Let's face it, there's nothing cooler than being the first to find companies participating in futuristic advances. Of course, some of these hipster companies -- the ones that most people haven't even heard of -- will provide some pretty cool returns for investors who can spot them early.
A "coolhunter" is someone who looks for trends and fads early on, identifying them before they become commonplace -- someone who was a first adopter of the Apple iPod, for example, probably realized that this gadget was going to graduate to supercool. A stock-picking coolhunter is looking for the companies that are gearing up to blow the doors off old conventions and jumpstart brand-new industries with mind-blowing technological innovations. But where do you go looking for them?
Our Rule Breakers team is all about such cool industry spaces. When it comes to stock ideas, what's known as the Rule Breaker Universe (available through our Motley Fool Rule Breakers newsletter advisory service) is a collection of stock ideas and concepts culled from forward-looking arenas such as biotech, nanotech, the Internet, and other plays on the future.
This watch list, which is posted on the Rule Breakers site and updated on a regular basis, not only includes companies that have shown themselves to be Rule Breakers in the past, but it also functions as a repository for ultimate growth stocks that may be in their infancy. To that end, obviously these are not all official newsletter recommendations -- many may never be -- but it's a dynamic list of stocks that fit within the matrix of what a Rule Breaking company is. In addition, the list contains stocks that our analysts have found, as well as suggestions from our own community (if you have any ideas of your own, they're always welcome).
One stock from the Universe struck my attention the other day. I'd never heard of Universal Display (Nasdaq: PANL ) before it was an official Rule Breakers recommendation, but it is extremely interesting. It speaks to all of the futuristic potential that could make a young Rule Breaker graduate to greatness.
Science fiction or science fact?
Universal Display specializes in organic light emitting diode (OLED) technology. That may mean nothing to you, but think how the electronic displays of products will evolve. I'm not going to dive into the details of this technology here (I'm no scientist, to say the least, and there's a good description of how it works in the June issue of Rule Breakers). The end result, however, we can all understand: We're talking transparent, flexible, feather-light, energy-efficient electronic displays.
Think, for instance, about an electronic newspaper. Instead of a messy newsprint pile in your hallway, you're reading news stories on a paper-thin screen that is refreshable on a daily basis and rolls up just like a traditional newspaper. Or office walls and windows that serve double duty as computer screens? Universal Display hopes its OLEDs will make a far-ranging list of products possible, including lightweight, wrist-mounted PDAs; wearable electronic displays; color-changing lighting panels and walls for homes and offices; super lightweight television monitors for walls; and smart goggles and helmets for scuba divers and motorcycle riders.
These are innovations many of us might still find a little too futuristic, but the future is coming and nobody can stop it. Market research firms DisplaySearch and iSuppli estimate that the OLED market may exceed $800 million in 2005 but zoom rapidly past $2 billion in 2008.
When you think of consumer electronics, these displays can be used in all the big-deal, whiz-bang gadgets and gizmos that people love: mobile phone main and sub-displays, car audio systems, digital cameras, PDAs, DVD players, handheld TVs, notebook PCs, and industrial applications.
The writing is on the wall
There's a lot to like about Universal Display -- first and foremost, the strength of its intellectual property. The company owns or licenses 625 patents that are issued or pending worldwide. Universal doesn't actually manufacture the displays; rather, it licenses the technology to other companies and some parts of the U.S. government. Samsung SDI, the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of Energy, Sony (NYSE: SNE ) , Tohoku Pioneer, Epson, and Toyota Industries are some of the organizations that Universal Display has sold its technology or licenses to or entered into research agreements with for funding.
Breaking the rules, of course, often implies more than a small degree of risk. And there are plenty in the OLED market. For one thing, there are plenty of businesses trying to develop LCD and plasma technologies that achieve some of the same benefits that OLEDs do, although Universal says it believes OLED display technology overcomes existing limitations of other technologies.
Another risk is the high-profile competition it faces -- as in so many other industries, partners are sometimes also rivals. Competitors include Sony, Sharp, Fujitsu, Samsung Electronics -- all of which have deep pockets. Other competitors include Seiko Epson, Fuji Film (Nasdaq: FUJIY ) , Dow Chemical (NYSE: DOW ) , DuPont (NYSE: DD ) Displays, and many more. They will each be licensing patents from either Eastman Kodak (NYSE: EK ) , the pioneers of small-molecule OLED technology (also known as SMOLEDs), or Cambridge Display Technology (Nasdaq: OLED ) , which has a competing OLED technology that uses polymers (known as P-OLEDs) rather than small molecules.
Granted, like most Rule Breakers, Universal Display still has its share of speculative elements. It continues to shell out for research and developing spending, so it's not yet profitable (I see this as a must for a company like this). What makes Universal so exciting is the huge market opportunity in OLEDs as new applications for its technology -- from the relatively mundane to the downright futuristic -- emerge.
On the other hand, as of its latest quarter, Universal had ample cash on its balance sheet, with very little debt. These aspects offset some of the risks of a company that is still setting the stage for its foray into what it hopes will be exploding sales and profits.
In search of ... supercool
Ultratech. Ziprealty. ViisageTechnology. These are likely stocks you haven't heard of yet, but they are the kinds of stocks that reside within the Rule Breaker Universe. We watch them and chat them up (or talk them down) on the Rule Breaker discussion boards -- while constantly seeking out new stock ideas that very likely have never hit your investing radar. And one day, when they fulfill all the criteria that our analysts require, some -- like Universal Display -- will graduate to being full-blown recommendations for high-growth returns. You can join our Rule Breakers service for 30 days -- for free -- by clicking here.
One day, not so far away, when you're consulting the PDA that you're wearing on your wrist, rolling up your refreshable newspaper until the next day's morning headlines, or relaxing on your couch playing computer games on your wall, you very well could have a Rule Breaker to thank, you coolhunter, you.