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3 Growth Stocks for Bright Investors

By George Budwell, Rich Smith, and Tim Brugger – May 31, 2017 at 10:36AM

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Cara Therapeutics, Qualcomm, and Cree are three stocks bright investors may want to check out right now.

Bright investors tend to gravitate toward companies that offer unusually high growth opportunities. But it can be a challenge in and of itself to unearth companies that fit this profile.

To help with this endeavor, we asked three of our contributors which stocks they think might interest the smartest investors right now. They suggested Cara Therapeutics (CARA -3.74%)Qualcomm (QCOM 1.85%), and Cree (WOLF -0.61%). Read on to find out why.

Human brain.

Image Source: Getty Images.

This small-cap biotech is developing a potentially disruptive new pain med

George Budwell (Cara Therapeutics): If you're on the hunt for cutting-edge companies with mind-boggling growth potential, the clinical-stage biotech Cara Therapeutics is certainly worth checking out. The big-ticket item is Cara's experimental kappa opioid receptor agonist CR845, which is in development for acute and chronic pain, as well as a severe itching condition known as pruritus. 

On the pain side of the equation, Cara is hoping that CR845 can grow into a novel product that helps to displace traditional opioids like morphine and hydrocodone in the acute and chronic pain settings. The underlying thesis is that CR845 should be able to provide comparable levels of pain relief without the motley crew of harmful side effects that come with morphine and other opioids, thanks to its relatively poor ability to penetrate the blood-brain barrier. If so, this drug would almost certainly become a mega blockbuster product based on the enormous size of the pain market at large, and the growing medical need for alternatives to highly addictive opioids.

What's on tap for Cara and its shareholders? The company is barreling toward three important catalysts this quarter.

First up, Cara should announce top-line data from the Phase 2b trial of its oral formulation for CR845 as a treatment for chronic pain associated with osteoarthritis. Soon thereafter, investors can expect an update on the ongoing 450-patient adaptive Phase 3 trial of its intravenous formation of CR845 in postoperative pain. And last but not least, Cara plans to provide the results of CR845's pharmacokinetic safety trial in moderate-to-severe uremic pruritus.

All told, this small-cap biotech has multiple irons in the fire and a potentially legit blockbuster candidate in development as a result. Of course, its value proposition could change in a heartbeat if CR845 misses the mark for either of its high-value pain indications -- or its pruritus indication turns out to be a dead end. But bright investors that are up for the challenge of wrapping their head around Cara's pipeline and unusual growth prospects might want to take a deeper dive on this stock soon. 

This too shall pass

Tim Brugger (Qualcomm): Despite reporting a strong fiscal 2017 second quarter, the mobile chipset king's stock is down 11% year-to-date largely due to the uncertainty surrounding the laundry list of lawsuits regarding Qualcomm's all-important patent licensing fees. And therein lies the opportunity for bright investors.

As for the pending lawsuits from the likes of a South Korean regulatory body, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and longtime Qualcomm partner Apple (AAPL 0.99%), Qualcomm has been down this path before. In early 2015, Qualcomm wrote Chinese authorities a $975 million check to resolve an issue similar to what it's currently facing. Naturally, investors were concerned.

However, the licensing fees Qualcomm is enjoying following the agreement with Chinese regulators are a key driver of its growth. Excluding one-time items, Qualcomm's $6 billion in revenue last quarter was an 8% jump from a year ago, and better still its per-share earnings soared 29% to $1.34, thanks in part to its high-margin licensing business.

Qualcomm's QTL unit, home to its licensing fees, generated "just" $2.5 billion in revenue last quarter, yet it accounted for 87% of total earnings before taxes (EBT). The notion that such a profitable, high-margin business is in jeopardy has many investors running for the hills, which is why Qualcomm stock is such a bargain. Is there a risk? Of course, but Qualcomm has been there, done that and come out the other side unscathed: Just as it will this time around.

A literal bright growth stock

Rich Smith (Cree): When you say "bright," I think "light." And when you use "growth" and "bright" in the same sentence, the first concept that pops to mind is the spectacular popularity of LED lighting these days -- and the company that is leading the LED revolution: Cree, Inc. According to Zion Market Research, LED lighting sales, which already topped $26 billion in 2016, are poised to double in size by 2022, turning LED lights into a $54.3 billion global market.

Although Cree actually works in three separate areas, Lighting Products, LED Products, and Power and Radio Frequency Products, 93% of its revenues come from just those first two divisions -- LEDs used to produce light, period, and LEDs used to produce light for flat panel TVs and mobile devices.

Both these divisions have their attractions. On the one hand, Cree's "LED Products" division boasts the company's best profit margins -- 35% gross -- though it's also seen declining revenues over the past couple years. On the other hand, Cree's dedicated LED Lighting Products division has enjoyed explosive growth, with revenues surging more than 10x in volume over the past five years.

Granted, Lighting generates somewhat weaker profit margins for Cree (27%) than do its other LED products. But the while the businesses aren't 100% comparable, Cree does appear to earn better profit margins from lighting than does, say, General Electric, which boasts only 2% operating profit margins at its "energy connections & lighting" division.

To date, these robust gross margins haven't succeeded in making Cree "profitable" as GAAP accounts for such things. Nonetheless, Cree's LED businesses are throwing off significant piles of cash in the form of free cash flow, which hit $150 million over the past 12 months. On Cree's $2.35 billion market capitalization, that works out to a valuation of just 15.7 times free cash flow. That's not a half-bad valuation on a stock that analysts expect to grow profits at 15.8% annually over the next five years -- making Cree, in my view one great growth stock for bright investors. 

George Budwell has no position in any stocks mentioned. Rich Smith has no position in any stocks mentioned. Tim Brugger has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple and Qualcomm. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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