By Amanda Cantrell
March 15, 2006
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) - The rise in online scams such as identity
theft and phishing is bad news for consumers -- but is it good news
for investors in companies who make products designed to stop these
Not necessarily. Some security stocks such as Symantec, Cogent and
McAfee have gotten nicked this year, owing to both company-specific
issues and to the fact that Microsoft announced it is entering the
consumer security space, which spooked some investors.
Also, some markets within the security sector have matured and no
longer offer the attractive growth opportunities they once did -- such
as the market for fire wall products that protect corporate networks.
And companies such as Cisco and Juniper have also announced new or
improved offerings in the space, posing a longer-term threat to
so-called "pure play" security companies.
Finally, some companies have experienced phenomenal growth in their
share prices, leading investors to take some of their winnings off the
These factors have caused some investors, such as Sunil Reddy, senior
portfolio manager at Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Asset Management, to
steer clear of the space altogether for now.
But theft of consumer and corporate data for profit continues to
increase, which is why some investors and analysts still think
security stocks will pay off in the long run. These investors and
analysts feel that companies make "authentification" products designed
to verify a user's identity as well as encrypt data have enjoyed
growth in recent months and still have potential to do so.
"The security industry as a whole is talking about hackers that are
motivated by profit," said Horacio Zambrano, a securities analyst with
Wedbush Morgan Securities. "Enterprises are putting a higher attention
on identity (verification) products."
Here's a look at how some players in the security sector have fared in
Cogent Systems (up $0.17 to $19.26, Research) Shares of Cogent, which
makes fingerprint ID systems, took a nasty 17 percent dive and
suffered a slew of analyst downgrades when the company reported its
fiscal fourth quarter earnings Feb.28. That's because, despite
doubling earnings and recording a 46 percent sales increase, the
company revealed it isn't sure when it will be able to book revenue on
certain contracts. If there's one thing investors don't like, it's a
lack of transparency where sales are concerned, and the stock hasn't
Ken Allen, investment analyst with T. Rowe Price, said because the
contracts Cogent signs are so large, the stock price moves based on
announcements of those deals.
Wall Street analysts had been expecting a better sales outlook for
2006 given the announcement that the company has won some important
contracts in recent months from rivals such as Motorola. But on the
bright side, the company will likely have a bigger 2007 than expected,
if it books revenue for some of those contracts then instead of this
year. Allen's firm owns shares of Cogent in some of its funds.
Joel Fishbein, an analyst with Janny Montgomery Scott, said he thinks
companies will increasingly want to monitor who has access to what in
their networks and added that he thinks Cogent is well-positioned to
take advantage of this.
RSA Security (down $0.05 to $17.71, Research) Shares of RSA, which
makes authentification software and hardware, such as the "SecurID"
system log-in tokens that corporate and government workers use, have
had a remarkable run, appreciating 58 percent this year. That rise
alone has led some investors to take their winnings off the table.
Gary McDaniel, an equity analyst at Standard & Poor's, said his firm
recently downgraded the stock from a buy to a hold because of concerns
the share price has topped out for the near term.
Allen of T. Rowe Price said a series of negative events in December,
including the abrupt departure of the company's CFO, caused an unduly
big drop in the stock.
But strong fourth-quarter earnings, followed by the strategic
acquisition of software maker Cyota to boost RSA's position in the
consumer market, led to the recovery. Allen, whose firm owns shares of
RSA, thinks the shares have more to gain, as 2006 should be a strong
year for the renewal of SecurID contracts from corporate customers.
But Zambrano of Wedbush Morgan said RSA has been his top pick. He
still likes the stock, given its position as a market leader in the
authentication area, but he acknowledges that the company needs to
position itself to sell higher-cost data protection solutions to
Internet Security Systems (up $0.04 to $23.87, Research) Shares of
Internet Security Systems have enjoyed a solid 2006 to date, with
shares rising 14 percent this year. The company makes products that
protect corporate networks from attacks and has primarily specialized
in devices that detect and prevent attacks.
McDaniel of Standard & Poor's said the company is poised to gain
market share from its competitors, in part because it's coming out
with complete platforms that are easy for corporate customers to
configure. He expects the company to grow revenues 13 percent this
year and net income about 15 over the next five years.
Zambrano agrees, saying that larger vendors such as ISS are able to
offer "one-stop shop" solutions that will allow IT managers to work
with fewer vendors and get more done with less.
Of course, no discussion of security stocks would be complete without
mentioning Symantec (down $0.28 to $15.79, Research) and McAfee (up
$0.41 to $24.73, Research), two of the biggest makers of anti-virus
software for consumers. Shares of those companies have depreciated
eight and 10 percent, respectively, since the start of the year.
McAfee shares slid in January after the company pre-announced
disappointing results for its December quarter, and investors and
analysts had also expressed some concern about Symantec's acquisition
of storage firm Veritas.
Going forward, both face increased competition from Microsoft, which
recently announced it will formally launch its Windows Live OneCare
service, which it bills as an all-in-one "PC health service" for
consumers to help them detect and prevent viruses and spy ware, among
other functions. The service will cost $49.95 per year for up to three
PCs and will be available from retailers in June in the U.S.
That product will be available in beta form for free later this year,
and customers who sign up now qualify for discounts later.
But both Symantec and McAfee have fans in the analyst community
despite this threat. Rick Summer, equity analyst at Morningstar,
acknowledged that his endorsement of Symantec is a "contrarian play"
in the current environment, but said he thinks Symantec has the best
sales and distribution of its competitors and is still "the best horse
to bet on in the consumer space."
Fishbein of Janney Montgomery Scott said that while he currently rates
McAfee a hold, he's becoming more encouraged about the company's
prospects due to a combination of factors, including the fact that he
thinks viruses and malware will proliferate on mobile devices in the
future, and he believes McAfee is best equipped to handle those
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