It s time to make> a shopping list.
Amid the recent swings in the market, major averages have been approaching a Common Sense buying threshold (a 10% decline from a peak in the Nasdaq composite, which in this case is 2090). So investors should have a buying strategy ready. That s especially the case now, since there hasn t been a buying opportunity in nearly a year.
True, the Nasdaq hasn t yet dipped below the mark, and the other major averages have declined even less in percentage terms. But the Nasdaq has come close, hitting 2101 intraday last week.
The recent dip has come despite a string of impressive fourth-quarter earnings reports and signs that the U.S. economy continues to grow. Continuing high unemployment, worries about the deficit and possible Federal Reserve tightening overshadowed these positive developments. Most recently, investors have been concerned about sovereign debt in the euro-zone countries of Greece, Portugal and Spain. While these issues may affect future earnings, in my view they re a sideshow to earnings themselves. Investors should stay focused on the basics, and nothing is more fundamental than earnings and revenue growth.
In this environment the early stages of economic recovery, high unemployment, and possibly a correction in the stock market I went looking for high-quality growth stocks with proven earnings potential. I wanted sustainable growth not just adroit cost cutting. So I began by running a screen seeking companies over $1 billion in market capitalization with year-on-year profit growth over 50% in the most recent quarter and revenue growth above 10% over the past year. Out of 56 such companies that met the criteria, I selected five -- each in a different sector -- that I find especially attractive:
Amazon has been a Common Sense favorite for some time (and I own shares). I last highlighted it on Dec. 29 (see Where Do Ford and Amazon Go From Here, when I rated it a hold with its shares at $140. That s just as well, since it was trading this week at $117. In the meantime, Amazon reported great fourth-quarter earnings (up 67%) and annual revenue was up 28%. It said its free cash flow more than doubled. True, Amazon s Kindle e-reading device has been overshadowed by Apple s forthcoming iPad, and Amazon lost its pricing battle with book publishers, at least for now. But Amazon is emerging as the nation s dominant e-retailer, not just a bookseller. Amazon sold off after last year s fourth-quarter earnings, too, and that proved a buying opportunity.
Health-care reform may or may not be dead in Washington, but there will always be demand for successful new therapies and treatments. United Therapeutics is a biotechnology company specializing in treatments for heart disease. Third-quarter earnings, the most recent available, were up 83%, while revenue for the past 12 months was up 27%. At $58 the stock hasn t pulled back much from a recent high of $61. (Fourth-quarter earnings are due next week, so investors may want to wait and see if the momentum is continuing.)
If my observations at the gym are any indication, it s no wonder that Under Armour is on a roll. Practically everyone seems to be wearing the company s high-performance athletic wear. It could be just another fashion trend, but I like the notion that UA products offer a technical advantage with their moisture-wicking synthetic fabrics. It had fourth-quarter earnings growth of 76%; revenue for 2009 was up 18% from the year before. Still, at $24 recently shares were well off their high of $33, reached before Christmas.
What s more important to a business during or just after a recession than generating sales? Salesforce.com uses technology to help businesses operate more effectively, and it s been surging through the recession. Third-quarter earnings, the most recent available, grew 112.5%; sales for the 12-month period were up 24%. The stock was at $75 in January; this week it had dropped to $64.
Chipotle Mexican Grill
Are consumers loosening their purse strings, at least a little? Evidently. And this seems to be benefiting Chipotle Mexican Grill, a relatively inexpensive fast casual dining experience that s still a big step up from Taco Bell. Revenue in the most recent 12-month period was up 16% while earnings for the third quarter, the most recent available, gained 85%. This week the stock was at $100, close to its high for the year.
One thing I enjoy about these searches is turning up companies I d never heard of that seem to warrant further research. Some potentially interesting names that made the initial cut in my screen were Blackboard, SXCHealth Solutions, and Pegasystems. There were plenty of well-known names as well: Corinthian Colleges (which I own and have recommended), Delta Air Lines, Priceline.com, Sun Life Financial, and Eldorado Gold.
As always, it s fine to simply buy an index fund when a buying threshold appears. The PowerShares QQQ exchange-traded fund, based on the Nasdaq 100, has plenty of high-quality growth stocks. Its largest holdings include Apple, Qualcomm, Microsoft, Google and Cisco Systems all of which recently reported strong earnings in their most recent quarters.