NetApp (NTAP) has seen weak demand for storage hardware over the last few years, corresponding to weak IT spend across the globe. NetApp’s storage product revenues have consistently fallen over the last four years, a trend observed by many large IT hardware, telecom hardware and storage hardware vendors. Competing storage systems manufacturers EMC (NYSE:EMC), Hewlett-Packard Enterprise (HPE), Hitachi Data Systems and IBM (IBM) have also witnessed low demand for storage hardware . As a result, storage systems manufacturers are shifting their focus to fast-growing market domains such as flash-based storage arrays or converged systems (which include servers, storage and networking equipment in one box) or software-defined storage to stay relevant. Moreover, it has become imperative for hardware vendors to enhance their focus on software solutions and post-sales hardware maintenance & services given that they are higher-margin businesses and have had high customer demand over the years.
Below we take a look at key growth drivers for the company that justify our $28 price estimate for NetApp , which is around 15-20% lower than the current market price. NetApp’s stock price is up by over 30% since the beginning of the year.
Storage vendors are increasingly facing competition from so-called White Box storage vendors. Over the last few years, customers are shifting preference to low-cost original design manufacturer (ODM) storage boxes, which is cutting into the addressable market for large vendors. As a result, NetApp’s share in the external storage systems market has fallen from over 13% in 2013 to 11.1% in 2015. This trend could continue in the coming years with smaller vendors gaining share from large manufacturers
Low product sales have led to discounted selling prices, which ultimately drove down product margins significantly. The adjusted gross margin for the product division has fallen from under 55.6% in 2011 to around 50.3% in 2015. This could further fall to around 47.3% in 2016.
In addition to driving the top line, the hardware maintenance and services division has also contributed positively to improving the company’s profitability. The product division’s gross margins fell by over 5 percentage points from 2011 through 2015 due to pricing pressure from smaller vendors. On the other hand, the services division’s gross margin improved by over 5 percentage points. In the long run, the services division could continue to become more profitable for the company as a large aggregate client base could lead to a higher refresh rate for maintenance contract renewals.
However, the sustained weakness in NetApp’s core product division and over-dependence on one revenue stream could be a risk going forward. As a result, we maintain our $28 price estimate for NetApp’s stock. You can modify the interactive charts in the article above to see how much the change in individual drivers such as gross margins or market share impacts the price estimate for NetApp’s stock.