Buying shares of a growth company early in its run to
greatness is the holy grail of stock picking. The goal is to get
in at a relatively cheap price, hang on as revenue and earnings
rise sharply, and reap big returns as other investors hop aboard.
But after the stock market's phenomenal five-year bull run,
finding undiscovered gems today is no easy feat.
We went hunting for attractive growth companies and came up
with seven. (Bonus: We'll also tell you about four good mutual
funds, in case you'd rather buy your growth stocks that way.) Our
stock picks cover a broad spectrum of sizes, industries and
growth rates, but they all share one trait: In the view of Wall
Street analysts, their earnings will rise significantly faster
than the 10.2% average annual earnings growth predicted for
Standard & Poor's 500-stock index over the next three years.
(The actual growth rate for the broad market will almost
certainly be lower than what Wall Street expects.)
Having a long time horizon is key at this stage of a bull
market. Buying at today's price levels may mean it will be five
years or more before a stock realizes meaningful
Headquarters: Burbank, Cal.
52-week range: $60.41 - $87.63
Market capitalization: $149.1 billion
Annual sales: $45.0 billion
Estimated earnings growth (next five years): 16%
) remains the premier U.S. entertainment franchise, with its film
studios (latest hit: Frozen), TV networks (including ABC and
ESPN), theme parks, resorts, home videos and consumer
With $45 billion in annual revenues, Disney can't grow at the
pace of smaller, up-and-coming businesses. But it offers
investors the benefits of a blue-chip company that's still
capable of market-beating growth. Even allowing for typical Wall
Street over-optimism, there is good reason to believe that
Disney's growth rate will stay above the blue-chip average.
Key to the company's success is its ESPN juggernaut. Led by
the sports channels, Disney's cable networks now generate 52% of
the company's total operating profit. But beyond cable, Disney's
ability to consistently find new ways to make money from its
treasure trove of assets--from Mickey to Buzz Lightyear and
Captain America--is unparalleled in the media industry, says
Morningstar analyst Peter Wahlstrom.
Headquarters: San Diego
52-week range: $61.19 - $81.66
Market capitalization: $137.5 billion
Annual sales: $24.9 billion
Estimated earnings growth: 15%
Like Disney, Qualcomm (
) knows a thing or two about managing a growth business. The
company has mushroomed over the past 30 years into a global
leader in wireless technologies. That puts it at the heart of the
continuing rush throughout the world to be connected--to anyone
and, increasingly, to anything.
Qualcomm earns technology-licensing fees on nearly every 3G
and 4G wireless phone sold. The San Diego company also produces
the chips that help run many high-end smart phones and tablet
computers. All told, Qualcomm earned $7.9 billion, or $4.51 per
share, in the fiscal year that ended last September, representing
a doubling of profits since 2010. That pace isn't likely to
continue, in part because Qualcomm faces rising competition.
Still, the company's size and technological know-how give it
an advantage over rivals as consumers and businesses worldwide
demand faster and more-intelligent wireless phones. Investors
looking to play the telecom industry can certainly find smaller,
faster-growing companies. But if you want a marquee name at the
forefront of wireless technology, Qualcomm fits the bill.
Headquarters: Dublin, Ireland
52-week range: $124.45 - 230.77
Market capitalization: $38.0 billion
Annual sales: $8.7 billion
Estimated earnings growth: 20%
It seemed a slam-dunk in the late 1990s to bet that the giant
U.S. drug companies would make a lot of money off an aging
population. But stocks such as Merck and Pfizer were terrible
performers in the first decade of the new century as the
companies lost patent protection for key products and makers of
generic drugs swooped in. Now comes generic firm Actavis PLC (
) with a reverse strategy: It is buying up brand-name drug makers
to boost its long-term prospects by lessening its dependence on
the cutthroat generic business.
Actavis, the third-largest U.S. generic drug firm, spent $8.5
billion last year to buy Ireland's Warner Chilcott, a maker of
brand-name drugs to treat women's-health, gastroenterological and
dermatological issues. (Actavis is headquartered in Dublin,
although its executive offices are in Parsippany, N.J.) In
February, Actavis announced another blockbuster acquisition: a
$25 billion deal to buy Forest Laboratories, which is known for
drugs that are used to treat depression, high blood pressure,
fibromyalgia and other diseases.
With the mergers, Actavis's annual revenues should reach $15
billion by next year, up from just $3.6 billion in 2010. Profits
will be helped in part by the low tax rate Actavis now enjoys
after changing its registration to Ireland.
Headquarters: Mountain View, Cal.
52-week range: $136.02 - $257.56
Market capitalization: $20.1 billion
Annual sales: $1.5 billion
Estimated earnings growth: 35%
Love it or hate it, social media is here to stay. For
investors, the question is which social-media companies are here
to stay--and which are likely to flame out.
High on the list of this year's losers is
professional-networking leader LinkedIn (
). After peaking at $258 last fall, LinkedIn's shares have slid
to $162. Besides being caught in the general rout of tech stocks,
LinkedIn has spooked some investors by showing signs that its
red-hot growth of the past few years is slowing. First-quarter
revenues climbed 46%, to $473 million, from the same period a
year earlier, but that was down from full-year growth of 57% in
2013. And after posting mostly modest quarterly profits since
2010, the company fell back into the red in the first quarter,
losing $13 million as it spent heavily on expansion.
