Amid the recent stock market sell-off, Warren Buffett has again proven the success of his investment formula. While the S&P 500 has entered bear territory, his company Berkshire Hathaway sells near levels where it traded 12 months ago.
Although Buffett may have become better known for holdings outside of tech, he holds a few positions in the software sector. As technology stocks recover, companies such as Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL), Mastercard (NYSE: MA), and Snowflake (NYSE: SNOW) could boost Buffett’s returns as conditions improve.
The free-cash-flow king that relies increasingly on software
Will Healy (Apple): One cannot discuss Buffett’s tech plays without mentioning Apple. His Apple holdings account for 39% of a portfolio that holds more than 50 publicly traded stocks.
The majority of revenue comes from the iPhone, a combined hardware and software offering. Additionally, software may have kept Apple strong during the downturn given the success of Apple Services. It includes software offerings such as iCloud, advertising, digital content, and payments.
The Apple Services segment generated $20 billion in revenue in the fiscal second quarter of 2022 (which ended March 26). This is a 17% surge year over year, taking this segment’s revenue to an all-time high.
Its success also helped the company as rising prices and supply chain challenges weighed on Apple. Q2 revenue came in at $97 billion, a 9% increase from year-ago levels. Net income grew 6% over that period to $25 billion as a rising cost of sales, higher operating expenses, and increased income taxes reduced growth in the bottom line.
But despite the single-digit growth, Apple’s $201 billion in liquidity should help it ride out any storm and keep it a crown jewel in the Buffett portfolio. Moreover, the stock has risen by 4% over the last 12 months. While not a stellar performance, it bodes well for the company considering that many tech growth stocks have lost more than three-fourths of their value in recent months.
Also, its price-to earnings (P/E) ratio of 22 is at its lowest level since the beginning of the pandemic. Such a valuation could attract more investment from Buffett and other prominent investors. Given its relative stability and massive liquidity position amid this sell-off, perhaps now is the time to buy.
Mastercard gives investors the best of both worlds
Justin Pope (Mastercard): Mastercard is the world’s second-largest payment processing network. It has just under 2.9 billion debit and credit cards in circulation worldwide.
Mastercard’s network connects the merchants where you swipe your payment card to the financial institutions that handle the money. Think of the network as a highway that cars use to travel back and forth. You pay a toll when you use the highway; similarly, Mastercard charges a small percentage of each transaction its network processes.
The company’s grown revenue by an average of 11% annually over the past decade, driven by a steady shift away from cash as a payment method. Additionally, Mastercard isn’t impacted by inflation because its fee is a percentage of each transaction; in other words, Mastercard captures more revenue as the prices of goods and services increase.
Mastercard is a cash cow, turning 46% of its revenue into free cash flow. Management shares those cash profits with investors, having paid and raised its dividend for the past 11 years. Investors won’t get a huge dividend yield at just 0.6%, but the payout grows quickly; its annual increase has averaged 18% over the past five years. The company also spends billions on share repurchases, shrinking the share count by 22% over the past decade.
The company’s ability to grow cash and return it to investors simultaneously has powered market-beating returns, totaling more than 7,300% since Mastercard came public in 2006. Despite its success, there could still be more upside ahead. Earnings per share (EPS) have grown by an average of 16% over the past three years, only slightly dropping from its 10-year rate of 19%. Warren Buffett bought his first position in 2011, which remains a part of his portfolio today.
Snowflake’s business model makes it stand out from its cloud-computing peers
Jake Lerch (Snowflake): Snowflake doesn’t fit the profile of a typical “Buffett stock.” In fact, Snowflake is the type of company Buffett may have derided several years ago. It’s a recently founded technology company and its business model can be challenging to understand. Nevertheless, Buffett — or more likely Berkshire Hathaway investment managers Todd Combs or Ted Weschler — has accumulated over 6 million shares of Snowflake.
Snowflake is, at the most basic level, a cloud computing company. But what really differentiates the company is its business model. Snowflake doesn’t focus on increasing its customers’ sales or streamlining their human resources workflow. Instead, it helps organizations gain a bird’s eye view of all the data relevant to their operations. This perspective allows them to gain valuable insights into trends and improve their decision making.
For example, Snowflake can help retailers more accurately predict and manage their inventory. In the pharmaceutical industry, Snowflake can help companies research and develop new treatments by quickly compiling and sharing data from outside sources.
There’s no doubt that Snowflake has secular tailwinds behind it. The company currently has 184 large customers (those generating more than $1 million in product revenue), and it plans to expand that number to 1,400 by 2029. Moreover, Snowflake hopes to grow its revenue almost tenfold over that same period. Over the last 12 months, Snowflake generated $1.4 billion of revenue — its first time crossing the $1 billion mark. And by 2029, the company aims to exceed $10 billion in annual sales.
But owning shares of Snowflake isn’t without risk. First of all, Snowflake lacks profits. The company has never turned a profit, and its net income actually sank deeper into the red over the last two years, mainly due to lucrative stock compensation for its employees. What’s more, the company relies on would-be competitors like Amazon and Microsoft for the cloud infrastructure to run its software.
Nevertheless, Snowflake appears to have carved out a lucrative niche in the cloud-computing space. If you’re willing to ride out short-term volatility, Snowflake looks like an outstanding Buffett stock — albeit an unorthodox one.
John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. Jake Lerch has positions in Amazon. Justin Pope has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Will Healy has positions in Berkshire Hathaway (B shares). The Motley Fool has positions in and recommends Amazon, Apple, Berkshire Hathaway (B shares), Mastercard, Microsoft, and Snowflake Inc. The Motley Fool recommends the following options: long January 2023 $200 calls on Berkshire Hathaway (B shares), long March 2023 $120 calls on Apple, short January 2023 $200 puts on Berkshire Hathaway (B shares), short January 2023 $265 calls on Berkshire Hathaway (B shares), and short March 2023 $130 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.