Sales for the first quarter of fiscal year 2024 reached $1.88 billion. This is better than the $1.56 billion achieved at the same time last year, but worse than the $1.95 billion achieved in the last quarter of 2023.

The quarter marks a clear slowdown, in keeping with the Group's meteoric development. The market may not like the news. To date, Palo Alto Networks has delivered one growth performance after another, quarter after quarter.

Management doesn't seem to mind too much, anticipating sales of $8.1 billion in 2024, compared with $6.9 billion for the previous financial year. It remains to be seen whether this reassuring guidance will be enough to allay apprehensions.

The business has been profitable since the middle of last year - that's the big news - but as usual there is a caricatured gap between its "non-GAAP" accounting and its actual results. For example, in the quarter just ended, non-GAAP operating profit reached $503 million when stock option compensation is restated, but fell back to $215 million when it is included.

Which metric should investors rely on? Last time I checked, employee compensation remains an expense that no employer can ignore...

Current valuation levels exceed profits by a factor of 100. A nasty surprise seems inevitable if the pace of growth slows for good. Management is playing it safe, as members of the executive team are dumping their shares on a massive scale at these price levels.