By David Sterman
Many companies are handling these tough times in a defensive crouch. Keeping sales stable and expenses at a minimum enables them to survive until the economy gets back on its feet. But select companies are able to take advantage of these challenging times, aggressively seeking ways to boost sales.
I screened the entire membership of the S&P 500 Index to find companies that have been able to defy the slowdown and that keep powering the top line to new heights.
The screen revealed a number of oil and gas names that are expected to derive higher sales from firming energy prices in 2011. But it's unclear if the economic growth will be sufficient to boost energy prices enough to help these companies sharply boost sales in 2011, as analysts currently suspect. So, I've removed names such as EOG Resources (NYSE: EOG), Apache (NYSE: APA), Range Resources (NYSE: RRC), Chevron (NYSE: CVX) and others from this list.
As the table below highlights, all of these companies are expected to boost sales at least +20% in the next fiscal year. Any further economic weakness could cause these forecasts to slip, so it pays to do further research on the companies before deciding to buy these stocks. Some companies such as Celgene (Nasdaq: CELG) and Intuitive Surgical (Nasdaq: ISRG) are not economically sensitive, while others such as Cummins (NYSE: CMI) and PACCAR (Nasdaq: PCAR) certainly are.
|Company||Recent Price||2010 Est. Sales ($mill.)||2011 Est. Sales ($mill.)||Year-over- Year Growth||2011 P/E|
|First Solar |
|Micron Tech |
|JDS Uniphase |
|Apple (Nadaq: AAPL)||$251.79||$63,154||$77,990||+23%||14.5|
|Cognizant Tech |
|Titanium Metals |
|Celgene Corp. |
|Intuitive Surgical (Nasdaq: ISRG)||$317.00||$1,401||$1,683||+20%||30.0|
|*Source: Thomson Reuters|
Amazon vs. Apple
The table highlights a stark contrast between these two tech giants. Both companies are expected to boost sales roughly +25% in 2011, but Amazon's P/E ratio based on 2011's projected earnings is roughly 150% higher than Apple's. That's counter-intuitive when considering Apple recently just surged past analyst forecasts, while Amazon lagged them. Some suggest Apple is the one that deserves to trade with a far richer forward multiple.
But just looking at 2010 and 2011 results is not the best way to assess these stocks. Instead, you need to look at where these companies are in terms of their long-term growth cycle. Are they close to reaching a peak in terms of profits? Or do they possess substantial growth prospects into the middle of this decade? Also, do near-term profits truly reflect the long-term value being created?
To its credit, Apple has indeed been a remarkable growth story -- which should continue into next year -- but competition continues to build, especially from Google (GOOG), as I've noted before.
Yet in relation to those questions just asked, Amazon has established a long-term growth plan that requires large amounts of upfront spending, but could yield the next multi-billion dollar growth categories. Amazon's CEO Jeff Bezos is fully aware that as a customer relies on the company for more and more goods, it becomes even easier to lure them into new categories. Already buying books and lawn furniture from Amazon? Why not add cosmetics to your order and have Amazon hold off on further shipping charges?
This is why the company keeps testing new concepts -- in hopes of eventually selling so many goods that the delivery guy comes by once or twice a week. In fact, Amazon is now testing delivery of groceries. Others have tried and failed before, but Amazon may finally have reached the necessary scale.
Health care stocks can offer a high degree of safety in tough markets, and sector plays that are in the midst of a strong growth spurt can help investors play offense and defense at the same time. One of my favorite health care names -- thanks to its steady growth -- is Celgene, which focuses on treatments for auto-immune disorders and various cancers. The company's drug portfolio is anchored by Revlimid and Thalomid, both of which treat myelomas -- blood cancers that emanate from bone marrow.
Management rode the coattails of those drugs and saw sales rise at least +50% in 2006, 2007 and 2008. Sales growth cooled to +19% last year, so the company acquired Gloucester Pharma, which has an approved drug for the treatment of t-cell lymphoma, in January, 2010. Celgene's $3 billion acquisition of Abraxis Pharma (Nasdaq: ABII) should also close in the coming weeks, which should give the company greater exposure to the breast cancer treatment market. Back in June, when the deal was announced, Citigroup's Yaron Werber noted that "the deal is not cheap but has attractive commercial potential in an overlooked asset. This is exactly the right time and kind of asset to invest in."
Those deals, along with continued organic growth among its existing drugs, should push sales up more than +25% in 2011, according to analysts' forecasts. The company still has ample cash left to find additional tuck-in acquisitions to keep sales moving higher in 2012. Sooner or later, Celgene is going to be the target of larger suitors in the pharmaceutical industry, thanks to its increasing heft.
These companies are finding ways to grow during tough times, which means that if economic conditions improve beyond 2011, any headwinds become tailwinds and set the stage for further growth. Amazon's stock is a risky but potentially game-changing play, and should hold appeal to investors looking for one of the best potential growth stories during the next five years. Celgene, in contrast, represents a solid investment in terms of near-term results and reasonable fundamentals.