Mid caps, or companies with market caps between $2 billion and $10 billion, can be a great place to look for winning stock ideas. The reason is these companies tend to have battle-tested business models while also offering more upside potential than large caps.
We asked three Fool contributors which mid-cap stocks they're currently interested in. Here's why they're taking a closer look at Laredo Petroleum (NYSE:LPI), Veeva Systems (NYSE:VEEV), and Sealed Air Corporation (NYSE:SEE).
A hidden gem in the oil patch
Matt DiLallo (Laredo Petroleum): Permian Basin-focused driller Laredo Petroleum is one of the few oil companies that hasn't skipped a beat despite the significant drop in oil prices over the past few years. In fact, since 2011 the company's output has grown by a 22% compound annual rate. One of the reasons Laredo has been able to grow while rivals have struggled during the downturn is due to its investments in technology to drive costs out and production up.
At the heart of the company's innovations is the Earth Model, which uses data points such as 3D seismic, microseismic, core samples, and historical well performance to predict the best drillable zones. The company uses that data to optimize well locations and completions so it can get more oil and gas out of the ground. The results have been nothing short of remarkable, as evidenced by a 36% outperformance by these wells versus expectations.
Another driver of Laredo's success is its investment in building midstream infrastructure, which is driving down its costs. For example, last quarter the company saved $5.8 million by transporting crude and water on its pipelines instead of by truck or third-party line. Meanwhile, the company co-owns the Medallion-Midland Basin pipeline system, which carries not only its oil but third-party volumes. That system alone added $0.49 per barrel in earnings to the company's bottom line last quarter. It's a valuable system that Laredo could cash in on if it wanted to accelerate its drilling program.
With a prime position in the red-hot Permian that it's enhancing with technology, innovation, and a valuable midstream business, Laredo Petroleum has the potential to be a high-return oil stock even if oil doesn't budge.
A backdoor play on biotech
Brian Feroldi (Veeva Systems): Drugmakers have a unique set of needs that can't be fulfilled by using off-the-shelf customer relationship management (CRM) software. That's why hundreds of them have chosen to sign on to Veeva System's product offering. This company launched a CRM system a few years back that was specifically designed to service the life-sciences industry. This focus has helped grow Veeva's top and bottom lines rapidly since the company's 2013 IPO and allowed its stock price to more than double over the past 12 months.
Veeva believes that the solutions that it has crafted for the life-sciences industry can also be useful to other industries. In the near term, the company has set its sights on marketing to chemical and consumer packaged goods manufacturers, but down the road, it believes that it could enter other industries, too. If the company has success in breaking into new industries, then I could easily see its upward trajectory continuing from here.
The only knock against Veeva is that Wall Street has caught on to the company's growth potential and has priced its stock accordingly. With shares trading at 68 times forward earnings, investors could be in for a world of hurt if Veeva fails to meet its lofty growth expectations. Despite that fact, I think the company's long-term potential is still large enough to justify making a small investment today.
You'll want to buy this stock before it begins buying its own stock
Rich Smith (Sealed Air Corporation): Shares of Sealed Air Corporation, a company specializing in packaging and hygiene products, suffered a big drop earlier this month, falling 9% in a day after reporting a $0.27-per-share loss on rising costs of goods sold (COGS) and only modest gains in revenue. But if you own Sealed Air stock, don't be discouraged. In just a few months, this mid-cap stock could bounce right back.
Despite the quarterly loss, Sealed Air's numbers for the past year have actually been pretty strong. Earnings have hit $341 million for the past 12 months, with free cash flow running at nearly twice that number ($634 million). Sealed Air expects to grow sales modestly this year, and although free cash flow will probably decline to "approximately $390 million," that number should still come in comfortably ahead of reported GAAP profits, indicating a high quality of earnings.
At the same time, Sealed Air is moving to streamline its business and strengthen its balance sheet by selling its Diversey Care food hygiene and cleaning business to Bain Capital for $3.2 billion. This should yield two positive benefits. On the one hand, it should permit Sealed Air to make a big dent in its $4.2 billion debt load. At the same time, Sealed Air says it will use much of the cash raised to triple the size of its stock buyback program to $2.2 billion -- probably giving a big lift to the stock price once buying gets underway.
Sealed Air expects to close the sale of Diversey in early September, meaning that buybacks could pick up in strength in just a few months. The time to buy Sealed Air, accordingly, is while the stock price is still weak -- as in now.