Blowout earnings from Salesforce and Workday revive cloud rally and shake off concerns about an economic slowdown

Key Points
  • Salesforce and Workday each rose more than 15 percent this week after better-than-expected quarterly results.
  • Upbeat comments from their CEOs helped pull up the broader cloud sector, which plummeted earlier this month.
  • Veeva's CEO said complexity in the medical industry is leading to his company's momentum.
Salesforce co-CEO Marc Benioff speaks at the grand opening of the Salesforce Tower in San Francisco in May 2018.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Two weeks ago, cloud euphoria appeared to have come to an end. The broad market sell-off, stemming from concerns about the global economy, was having an outsized impact on stocks that had enjoyed the biggest rallies over the prior 12 months. Salesforce fell to its lowest since April.

Those concerns dissipated in a hurry this week, thanks to blowout earnings from the top cloud software companies and reassuring commentary from their leaders.

Cloud computing isn't a way-station to the future, it is the future, says VMWare CEO
Cloud computing isn't a way-station to the future, it is the future, says VMWare CEO

"The new normal in the world is political volatility and hopefully it doesn't have a huge amount of impact on our business," said Workday CEO Aneel Bhusri in a call with analysts after his company's earnings report Thursday afternoon.

Whatever concerns companies have about a potential trade war, the economy and political instability have done nothing to slow down Workday's momentum. The company reported 34 percent revenue growth in the fiscal third quarter, its fastest growth in a year, with sales and earnings topping analysts' estimates.

Workday shares surged 13 percent on Friday to a record $164, lifting its gain for the week to 21 percent. The stock got a boost earlier in the week from cloud peer Salesforce, which reported results on Tuesday that blew past estimates.

Salesforce co-CEO Marc Benioff refers to the broadly changing landscape as a "digital transformation" that's leading businesses to buy technologies to help them manage and analyze the massive influx of data. Even if the economy sputters, companies will keep spending money on applications that are critical to running their business, whether it's infrastructure like cloud servers or software for tracking sales and managing payroll.

Salesforce shares climbed 17 percent this week. After Tuesday's earnings report, Benioff called the quarter "phenomenal" in an interview with CNBC's Jim Cramer, and said that with visibility into the next fiscal year, "I don't think the company has ever been stronger."

As the biggest and most valuable software-as-a-service (SaaS) company, Salesforce has a tendency to pull the rest of the industry along with it. The Bessemer Venture Partners Emerging Cloud Index, which consists of 46 publicly-traded cloud software companies, jumped 9 percent this week, about twice as much as the S&P 500. Okta, Atlassian, Twilio and ServiceNow all climbed more than 15 percent.

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Marc Benioff: Employees leaving big tech a message to the executives

Jason Lemkin, a start-up investor and founder of SaaStr, said that chief information officers are dedicating almost twice as much money as a percentage of their budget to cloud platforms as they were five years ago, benefiting this whole class of suppliers.

"We're all stunned at how big these SaaS and cloud companies are," Lemkin said. "The valuations are priced to perfection but nothing seems to be able to stop the migration of the CIO budget to the cloud. All of us got that wrong."

Salesforce and Workday weren't the only companies to provide upbeat news. Other emerging software and infrastructure providers to report better-than-expected results this week included Splunk, Box, Veeva, Nutanix and Anaplan, which went public last month.

Veeva CEO Peter Gassner told investors on Wednesday that demand for his company's health software continues to grow because customers need it to deal with all the complex regulations of the industry, which has more personalized and specialized medicines than ever before.

"Complexity is just increasing and now they see, hey, there's a cloud solution that can do the job and that's what's creating the momentum," Gassner said.

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