Wall Street analysts still think LinkedIn has spectacular
growth potential. One reason is the 300 million people worldwide
who have joined LinkedIn--in theory, at least, to enhance their
career prospects. If the future of business networking and
recruiting is increasingly online, LinkedIn is in a sweet spot to
sell more services to both workers and employers.
Headquarters: Rock Hill, S.C.
52-week range: $43.35 - $97.28
Market capitalization: $5.8 billion
Annual sales: $513.4 million
Estimated earnings growth: 22%
Some investors may view 3D printing like flying cars: futuristic
technology that will never really get here. In fact, the technology
is already widely in use in manufacturing. And one of the oldest
names in 3D printers, 3D Systems (
), has been making money since 2009. Sales have jumped from $113
million that year to $513 million in 2013.
But as so often happens, exciting new technology triggers stock
manias. Shares of 3D Systems and its rivals rocketed in 2012 and
2013, with 3D Systems soaring from $10 at the start of 2012 to a
peak of $97 last January. Since then, as high-flying stocks in
general have crashed, 3D Systems has tumbled as well.
For growth-hunting investors who can handle high risk, however,
the sinking stock price could be a gift. Though the consumer market
for 3D printing remains small, many manufacturers have embraced
it--not yet for mass production but for smaller tasks, such as
creating prototypes and producing replacement parts for older
machinery. 3D printing uses digital imagery of an object to
replicate it in metal, plastic or other materials. For 3D Systems
and other printer makers, long-term growth will hinge not just on
printer sales but also on revenue from material refills and
servicing, as with conventional printers.
Headquarters: Los Angeles
52-week range: $25.74 - $42.89
Market capitalization: $3.8 billion
Annual sales: $858.7 million
Estimated earnings growth: 29%
Travel is a growth industry worldwide, but it has been tough
to make money in the notoriously fickle airline industry. Air
) offers a different way to bet on travel: It buys jets and
leases them to major airlines worldwide, a profitable middleman
role that gives carriers greater financial and business
Jet leasing is a tricky business because it requires financial
savvy as well as the ability to ride out inevitable
airline-industry turbulence. But Air Lease's chief executive,
Steven Udvar-Házy, 68, has been doing this for a long time: He
ran International Lease Finance Corp. from 1973 to 2010, when he
left to launch Air Lease as a competitor. The new company's
revenues rose from $337 million in 2011 to $859 million in 2013.
Per-share earnings reached $1.80 last year, up from 59 cents in
Analysts at Morgan Stanley say Air Lease has a number of
advantages over its rivals, including the youngest fleet of
high-quality jets and a "relatively conservative balance sheet,"
which will allow the company to take on more debt. The key risks:
a major economic slump or another credit crunch. But Udvar-Házy
has seen those before.
Headquarters: Oxford, Mass.
52-week range: $53.28 - $79.00
Market capitalization: $3.2 billion
Annual sales: $648.0 million
Estimated earnings growth: 26%
IPG Photonics (
) isn't a household name, but it's a big one in the business of
lasers. After four years of rapid growth, the company appears to
have hit a soft patch in sales. If this setback is just a hiccup,
it could be a great opportunity for long-term investors, with the
stock down 21% from its 2013 high.
IPG says it's the world's leading producer of high-performance
lasers used in manufacturing, telecommunications, health care and
other applications. The majority of sales are to manufacturers
for use in materials processing--for example, cutting, drilling
and welding metals or other materials. Using a term favored by
Silicon Valley, IPG sees itself in the role of a "disruptor," as
its lasers replace older technologies in manufacturing. IPG's
revenues jumped from $186 million in the recession year of 2009
to $648 million in 2013; earnings per share rocketed from 12
cents to $2.97 in the same period.
The firm is facing competition from China in lower-end lasers,
but with $481 million in cash on its balance sheet and little
debt, it has the wherewithal to power ahead.
Best of the Growth Funds
If you'd rather buy growth stocks through a fund, start by
checking out two members of the Kiplinger 25. At Fidelity New
), manager John Roth invests in a diverse mix of companies,
including emerging growers and out-of-favor firms. Stocks of
large companies account for 59% of the fund's assets; midsize and
small outfits make up the rest. Despite its name, Baron Small Cap
) has slightly more of its assets invested in midsize firms than
in small-capitalization issues. Manager Cliff Greenberg, who
favors undervalued growth companies, has mostly stayed away from
high-flying social-media and biotech stocks.
Also worthy of consideration is Primecap Odyssey Growth (
), a team-run fund managed by low-profile Primecap Management.
The fund's performance has been plenty high-profile: From 2005,
Odyssey Growth's first full year, through 2013, it landed in the
top third of the large-cap growth category six times. Annual
expenses are 0.65%, unusually low for an actively managed
If you prefer an exchange-traded fund, look no further than
PowerShares QQQ (
). One of the oldest ETFs, QQQ tracks the Nasdaq 100 index and
holds many tech giants, including Apple, Google and Facebook.
Annual fees are 0.20%.