Almost everything is a mystery. Let's start at the beginning.
We don't know why we're here or how we got here. We don't know what the universe is made of, or why it formed. We have names for the matter that comprises the universe, but we don't know what it truly is. We don't know how we grow ourselves from conception onward. Something that we call genes and DNA carry instructions for our growth, but how it actually occurs -- that's a mystery.
We don't even know how we move our eyes. We know that muscles are involved, and an electrical impulse from our brain tells the muscles to move the eyes, but how this actually occurs you can't explain any better than you can explain how you beat your own heart. (And if you think about it too much, you'll find it harder to move your eyes left to right.)
With investing, many things are a mystery to me. I don't know exactly how Intel (Nasdaq: INTC) makes computer chips. I have an idea. However, I can only justify owning the stock on the basis that I understand the process of manufacturing in general, and Intel is one of the most efficient, profitable manufacturers in the world.
This returns us to our high-growth study, where we are near completion of our list of finalists. It appears that 10 to 12 companies will make the list, and perhaps one of those will be our next purchase. Today we have another company to consider for the list: Jabil Circuit (NYSE: JBL).
With $3.5 billion in 2000 sales, Jabil displayed impressive growth the past several years. In reward, investors have bid the stock up about 2,000% since early 1997. Before that, from 1993 to late 1996, the stock was about even with the S&P 500.
Jabil provides electronic circuit design, circuit board design, volume board assembly, and other electronic manufacturing services for manufacturers in the computer, automotive, and consumer industries. Similar in ways to Solectron (NYSE: SLR), which we recently considered, Jabil is an outsource solution for dozens of companies that need to have various electronic parts for their products. When an automaker needs a circuit board for a new line of cars, it can go to Jabil, tell them what it needs, and Jabil can design, assemble, and manufacture the solution.
I can understand this business. (And if we want to talk about the universe and think about "why we're here," then maybe I should say, I can dig this.) I can also understand how Jabil, in an increasingly electronic world, can grow its client list and sales, especially because the company has a great reputation.
When you look at our high-growth company criteria, however, Jabil falls short. It is not setting the world on fire with growing press coverage and recognized, increasing relevance in the lives of many. It does not possess numerous related business opportunities. Its expertise is specialized, and were it to expand beyond that into other electronics, it would face a headwind of established competitors.
Addtionally, we can't say with confidence that Jabil's business provides a sustainable advantage over innovations to come. For all we know, circuit boards could become less important through new inventions, extreme as that sounds. Finally, Jabil's business boomed between 1996 and 2000, alongside the boom of many electronic-related businesses. Now times could prove more challenging. Consider how communications companies, a Jabil client base, have slowed spending and equipment building. The upshot is that we can't say with confidence that Jabil will continue growing at high rates. An argument that it will may be specious.
Jabil is a business to admire. For investors who understand it and are willing to watch it closely -- and who are ready to sell if the business appears headed for a meaningful slowdown, because that could mean losses given the low 3.9% profit margin -- Jabil may continue to be a strong stock for them to logically own. The company sports a good return on equity of 17%. As with so many technology companies, though, we'll pass on it for our next purchase. There are just too many mysteries.
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If we're situated on the side of the Earth, as we are, and we're looking outward, as we are, shouldn't all homes have windows in their ceilings? It could be a wonderful night view, anyway. Jeff Fischer owns shares of Intel. The Motley Fool has a full disclosure policy.