Palo Alto Networks earnings, outlook top Street expectations as SEC cyberattack reporting rule drives demand

Palo Alto Networks Inc. shares rallied Friday after hours as the cybersecurity company topped expectations with its latest earnings, as well as with its forecasts for profit and billings, outlining that new reporting rules and AI-backed adversaries are driving adoption.

The stock

was rallying more than 9% in the extended session, following a 1% gain in the regular session to close at $209.69.

Palo Alto Networks forecast first-quarter adjusted earnings of $1.15 to $1.17 a share on revenue of $1.82 billion to $1.85 billion and billings of $2.05 billion to $2.08 billion. Analysts were estimating $1.11 a share on revenue of $1.93 billion and billings of $2.04 billion for the first quarter.

For the year, the company expects $5.27 to $5.40 a share on revenue of $8.15 billion to $8.2 billion on billings of $10.9 billion to $11 billion. Analysts tracked by FactSet had been projecting $4.98 a share on revenue of $8.38 billion and billings of $10.81 billion for the year.

The company defines billings as “total revenue plus the change in total deferred revenue, net of acquired deferred revenue, during the period,” and is a metric used to account for subscriptions.

On the extended call with analysts, Nikesh Arora, the company’s chairman and chief executive, said that while strong fourth-quarter results did not come as a surprise, what did come as a surprise was the speed of adoption of its Cortex XSIAM AI-driven security platform, especially now that regulators are going to start requiring quick disclosures for material cyberattacks.

Palo Alto Networks reported fiscal fourth-quarter net income of $227.7 million, or 64 cents a share, compared with $3.3 million, or a penny a share, in the year-ago period. Adjusted earnings, which exclude stock-based compensation expenses and other items, were $1.44 a share, compared with 80 cents a share in the year-ago period.

Revenue rose to $1.95 billion from $1.55 billion in the year-ago quarter, while billings rose 18% to $3.2 billion. Analysts surveyed by FactSet had forecast $1.29 a share in adjusted earnings on revenue of $1.96 billion and billings of $3.18 billion.

The company launched XSIAM in October, and set a goal of booking more than $100 million in the first year. Arora said that in less than a year, XSIAM has already brought in $200 million, indicating that interest in applying AI to enhance security is “very high.”

In late July, the Securities and Exchange Commission adopted new rules requiring companies to disclose cyberattacks within four days of making the determination the intrusion has a material effect on results.

“Our customers have told us loud and clear that the legacy products powering their stacks are no longer working and they need to reduce by an order of magnitude,” Arora told analysts. “This becomes increasingly important with the new SEC rules detailing that all public companies will be required to report material breaches within four business days.”

On the call, Lee Klarich, Palo Alto Networks chief product officer, told analysts that it wasn’t long ago that the average time between an initial hack and stealing data was about 44 days. Now, that can happen in a matter of hours, which is a huge problem, Klarich said, noting that attackers are adopting AI to perform attacks.

“On average the industry is able to respond and remediate attacks in about six days: That doesn’t work,” Klarich said. “And even more challenging now with the SEC new rules of being able to disclose within four days, none of the math adds up.”

Five years ago, Palo Alto Networks was already in the middle of an M&A spree to transform itself from a firewall company to a multiproduct security platform, and showed no signs of slowing down until August 2021, when the company decided to report earnings without announcing an M&A deal, after having acquired 14 companies over the previous three-and-a-half years.

Nvidia Corp.
which also has a huge stake in AI, reports results after the bell on Wednesday.

Palo Alto Networks is a new entrant to the S&P 500 index
having gotten the nod in June. As of Friday’s close, Palo Alto Networks shares have gained 50.3% year to date, compared with a 12.4% gain on the ETFMG Prime Cyber Security exchange-traded fund
a 13.8 % gain on the S&P 500, and a 27% rise on the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite

Read more from source