Big-Data Company Without 'Flare' Is the Real Winner

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NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- For as much as I have made recently regarding some of the dominant companies within the cloud such as Red Hat and Salesforce.com, there's an underappreciated name: enterprise storage giant EMC. That's because of the recent enterprise adoption of "big data," which is on the verge of being dominated by IBM and Oracle. But it's not because EMC is not a force in its own right.

Despite being a leader in a major enterprise market, EMC's problem (with analysts) is that it lacks "flare." But I am now realizing that is Wall Street's loss and astute investors' gain. It's one of the steadiest performers, one that continues to match superior sales growth with profitability. From that standpoint, the company just might be 20% undervalued even on the most conservative assumptions, and it further affirmed this with its recent earnings announcement.

The quarter that was

The company reported first-quarter net income of $587 million, 23% higher than in the previous year. It logged $5.1 billion in revenue, an 11% increase annually and in line with analysts' estimates. U.S. sales accounted for more than half of consolidated revenue, registering $2.6 billion. EMC beat the Street by a penny on profits of 37 cents a share, while also ending the quarter with $10.9 billion in cash and investments.

Revenue from outside the U.S. was highlighted by the Asia Pacific and Japan region, which reached an all-time record of 20% growth. For 2012, the company sees revenue of $22 billion, in line with the previous Street consensus at $22.2 billion. EMC sees full-year profits of $1.70 a share, a bit below the Street's view of $1.75. But that should not be perceived as a disappointment if one truly understands the company's track record of conservative outlooks, particularly when considering that profits continue to surge due to stronger gross margins as well as an increase of 26% in operating income.

In a statement, company CEO Joe Tucci offered the following: "We are in a time of unprecedented IT and business transformation, propelled by the benefits of cloud computing, Big Data and trust." I have to certainly agree with that statement and as evident by its report and its strong start of the year, the company is poised to further benefit from this transformation. This is the sort of value that prospective cloud investors should consider.

Moving ahead

As impressed as I am with EMC's performance, I do, however, remain a bit cautious about its ability to thwart competitive attacks from the likes of IBM and Oracle, particularly as the precious corporate IT expenditures have not fully returned to their glory days of big budgets. But then again, "big data" necessitates "big money" and during the call I was looking to be convinced that the company has a sound blueprint for creating separation between its services from those offered by its rivals.

The company did this by talking about its RSA Information Security business, which generated a revenue increase of 19% year over year. Also, what many investors don't realize is that VMware is a subsidiary of EMC. So essentially, EMC has VMware, the global leader in virtualization and cloud infrastructure, helping it generate an increase of 25% year over year in additional revenue. Even more noteworthy was the fact that EMC continues to demonstrate that there is strong demand for its broad portfolio of services to help customers accelerate to the cloud. It does this in partnership with networking giant Cisco as well as Intel to form the VCE, or the Virtual Computing Environment Co. If that was not convincing enough, I don't know what is.

Bottom line

It is hard to see how EMC isn't a bargain at today's prices. The fact of the matter is, data storage is a critical IT priority for many companies and should keep EMC in excellent shape. But the question is, for how long? Market leaders don't often hold market leads when everyone is simultaneously gunning for the top spot. Though the company enjoys a strong share as well as a great reputation, one has to think that the competition will eventually catch up. But until that happens, EMC at today's prices makes this look like a risk worth taking as the stock appears undervalued by at least 20%.

At the time of publication, the author was long ORCL, INTC and CSCO, and held no positions in any of the stocks mentioned, although positions may change at any time.

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