(Bloomberg Opinion) -- The U.S. stock market has had a remarkable run since its coronavirus-induced swoon in March, with technology stocks from Big Tech to upstarts leading the comeback and soaring off their lows. A hot stock market tends to stoke demand for IPOs as well, and that’s exactly what has happened — especially in the area of cloud software and internet services. The latest manifestation of this phenomenon came on Tuesday, when cloud-banking software provider nCino Inc. surged more than 170% in its trading debut.
The enthusiasm for this digital niche does make sense on a fundamental level. The pandemic has accelerated the spending shift to cloud-related technologies that enable the work-from-home and digital services we all need to live in a Covid-19 world. So, it’s natural that investors would latch on to the story and bid up many companies related to the space, including new issues. NCino isn’t alone: Cloud-based business-intelligence company ZoomInfo Technologies Inc. soared 62% in its first day of trading in June, while earlier this month, insurance digital-services startup Lemonade Inc. had a triple-digit percentage gain in its debut. All three are posting stellar growth rates and rely on cloud-based infrastructure to deliver their offerings.
But a frothier environment is also a recipe for some on Wall Street to take advantage of the heightened investor interest. One potential IPO — Rackspace Technology Inc. — stands out as being particularly suspect. The cloud-computing service provider, owned by private equity firm Apollo Global Management, filed to go public last Friday. After looking at the offering documents, it appears Apollo and its name-brand underwriters such as Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Citigroup Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. are trying to ride the recent wave of cloud enthusiasm with a subpar candidate. For those of us who remember, Rackspace was a second-tier data center and web-hosting company that had trouble competing with Amazon Web Services back when the investment firm took it private in 2016. It doesn’t look like much has changed since then.
Simply, Rackspace’s anemic financial results punch a hole in its “cloud” narrative. The company doesn’t deserve to be put in the same breath as the recent big winners in the space. Whereas leading cloud companies have generated stunning sales increases over the past year, Rackspace posted no growth in 2019, according to the filing. And while its revenue did rise marginally about 8% in its March quarter, it is still nowhere in the vicinity of the sector’s best-of-breed. Never mind the fact it lost $48 million in those three months.To illustrate the disparity, cloud monitoring software provider Datadog Inc.’s sales surged by 87% in its latest reported quarter, while user authentication company Okta, Inc. generated revenue growth of 46%. Even Amazon Web Services, at its gargantuan size, saw sales increase by 33% in its March quarter to $10.2 billion, generating $3.1 billion in operating profit for the period. Companies need to show surging demand for their product and services to justify a cloud calling card. These companies do; Rackspace, not so much.On the flip side, one can argue the recent IPOs are widely overvalued. For example, nCino, ZoomInfo and Lemonade are trading at nose-bleed valuations of more than 50 times last year’s sales. But their track records and strong growth prospects can offer at least a shot at a better prospective future.
At a time when the surging market has some invoking the word “bubble” and questioning the sustainability of the rally, investors need to look carefully at what bankers and Wall Street firms may be trying to off-load while the arrows are still pointing upward. They should look through the hype, sift through the numbers and analyze each company’s prospects on a case-by-case basis. Not all of the so-called cloud stocks are headed for the sky.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Tae Kim is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering technology. He previously covered technology for Barron's, following an earlier career as an equity analyst.
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