In an era of massive stock buybacks fueled by ultra-low interest rates, EPS results are even more suspect than usual.
The "usual" quarterly dance routine by corporate America of one-time charges, creative stock option expensing and other non-GAAP sleight-of-hand can put enough fluff in the bottom line. Buybacks add a turbo-charge to the profit engineering.
So what's the solution? A really great one is to simply focus on the top line - in essence, the revenues and their growth rate. To help us do that, I go to one of my favorite types of stock screens that searches for companies with rising revenue estimates.
Today, I ran the Zacks Premium screen called Sales & Earnings Growth Winners and found only 20 stocks out of over 4,000 that made it through the gauntlet. Here is the basic description of the screen.
Stocks with strong sales and earnings growth with a Zacks Rank 1 or 2 and a Zacks Growth Style Score of A or B. Add in rising earnings estimates, effective management (ROE) and good liquidity (Current Ratio), and you get a list of strong and stable growth stocks.
I picked seven stocks from the screen to share with you. Before we talk about them, here are the specific criteria that were used to filter our giant database of companies and their metrics.
- Zacks Rank <= 2
- Zacks Growth Style Score <= B
- Sales Growth (F0/F-1) >= 10%
- EPS Growth (F0/F-1) >= 10%
- Projected EPS Growth (F1/F0) >= 10%
- ROE >= 10%
- Current Ratio >= 1
- % Change F1 Est. (4 weeks) >= 0
- % Change Q1 Est. (4 weeks) >= 0
- % Change Q2 Est. (4 weeks) >= 0
- Last Close (price) >= 5
- Avg. 20-Day Volume >= 100,000
7 Names Worth Mentioning
Here are seven stocks that are moving top line growth as well as the bottom one:
Alibaba Group (NYSE:BABA) is the e-commerce giant that I fondly call "the Amazon of China." For the current fiscal year ending in March, the company is stacking up whopping sales of $22.66 billion, which represents 43% annual growth! And the analyst estimates are projecting BABA will grow that haul another 31.5% to $29.8 billion into 2018.
Applied Materials (NASDAQ:AMAT) is a $38 billion semiconductor industry equipment maker supplying the world's major chip manufacturers with advanced solutions across many high-tech areas that have moved the company beyond relying on the withering desktop PC market.
Growth areas include 3D NAND and OLED displays that serve diverse technology markets like Big Data, Internet of Things (IoT), cloud infrastructure, artificial intelligence, virtual reality and self-driving cars.
For the current fiscal year ending in October, AMAT is projected to achieve 22% sales growth to $13.2 billion and 49.4% EPS growth.
Cognex Corp. (NASDAQ:CGNX) is a $6.7 billion designer and manufacturer of machine vision systems that are used to automate a wide range of manufacturing processes where vision is required. Cognex machine vision systems consist of two primary elements: a computer, which serves as a machine vision engine, and software that processes and analyzes images. When connected to a video camera, the machine vision system captures images and extracts information, which determines appropriate action for other equipment in the manufacturing process.
Cognex is projected to realize 17.45% revenue growth in 2017, totaling $611 million. That doesn't exactly make the name a value trading at over 11X on a price-to-sales basis. But the higher valuation is probably accorded for its fast growth in the key tech field of machine vision and learning.
Lam Research Corp. (NASDAQ:LRCX) designs and manufactures semiconductor processing equipment used in the fabrication of integrated circuits. Lam is recognized as a leading supplier of front-end wafer processing equipment to the worldwide semiconductor industry. The company's products are used selectively to etch away portions of various films to create an integrated circuit.
Lam is expected to grow sales at 32% in the current fiscal year ending in June. And earnings growth is forecast to hit 41% during the same period.
MasTec (NYSE:MTZ) is one of the largest providers of construction services to the Telecom and Energy sectors in the United States. The company's principal business consists of Engineering & Construction (E&C) for electrical transmission, oil & natural gas pipelines, renewable energy and wireless networks.
MTZ is only projected to grow sales at 6.25% this year, but that $5.46 billion top line haul will make it a price-to-sales value with only a $3.3 billion market cap. And these estimates could move higher this week after the company's impressive Q4 report on Friday.
MTZ delivered a revenue beat with $1.34 billion for the quarter, versus the consensus of $1.31 billion. And it gave investors a big 68% earnings beat too. The company noted, "We exceeded our fourth quarter expectations, driven primarily by improved productivity in our Oil & Gas segment. We also signed pipeline contracts approximating $1.7 billion during the quarter, ending the year, as expected, with record Oil & Gas segment backlog. We expect record results for our Oil & Gas segment in 2017 and continue to have clear visibility to continued opportunities in this segment for several years".
MKS Instruments (NASDAQ:MKSI) is a $3.6 billion leading worldwide developer, manufacturer and supplier of instruments, components and subsystems used to measure, control and analyze gases in semiconductor manufacturing and similar industrial manufacturing processes.
This makes MKS our third "arms dealer" for the chip makers today! Obviously, the strong technology markets, which lead the economy with innovation and investment, are still solid areas to find winning stocks. And MKS is one that looks poised to keep on winning, with 21% projected sales growth and a forecast 28% EPS advance this year.
Total System Services (NYSE:TSS) is a $10 billion provider of global commerce and payments solutions. The company facilitates the payment exchange between buyers and sellers from credit application to collections, allowing its clients to focus on building their brands while it focuses on safety, security, ease and convenience.
TSS is expected to grab 31% revenue growth this year, totaling $4.82 billion. And that sales gain is likely to translate into 12% EPS growth.
Disclosure: I own AMAT, BABA and LRCX for the Zacks TAZR Trader service. It might seem odd, or even suspect, that I would write an investment ideas report that includes 3 stocks I own.
Then again, the criteria of the screen I used are very robust and desirable attributes for stock selection. And I would not be a good stock picker if I didn't listen to and follow the advice of good stock screens.