By Renee O'Farrell
Data storage companies are not new (there has been tremendous opportunity in this market for years), but the technology those companies use is constantly evolving. Like many industries, the data storage industry is shaped by the development of technology and the changing needs of consumers. This is what shapes the opportunities available to data storage companies and means the difference between a good investment and a great one.
With that in mind, here is one pick that investors should not pass up. It has strong numbers but it also has a leg up on a relatively new technology called Flash array.
EMC Corporation (EMC) has a market cap of $55.35 billion and recently traded for $26.36 a share, up over 22% year to date. Over the last 5 years, EMC's earnings have grown by an average of 15.37% a year. Analysts are expecting roughly that same level of growth to continue going forward, predicting EPS growth of 14.19% a year on average over the next five years. This figure could even be on the low side. EMC recently acquired XtremIO, an all-Flash storage array developer. The acquisition gives EMC a foothold in the growing Flash array industry. With Flash array, users can run applications or even a virtual desktop [VDI] without a hard drive. EMC is a top pick for Ken Fisher's Fisher Asset Management, Bain Capital's Brookside Capital and Legg Mason Capital Management (read more about EMC here).
NetApp (NTAP) is smaller with a market cap of $13.10 billion. It is trading at $36 a share, roughly flat since the beginning of the year. At NTAP's current price, the company has a forward price to earnings ratio of 13.22. Over the past 5 years, NTAP has been able to increase its earnings per share by an average of 20%. Going forward, analysts expect the company to raise its earnings by an average of 14.70% a year over the next 5 years. The numbers look pretty good at first glance but the company's flat performance is troubling.
Western Digital Corp (WDC) has a $9.47 billion market cap. WDC has been booming, Right now, it is priced at $40.30 a share, up over 30% so far this year. The company also has a forward price to earnings ratio of 4.44. Over the past 5 years, it has upped its earnings by an average of 11.87% a year. Consensus estimates put the company's earnings growth at 17.76% a year on average over the next 5 years. WDC really does look great, but I think EMC is a more secure play with greater upside over the long term because of its new foothold in Flash array. That is not to say that WDC isn't a buy in my book. Rather, for my money, I would put it in EMC instead.
Brocade Communications Systems (BRCD) is a $2.31 billion market cap company. It recently traded for $5 a share on a forward price to earnings ratio of 8.66. Over the past 5 years, BRCD's earnings have shrank by an average of 16.22% a year. Going forward, analysts are estimating the company's earnings will increase by an average 9.75% a year over the next 5 years. Given that expectations for the market are over 10% right now and the low valuations relative to estimated earnings increases seen in BRCD's peers, I can't see any reason to choose this company over a stronger competitor, like WDC or, my favorite, EMC.