After A 13% Fall This Year How Does Ciena Compare With F5 Stock?

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Trefis
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FFIV
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Given its better prospects, we believe Ciena stock (NYSE: CIEN), a network hardware, software, and services provider, is a better pick than its sector peer, F5 Networks stock (NASDAQ: FFIV), an application security and cloud networking company. Investors have assigned a higher valuation multiple of 3.7x revenues for FFIV compared to 1.5x revenues for CIEN due to F5’s superior revenue growth and profitability. The decision to invest often comes down to finding the best stocks within the parameters of certain characteristics that suit an investment style. The size of profits can matter, as larger profits can imply greater market power. In the sections below, we discuss why we believe that CIEN will offer better returns than FFIV in the next three years. We compare a slew of factors, such as historical revenue growth, stock returns, and valuation, in an interactive dashboard analysis of F5 vs. CienaWhich Stock Is A Better Bet? Parts of the analysis are summarized below.

FFIV stock has seen little change, moving slightly from levels of $175 in early January 2021 to around $175 now, while CIEN stock has seen a decline of 20% from levels of $55 to around $45 over the same period. In comparison, the S&P500 index saw an increase of about 25% over this roughly three-year period.

Overall, the performance of FFIV stock with respect to the index has been lackluster. Returns for the stock were 39% in 2021, -41% in 2022, and 21% in 2023 (YTD). Similarly, however, the decrease in CIEN stock has been far from consistent. Returns for the stock were 46% in 2021, -34% in 2022, and -13% in 2023 (YTD). In comparison, returns for the S&P 500 have been 27% in 2021, -19% in 2022, and 23% in 2023 (YTD) – indicating that FFIV and CIEN underperformed the S&P in 2022 and 2023.

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In fact, consistently beating the S&P 500 – in good times and bad – has been difficult over recent years for individual stocks; for heavyweights in the Information Technology sector, including AAPL, MSFT, and NVDA, and even for the megacap stars GOOG, TSLA, and AMZN. In contrast, the Trefis High Quality (HQ) Portfolio, with a collection of 30 stocks, has outperformed the S&P 500 each year over the same period. Why is that? As a group, HQ Portfolio stocks provided better returns with less risk versus the benchmark index, less of a roller-coaster ride, as evident in HQ Portfolio performance metrics.

Given the current uncertain macroeconomic environment with high oil prices and elevated interest rates, could FFIV and CIEN face a similar situation as they did in 2022 and 2023 and underperform the S&P over the next 12 months – or will they see a strong jump? While we expect both stocks to move higher in the next three years, we think CIEN will fare better.

1. F5’s Revenue Growth Is Better 

  • F5’s revenue growth has been better, with a 6.2% average annual growth rate in the last three years, compared to 0.6% for Ciena.
  • FFIV revenues rose from $2.4 billion in fiscal 2020 (fiscal ends in September) to $2.8 billion in 2023, led by services and product revenue growth due to increasing demand and entry into new markets.
  • For Ciena, revenue increased from $3.5 billion in fiscal 2020 (fiscal ends in October) to $4.4 billion in 2023, led by continued growth in Global Services Platform Software and Services, while the Networking Platforms business also saw a rebound in fiscal 2023.
  • Supply chain issues weighed on the company’s overall performance in the recent past, and it still remains a concern.
  • Ciena expects its routing and switching business to grow faster in the coming years and drive the overall top-line growth.
  • If we look at the last twelve-month period revenues, Ciena fares better with sales growth of 14% vs. 5% for F5.
  • Our F5 Revenue Comparison and Ciena Revenue Comparison dashboards provide more insight into the companies’ sales.
  • Looking forward, we expect Ciena to see better sales growth than F5. We forecast F5’s top-line to expand at a CAGR of 3.4% to $3.1 billion in three years, while Ciena will likely see its sales rise in a mid-single-digit average annual growth rate to $5.3 billion over this period, based on Trefis Machine Learning analysis.

2. F5 Is More Profitable

  • F5’s operating margin declined from 23.1% in 2019 to 15.0% in 2022,  while Ciena’s operating margin contracted from 14.5% in fiscal 2020 to 8.8% in 2023.
  • Looking at the last twelve-month period, F5’s operating margin of 14.6% fares better than 8.8% for Ciena.
  • F5’s margin metric has been weighed down due to a rise in component costs.
  • Our F5 Operating Income Comparison and Ciena’s Operating Income Comparison dashboards have more details.
  • Looking at financial risk, F5 fares better. F5 is a debt-free company, while Ciena’s debt as a percentage of equity is around 24%. However, Ciena’s 22cash as a percentage of assets is higher than 13% for F5, implying that F5 has a better debt position and Ciena has more cash cushion.

3. The Net of It All

  • We see that F5 has seen better revenue growth and is more profitable.
  • Now, looking at prospects using P/S as a base, due to high fluctuations in P/E and P/EBIT, we believe Ciena will offer higher returns in the next three years.
  • Also, if we compare the current valuation multiples to the historical averages, CIEN fares better. F5 stock is trading at 3.7x revenues compared to its last five-year average of 4.3x. In comparison, Ciena stock trades at 1.7x revenues vs. the last five-year average of 2.2x.
  • Our F5 (FFIV) Valuation Ratios Comparison and Ciena (CIE) Valuation Ratios Comparison have more details.
  • The table below summarizes our revenue and return expectations for both companies over the next three years and points to an expected return of -12% for FFIV over this period vs. a 31% expected return for CIEN, based on Trefis Machine Learning analysis – F5 vs. Ciena – which also provides more details on how we arrive at these numbers.

While CIEN stock may outperform FFIV, it is helpful to see how F5’s peers fare on metrics that matter. You will find other valuable comparisons for companies across industries at Peer Comparisons.

 Returns Dec 2023
MTD [1]
2023
YTD [1]
2017-23
Total [2]
 FFIV Return 2% 21% 20%
 CIEN Return -3% -13% 82%
 S&P 500 Return 3% 23% 110%
 Trefis Reinforced Value Portfolio 4% 33% 584%

[1] Month-to-date and year-to-date as of 12/14/2023
[2] Cumulative total returns since the end of 2016

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