, its third-best week ever. In its earnings report Wednesday, revenue came in slightly above estimates, even with sales down year over year, and the first-quarter forecast was roughly in line with expectations.
The key to the rally was CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s pronouncement in the earnings statement that 2023 would be the “Year of Efficiency” and his promise that “we’re focused on becoming a stronger and more nimble organization.”
“That was really the game-changer,” Stephanie Link, chief investment strategist at Hightower Advisors, said in an interview Friday with CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”
“The quarter itself was OK, but it was the cost-cutting that they finally got religion on, and that’s why I think Meta really took off,” she said.
Zuckerberg acknowledged that the times are changing. From the year of its IPO in 2012 through 2021, the company grew between 22% and 58% a year. But in 2022 revenue fell 1%, and analysts expect growth of only 5% in 2023, according to Refinitiv.
On the earnings call, Zuckerberg said he doesn’t expect declines to continue, “but I also don’t think it’s going to go back to the way it was before.” Meta announced in November the elimination of 11,000 jobs, or 13% of its workforce.
Link said the reason Meta’s stock got such a big bounce after earnings was because “expectations were so low and the valuation was so compelling.” The stock lost almost two-thirds of its value last year, far more than its mega-cap peers.
Apple, which slid 27% last year, gained 6.2% this week despite reporting its steepest drop in revenue in seven years. CEO Tim Cook said results were hurt by a strong dollar, production issues in China affecting the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max, and the overall macroeconomic environment.
“Apple is navigating what is, of course, a very difficult environment quite well overall,” Dan Flax, an analyst at Neuberger Berman, told “Squawk Box” on Friday. “As we move through the coming months and quarters, we’ll see a return to growth and the market will begin to discount that. We continue to like the name even in the face of these macro challenges.”
Amazon CEO Andy Jassy, who succeeded Jeff Bezos in mid-2021, took the unusual step of joining the earnings call with analysts Thursday after his company issued a weaker-than-expected forecast for the first quarter. In January, Amazon began layoffs, which are expected to result in the loss of more than 18,000 jobs.
“Given this last quarter was the end of my first full year in this role and given some of the unusual parts in the economy and our business, I thought this might be a good one to join,” Jassy said on the call.
Managing expenses has become a big theme for Amazon, which expanded rapidly during the pandemic and subsequently admitted that it hired too many people during that period.
“We’re working really hard to streamline our costs,” Jassy said.
Alphabet is also in downsizing mode. The company announced last month that it’s slashing 12,000 jobs. Its revenue miss for the fourth quarter included disappointing sales at YouTube from a pullback in ad spending and weakness in the cloud division as businesses tighten their belts.
Ruth Porat, Alphabet’s finance chief, told CNBC’s Deirdre Bosa that the company is meaningfully slowing the pace of hiring in an effort to deliver long-term profitable growth.
Alphabet shares ended the week up 5.4% even after giving up some of their gains during Friday’s sell-off. The stock is now up 19% for the year.
Ruth Porat, Alphabet CFO, at the WEF in Davos, Switzerland on May 23rd, 2022.
Adam Galica | CNBC
Should the Nasdaq continue its upward trend and notch a sixth week of gains, it would match the longest rally since a stretch that ended in January 2020, just before the Covid pandemic hit the U.S.
Another area in tech that flourished this week was the semiconductor space. Similar to the consumer tech companies, there wasn’t much by way of growth to excite Wall Street.
AMD on Tuesday beat on sales and profit but guided analysts to a 10% year-over-year decline in revenue for the current quarter. Intel, AMD’s primary competitor, reported a disastrous quarter last week and projected a 40% decline in sales in the March quarter.
The semiconductor industry is dealing with a glut of extra parts at PC and server makers and falling prices for components such as memory and central processors. But after a miserable year in 2022, the stocks are rebounding on signs that an easing of Federal Reserve rate increases and lightening inflation numbers will give the companies a boost later this year.
Jury finds Musk, Tesla not liable in securities fraud trial following ‘funding secured’ tweets
Tesla CEO Elon Musk and his security detail depart the company’s local office in Washington, January 27, 2023.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters
The Tesla, SpaceX and Twitter CEO was sued by Tesla shareholders over a series of tweets he wrote in August 2018 saying he had “funding secured” to take the automaker private for $420 per share, and that “investor support” for such a deal was “confirmed.”
Trading in Tesla was halted after his tweets, and its share price remained volatile for weeks.
Jurors deliberated for less than two hours before reading their verdict. “We are disappointed with the verdict and considering next steps,” said Nicholas Porritt, partner at Levi & Korsinsky, the firm representing the shareholders in the class action, in an email to CNBC.
“I am deeply appreciative of the jury’s unanimous finding,” Musk wrote on Twitter.
Musk’s lead counsel, Alex Spiro of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, arguing before the jury earlier Friday, said the matter had to be assessed in context, noting the Tesla CEO was only considering taking the company private. He said fraud cannot be built on the back of a consideration.
Spiro did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The shareholders in the certified class-action lawsuit included a mix of stock and options buyers who alleged that Musk’s tweets were reckless and false, and that relying on his statements to make decisions about when to buy or sell cost them significant amounts of money.
Musk later claimed that he had a verbal commitment from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, and that he thought funding would come through at his proposed price based on a handshake. However, the deal never materialized.
During the course of this trial, Musk also said he would have sold shares of SpaceX to finance a going-private deal for Tesla, as well as taking funds from the Saudi Public Investment Fund.
Apple’s long-term positives outweigh rare earnings miss, Morgan Stanley says
Apple CEO Tim Cook holds a new iPhone 14 Pro during an Apple special event on September 07, 2022 in Cupertino, California.
Justin Sullivan | Getty Images
“Taking a step back, it’s rare to see Apple miss and guide down in a quarter, but we believe the long-term positives from tonight’s report outweigh the short-term negatives,” Morgan Stanley’s Erik Woodring wrote. Apple’s Thursday night earnings report cited a strong dollar, continued production issues in China, and the broader macroeconomic environment as three reasons for Apple’s first year-over-year sales decline since 2019.
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“On the third factor, I would say was just the challenging macroeconomic environment, and you’re hearing that from, I would think, everybody,” CEO Tim Cook told CNBC’s Steve Kovach.
But Morgan Stanley assesses those headwinds as transitory, noting both accelerated growth in iPhone installed base and a continued upward margin trajectory as longer-term upside which will ensure “the Apple flywheel keeps spinning.”
Morgan Stanley reiterated its top pick rating for Apple. The company has managed to navigate a broader tech downturn with considerable success and is one of the few tech companies that has staved off layoffs and maintained a level of operational expense discipline.
It’s that same discipline that helps Morgan Stanley analysts maintain a bullish outlook on Apple, which guided to a March 2023 gross margin ranging from 43.5 to 44.5%, according to the note.
“We believe Apple’s ability to post the highest gross margin in a decade despite seeing revenue decline Y/Y is impressive, and moving forward, we expect gross margins to improve as mix, FX, commodities, and logistics all work in Apple’s favor through the rest of 2023 and into FY24,” Morgan Stanley’s note said.
Apple’s user spend levels are also keeping Morgan Stanley bullish, proof that “the underlying drivers of Apple’s model remain robust.”
Investors have apparently embraced Morgan Stanley’s appraisal of Apple’s durability as a long-term investment. Apple shares were up around 1% at the open Friday, despite the sales miss, recouping losses from a 4% drop Thursday night. The company also reported misses on the top and bottom lines, beating analyst expectations only in iPad and services revenue.
— CNBC’s Michael Bloom contributed to this report.
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