Software stocks got pummeled this week after a cluster of troubling earnings reports

Technology

Marc Benioff, co-founder and CEO of Salesforce, speaks at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 18, 2023.
Stefan Wermuth | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Salesforce executives told investors that deals are shrinking or getting delayed. Dell said its margin is getting smaller. Okta highlighted macroeconomic challenges. And Veeva’s CEO said on his company’s earnings call that generative artificial intelligence has been “a competing priority” for customers.

Add it all up and it was a brutal week for software and enterprise tech.

Salesforce shares plunged almost 20% on Thursday, the biggest drop since 2004, after the cloud software vendor posted weaker-than-expected revenue and issued disappointing guidance. CEO Marc Benioff said Salesforce grew quickly in the Covid age as companies rushed to buy products for remote work. Then customers had to integrate all the new technology, and to eventually rationalize.

“Every enterprise software company kind of has adjusted” since after the pandemic, Benioff said on his company’s earnings call. Businesses that have reported lately are “all basically saying that same thing in different ways.”

Software makers MongoDB, SentinelOne, UiPath and Veeva all pulled down their full-year revenue forecasts this week.

The WisdomTree Cloud Computing Fund, an exchange-traded fund that tracks cloud stocks, slid 5% this week, the sharpest decline since January. Paycom, GitLab, Confluent, Snowflake and ServiceNow all lost at least 10% of their value in the downdraft.

Dell, which sells PCs and data center hardware to businesses, bumped up its full-year forecast on Thursday and said its backlog for AI servers had grown to $3.8 billion from $2.9 billion three months ago. But the growing portion of these servers in the product mix, along with higher input costs, will cause the company’s gross margin to narrow by 150 basis points for the year.

Dell shares slide 13% for the week after hitting fresh highs. The company has been viewed as a beneficiary of the generative AI wave as businesses step up their hardware purchases. Expectations were “elevated,” Barclays analysts wrote in a note on the results.

Okta’s stock price fell almost 9% for the week. Analysts cited weaker-than-expected subscription backlog. The company said economic conditions are hurting the identity software maker’s ability to sign up new customers and get existing ones to expand purchases.

“Macroeconomic headwinds are still out there,” Okta finance chief Brett Tighe said on the company’s earnings call.

One reading of inflation this week came in slightly higher than expected. U.S central bankers are holding steady on the benchmark interest rate, which has been at a 23-year high.

At UiPath, a developer of automation software, the pace of business slumped in late March and in April, in part because of the economy, co-founder Daniel Dines told analysts on Wednesday. Customers were also becoming more hesitant to commit to multi-year deals, said Dines, who is replacing former Google executive Rob Enslin as CEO on June 1, just months after stepping down as co-CEO.

Cybersecurity software vendor SentinelOne is seeing a similar trend.

“There’s no question that buying habits are changing,” SentinelOne CEO Tomer Weingarten told CNBC on Friday, adding that “how customers are evaluating software” is also changing. His company’s stock price plunged 22% for the week after guidance missed estimates.

Then there’s the impact of AI, which is causing businesses to reprioritize.

Veeva CEO Peter Gassner cited “disruption in large enterprises as they work through their plans for AI.” Veeva, which sells life sciences software, lost almost 15% of its value this week on concerns about spending in the back half of the year.

Gassner said on the earnings call that generative AI represents “a competing priority” for Veeva clients.

The news wasn’t bad across the board. Zscaler‘s stock jumped 8.5% on Friday after the security software provider beat expectations for the quarter and raised its full-year forecast.

“We expect demand to remain strong as an increasing number of enterprises are planning to adopt our platform for better cyber and data protection,” CEO Jay Chaudhry said on the company’s earnings call.

—CNBC’s Ari Levy contributed to this report.

WATCH: Earnings are good, but software has to execute better, says FBB Capital’s Mike Bailey

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