16 classic growth stocks too good to ignore

Robust sales gains, year after year, are hard to achieve -- but not for these companies. Here's why.

By StreetAuthority May 1, 2014 11:50AM
Home under construction © CorbisBy David Sterman

In terms of revenues, Amazon.com (AMZN) is the classic growth stock.

Its sales have grown at least 20 percent for 20 straight years, and analysts think the winning streak will continue, with consensus projected sales growth of 20.7 percent this year (to an eye-popping $89 billion). Yet in 2015, this remarkable streak may come to an end, as sales growth slips to just 19 percent.

Amazon's streak of 20 percent sales growth got me thinking. How hard is it to maintain a robust growth pace? Very hard, as it turns out. Of the 1,500 companies in the S&P 400, 500 and 600, only 16 of them are expected to boost sales at least 20 percent in 2014, 2015 and 2016.

Of these 16, special mention goes to Facebook (FB) and Priceline.com (PCLN). These companies are on pace for than $10 billion in sales by next year and are fighting the "Laws of Bigness." (However, a massive wave of insider selling at Priceline last month led me to wonder if that company's robust growth streak can really be maintained.)

The group of 16 growth stocks represents various parts of the U.S. economy, highlighting the fact that strong market share strategies can pay off in almost any industry.
Take Cabot Oil & Gas (COG) as an example. As I noted earlier this month, Cabot's current drilling plans are expected to lead to a big spike in output over the next few years. The company's executives decided to plow ahead with development plans, even as rivals were retrenching. The fact that natural gas prices have risen more than 10 percent in the past three weeks simply underscores the wisdom of that strategy, and could lead to rising sales and profit estimates.

Strong growth also brings intangible rewards. Athletic apparel maker Under Armour (UA), which is one of the elite 16 growers (and which my colleague Melvin Pasternak profiled last week), has just been invited to join the S&P 500. The company just exceeded first-quarter sales and profits forecasts, and "based on current momentum and updated outlook, UA remains well positioned to further raise guidance over the balance of the year," predict analysts at D.A. Davidson. A 20 percent pullback in this stock over the past month is the kind of entry point that long-term growth-oriented investors look for.

Growth interrupted
Of course, in many cyclical industries, it's impossible to maintain very strong growth rates when the economy slumps. And that was a lesson learned by Eagle Materials (EXP), a maker of drywall, cement and other materials used in homebuilding. Eagle experienced solid growth a decade ago, but when the housing market tanked, so did Eagle's revenue base. Sales fell by half from fiscal 2007 through fiscal 2011 (to around $460 million).

Yet even before the pace of home construction returns to normal levels, Eagle is again experiencing solid growth: Sales are now growing at a 30 percent pace and are expected to surpass $1.1 billion in the current fiscal year, which began this month. That's 25 percent higher than the peak in fiscal 2007, and it's setting the stage for solid profit growth: Earnings per share (EPS) are growing at a 50 percent pace these days, a pace which could be sustained for an extended period if the housing market finally starts to grow at a solid clip.

A biotech tweener
Growth-oriented investors should also check out Alexion Pharmaceuticals (ALXN), which falls through the cracks between the massive well-established biotechs, and the small-cap biotechs that are still pre-revenue.

Alexion targets rare and severe diseases, and has built a broad platform of drugs to treat them. Sales growth has never been less than 37% at any point in the past eight years, and 20 percent to 25 percent growth appears locked in over coming years as well. Analysts at UBS, who see 30 percent upside to their $202 price target, believe that a healthy drug pipeline provides multiple catalysts this year in the form of clinical trial updates. They suggest that shares would be worth $230 in a buyout scenario.

Risks to consider: These companies have been delivering solid growth in a slowly improving economy, and would be hard-pressed to maintain growth if the economy slumps. Moreover, such impressive growers are rarely cheap, so these stocks could prove to be more vulnerable than most if the market sharply pulls back.

Action to take:
These companies share the common trait of market share gains, and rising market share tends to correlate with rising profit margins. Indeed, many of the companies in this group have an impressive track record of profit margin expansion, and are expected to boost profits even faster than sales in coming years. They are not necessarily good trades, as none of them are dirt-cheap, but should instead be seen as solid buy-and-hold investments.

David Sterman does not personally hold positions in any securities mentioned in this article.
StreetAuthority LLC does not hold positions in any securities mentioned in this article.

More from StreetAuthority

May 1, 2014 1:26PM

"In terms of revenues, Amazon is a classic growth stock..."

They haven't made profit in years. They get idiots to buy their stock and live off it. They borrow a lot. They don't have enough margin to support what they do. The CEO is a nutcase.

May 4, 2014 8:12PM
Buy stock in us...and we can make sure you get off this planet, when it blows up.
May 4, 2014 4:53PM
The entire stock market is rigged.
May 5, 2014 1:35AM
You can use "classic" anything and "Facebook" in the same story?
May 1, 2014 9:00PM
 Record debt welfare money printing low percent of employed Americans. Well obviously record high stock price is a "natural" outcome of dire economic times. No fraudulent bubble here retards move along and sing a happy song.
May 1, 2014 6:57PM
LOL really David I'm ignoring all stocks until this madness is over and many have lost their shirts.
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