Many financial advisors believe that if you have $10,000 to invest, you would be better off putting it in an index fund instead of individual stocks. While that's certainly a sound, low maintenance strategy, investors also shouldn't underestimate the power of $10,000 to crush the overall market when invested in the right stock.
If you had invested $10,000 in the Vanguard S&P 500 Index Fund (NASDAQMUTFUND:VFINX) at the beginning of 2000, you would have a total of nearly $20,000 today. That's a solid return, but if you had invested that $10,000 in Taser International (NASDAQ:AXON) in 2001 or Las Vegas Sands (NYSE:LVS) in 2009 instead, you would be sitting on over $300,000 today.
How Taser stunned the market
Stun gun maker Taser went public in May 2001 at $13 per "unit" of 1.5 shares (making its price $8.67 per share). $10,000 would have been enough to purchase 1,153 shares. After the stock split three times in 2004, you would have 13,836 shares, which would be worth nearly $350,000 today.
Many analysts initially dismissed Taser as a speculative and unprofitable play, questioning the future demand for stun guns. As a result, the stock dropped to a low of $5.35 per share by late June. If you bought 1,869 shares of the stock then, your $10,000 investment would be worth almost $565,000 today.
Taser's outlook changed after the terrorist attacks of Sep.11, 2001. Two months before those attacks, the FAA stopped allowing pilots to carry guns due to concerns about bullets puncturing windows. With those rules still in place following the attacks, major airlines placed bulk orders for Tasers as alternative in-flight weapons -- which boosted Taser's bottom line into the black by the end of the year. Thousands of police departments followed that lead, and Taser launched a model for mainstream consumers the following year. By 2003, it bought out its biggest rival, Tasertron, which made Taser the dominant name in stun guns and gave it access to new military markets.
In 2008, Taser launched its Axon body cameras for law enforcement and Evidence.com, a cloud-based platform for collecting that video. Demand for those body cams surged over the past few years due to controversial police shootings across America. The robust demand for its core products has fueled incredible revenue and net income growth for Taser, making its stock one of the most impressive multi-baggers of the new millennium.
How Las Vegas Sands' big bet saved the company
Casino operator Las Vegas Sands sank to an all-time low of $1.42 per share in March 2009 at the nadir of the financial crisis. Sales were plummeting as cash-strapped customers stopped spending money at its casinos and hotels, and its debt levels were surging due to its new projects in Macau. At one point, Sands was reportedly losing $1,000 per second.
To prevent Sands from going bankrupt, chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson loaned the company $1 billion of his own money. That move bought Sands the time it needed to pull out of its nosedive and open new casinos in Macau. Soaring visits in Macau quickly made China a much more profitable market than Vegas, and its revenues soared.
If you had faith in Adelson's long-term plans for Macau and bought 7,042 shares of Las Vegas Sands at $1.42 per share for $10,000, your stake would now be worth nearly $392,000 today. Moreover, Sands now pays a 5.2% forward dividend yield, so you would be paid more than $20,000 in annual dividends on your initial investment of $10,000!
Shares of Sands were weighed down over the past year by concerns about sluggish spending in Macau amid weaker economic growth, a crackdown on corruption in China, and tighter regulations of junkets. However, both Vegas and Macau recently posted positive annual monthly growth in gambling revenues, indicating that Sands and its casino peers could be well-positioned for higher growth in the near future.
How can you spot the next Taser or Sands?
Taser and Sands might seem like great investments in hindsight, but it took a sharp contrarian eye, faith in their long-term growth plans, and nerves of steel to invest in either company while investors were running for the exits. Therefore, to spot the next 30- to 50-baggers in this market, investors should heed Warren Buffett's advice to "be fearful when others are greedy, and greedy when others are fearful."