My skepticism toward Shopify (NYSE:SHOP) looks absolutely foolish at this point. Shopify stock has been one of the most torrid stocks of 2019 and only continues to climb. SHOP stock has pulled back in recent sessions, but still has gained 93% so far this year.
Source: Shopify via Flickr
Like a lot of investors, I like the Shopify business; in fact, I recommended the stock several times last year. Of late, however, I’ve pointed to valuation, arguing most recently in April that SHOP stock, at $206, was due for a big fall.
That call was wrong. Shopify stock has risen another 30% in the seven weeks since then. But I haven’t been alone in seeing the stock as overvalued. On this site, Dana Blankenhorn called SHOP a bubble in March, and repeated that sentiment last week. Luke Lango called it one of the market’s best growth stocks – and still argued the price was too high.
Wall Street has expressed similar caution. Three different analysts downgraded Shopify stock last week. Even Barron’s has noted that it and some of those analysts had heard from disgruntled readers after negative coverage of the stock.
Seemingly everyone sees SHOP as a stock that has run too far, too fast. But as traders know, that alone might suggest more upside is ahead. It’s not until the entire market sees a stock’s upside as inevitable that the stock usually turns.
Yet at the same time SHOP stock trades at seemingly unsustainable valuations. If sentiment suggests more upside, what about the fundamentals?
SHOP Stock and the Future
One way to consider the current valuation of SHOP stock is to understand what type of future the market is pricing in. Investors should discount Shopify stock by at least 10% a year, to account for its risk and volatility.
At the moment, SHOP has an enterprise value (market cap less its ~$2 billion in cash) of $27.6 billion. That means investors believe the company should be worth about $44 billion Five years from now – and $71 billion in a decade.
Looking solely at revenue, that seems at least potentially doable. Revenue is expected to be about $2 billion next year. The current growth profile suggests a path to a double, at least, over the next four years. Is, say 9x 2024 revenue of $4.8 billion unreasonable? Or 7x 2029 sales of $10 billion?
Those revenue levels might seem unreasonable, but the $10 billion target only suggests an average growth rate of 20% from 2020 on. With opportunities for international growth, and potentially new offerings (think CRM software or marketing capabilities) that growth rate is not impossible.
Nor are the revenue multiples untenable. Bear in mind that the margins on incremental revenue should be enormous. If Shopify can add $8 billion in revenue, there’s no reason why it can’t grow profit by $2 or even $3 billion. At a 25% tax rate, net income even at the low end of that range gets to $1.6 billion or so. Here, too, is a 45x P/E multiple that unreasonable assuming Shopify still has years of growth ahead from that point?
Investors Modeling Shopify Stock
To be clear, I’m not making the case for that model. Analysts aren’t, either. Even before the downgrades of late, SHOP stock had outrun average Wall Street targets.
But the point is that some investors might. And as long as there’s a case on paper for Shopify stock, there’s going to be room for upside. This is a hugely attractive business model. The addressable market is only going to expand as Shopify expands internationally and drives more revenue for medium- and large-sized businesses.
Shopify could choose to challenge Salesforce.com (NYSE:CRM) in CRM software. It might be able to drive advertising revenue from customer websites (something akin to what Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN) and Walmart (NYSE:WMT) are doing at the moment).
Again, none of this is to say Shopify will do these things. But it’s posting enormous growth, has a massive market, and is accumulating ever-more valuable customer data. And while at 14x next year’s revenue and about close to 300x next year’s earnings the current multiples look extreme, there’s a path on paper for SHOP stock to grow into its current valuation.
In a bull market, that can be enough. It’s not like Square (NYSE:SQ), a potential rival, is cheap. CRM stock itself has seemed “overvalued” for years and keeps moving higher. This can work, at least in theory. Combine that with the negative sentiment, the so-called “wall of worry,” and SHOP can continue to climb.
For what it’s worth, I personally don’t see any of this happening. I still believe investors are ignoring two key risks to SHOP stock. The first, as I wrote last year, is that the company retains significant exposure to small businesses that are usually the first victims of any economic downturn.
The second, related, risk was highlighted by Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS) in its downgrade last week. Over half of Shopify revenue is transaction-based. That, too, implies some exposure to economic cycles.
The combination means that Shopify doesn’t quite have the SaaS (software-as-a-service) model that is priced in at the moment. It’s not going to drive the same amount of sticky, recurring revenue that is creating such optimism for SaaS plays. As a result, it shouldn’t have the straight-line growth of a company like Salesforce.com (whose revenue growth has been almost spooky in its consistency).
If that’s the case, SHOP shouldn’t be receiving a premium to pretty much every other SaaS stock. It should be receiving a discount. But, right now, many investors clearly disagree. And history shows they can disagree for quite a long time.
In the meantime, SHOP can keep climbing the wall of worry. It’s not impossible to project SHOP being a $100 billion business a decade or so from now. That in turn suggests that Shopify stock, today, should be worth around $360.
I’m not saying SHOP will get there. I don’t believe it should get there. But between the optimism in the chart and the pessimism everywhere else, I certainly wouldn’t bet my money against it.
As of this writing, Vince Martin has no positions in any securities mentioned.
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