Bagnall: Nokia, Ciena power capital region's tech stocks in 2021 as Shopify lets others take a bow – Ottawa Citizen

“After nearly tripling in 2019 and again in 2020, Shopify’s shares closed last year at $1,741.69 each on the Toronto Stock Exchange, up a relatively pedestrian 21.2 per cent on the year.”
Shopify’s share price was finally tripped up in 2021 by the law of large numbers: the bigger you are, the more difficult it is to grow quickly.
After nearly tripling in 2019 and again in 2020, Shopify’s shares closed last year at $1,741.69 each on the Toronto Stock Exchange, up a relatively pedestrian 21.2 per cent on the year — the smallest annual rise in its six-year history as a public firm.
Last year’s increase roughly matched the market-wide gains posted by the TSE composite index and the tech-heavy Nasdaq composite.
In contrast, other tech companies with a strong Ottawa presence — Ciena, Nokia and Blackberry — witnessed a surge in share prices in 2021, ranging from 40 per cent to 59 per cent.
Some of the difference between e-commerce giant Shopify and the others reflects how the pandemic roiled the respective industries.
In e-commerce, the effect was both positive and immediate as shoppers shifted from in-person to online. In sharp contrast, the telecom infrastructure sector was initially slowed by a disrupted supply chain and short-term caution by their biggest customers, telecommunications carriers.
But in the second year of the pandemic, fortunes reversed — at least as far as stock performance goes.
In its most recent quarter, for instance, Shopify reported a 46 per cent gain in revenues year over year, with the prospect of growth continuing to slow. That’s great performance by any reasonable standard, but Shopify’s top line during the first year of the pandemic doubled year over year. Slowing momentum has weakened Shopify’s share price.
At Ciena and Nokia, which operate sizeable global R&D centres in Kanata, the pandemic’s catalysts worked the other way around.
Orders for fifth generation (5G) wireless networks and other gear escalated in 2021, and supply chain difficulties eased.
Ciena shares closed last year at US$76.97 — up nearly 46 per cent on the year.
Nokia’s shares jumped an even more impressive 59 per cent to US$6.21. The Finland-headquartered firm has been undergoing a painful multi-year transformation away from mobile phones toward network infrastructure and security products. The shift finally began to pay off in 2021 as Nokia posted profits in each of the first three quarters.
Within Ottawa, environmental firms and real estate investment trusts also witnessed a recovery in share values. Shares in BluMetric Environmental closed last year at 74 cents on the TSX Venture Exchange, quadrupling in value. The gain reflected a 42 per cent year over year jump in revenues to $25.8 million during the first three quarters of fiscal 2021 — combined with a shift from losses to profits over the same period.
Most recently, BluMetric, which employs 170 and maintains 10 offices across the country, supplied mobile water purification units to Iqaluit after that northern community discovered its water supply had been contaminated. The company also manages landfills and lake rehabilitation projects.
InterRent REIT, which operates nearly 3,000 residential units in the Ottawa area, saw equity gains of 26 per cent last year as the price of its units closed at $17.31. This excludes a yield of two per cent.
Factors in the rise included lower vacancy rates — 5.6 per cent in September compared to 8.0 per cent a year earlier — which contributed to a 14 per cent rise in net revenues during the first nine months of 2021 compared to the same period in 2020.
The worst performances by Ottawa-area stocks last year involved cannabis companies. Canopy Growth of Smiths Falls and HEXO of Gatineau both paid the price for aggressive over-expansion matched with slower-than-expected sales.
Canopy Growth’s share price tumbled nearly 65 per cent to $11.04 while HEXO plummeted 81 per cent to finish the year at 88 cents per share. Of the two, HEXO faces a riskier future, reflecting its weaker financial position. The Gatineau firm shelled out hundreds of millions in cash — paid for by adding debt — to acquire three cannabis firms in quick succession in 2021.
While Shopify’s share price gains may have been lacklustre by its own standards, it remains Canada’s most valuable corporation with a market value of $218.8 billion at yearend, a gain of $43 billion. The country’s second-most valuable firm, The Royal Bank of Canada, finished last year with a market of $191 billion.
To put Shopify’s increase in context, it was not far shy of the total $49.7 billion market value of Canada’s other giant software company, Toronto-based Constellation Software. And that was after last year’s 42 per cent jump in Constellation’s share price.
In short, Shopify no longer has to grow at warp speed to add enormous market value. That’s where large numbers work in its favour.
3 views of how tech stocks fared in 2021: firms HQ’d in Ottawa; Cdn tech co’s; and int’l bellwether stocks and global firms with a big presence in Ottawa. Nasdaq gained 21% plus this yr excluding dividends, virtually the same as the TSE. Individual firms were all over the map: pic.twitter.com/X4HUlcBjEB
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