A 15-Bagger in Six Years

The headline seems preposterous.

Pure substanceless hype.

Prattle. Nonsense. Cheese.

Can investors really earn 15 times their money in just six years? That computes to an annual return of 57% per year, turning a $100,000 investment into $1.5 million by 2013. It strikes veteran investors as unfathomable.

But turn back the clock six years to August 2001, and observe Urban Outfitters (Nasdaq: URBN  ) , then valued at $240 million. Today, it's worth $3.8 billion. Yep, the stock has risen more than 15 times in value in just six years.

The question is: How could you have found it back then?

Finding great returns
Well, it would have been extremely difficult, had you not been intentionally trying to unearth the next small-cap winner. We embrace that challenge with our thousands of contributing members every day in Motley Fool Hidden Gems, because logic and history demonstrate that the major winners of tomorrow are companies capitalized at less than $2 billion today.

What special qualities of Urban Outfitters in 2001 would have fit our current active screen in Hidden Gems? Among other things:

  1. Solid financials.
  2. A non-dilutive board.
  3. Founding leaders with major ownership stakes.

Back then, Urban Outfitters featured double-digit sales growth, $11 million in cash, and no debt. Rather than printing stock options like free lottery tickets, the board of directors was buying back stock. The company's two founders -- Richard Hayne and Scott Belair -- were (and are) engaged as board members. Thirty years after starting the business, they had a major incentive to drive the company. Together, they owned more than 45% of the business. Their combined stock holdings were worth $88 million in 2001. Today, they still own more than $1 billion worth of Urban Outfitters' stock.

Other companies that fit or have fit this mold in the past are Garmin (Nasdaq: GRMN  ) , Fastenal (Nasdaq: FAST  ) , Washington Post (NYSE: WPO  ) , Franklin Resources (NYSE: BEN  ) , FedEx (NYSE: FDX  ) , and H.J. Heinz (NYSE: HNZ  ) .

Fool's final word
These factors -- solid financials, a non-dilutive board, and founding leaders with major ownership stakes -- are some of the core variables we screen for in Hidden Gems. From there, we carry out qualitative research with our thousands of members. To go beyond the quantitative screen, you have to do qualitative research. That's how you'd learn that back in 2001, Urban Outfitters was powering up its expansion of Anthropologie stores, with great success.

All the way to a 15-bagger.

We are constantly looking for today's greatest small caps in Hidden Gems. Take a free trial, read through our more than 50 active recommendations, and do so with no obligation to subscribe.

This article was originally published Dec. 22, 2005. It has been updated.

Fool co-founder and Hidden Gems lead analyst Tom Gardner does not own shares of any company mentioned in this article. Garmin and FedEx are Stock Advisor recommendations. Heinz is an Income Investor pick. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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Tom Gardner

Fed up with Wall Street's notion that everyday people couldn't comprehend the stock market, Tom Gardner co-founded The Motley Fool in 1993 with a simple obsession: "To help the world invest, better."

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