If you had bought and held shares of Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) in 1987, let it suffice to say you'd have earned a satisfactory return on your investment; shares of the CPU juggernaut have returned almost 5,600% with dividends reinvested over that time. Put another way, Intel has turned every $1,000 investors put to work three decades ago into almost $56,000 today.
But surely there must be a number of stocks that could rival those gains going forward. So we asked three top Motley Fool contributors to each weigh in with a stock they believe looks like Intel 30 years ago. Read on to learn why they chose Cirrus Logic (NASDAQ:CRUS), Ambarella (NASDAQ:AMBA), and 3D Systems (NYSE:DDD).
Plenty of growth left for this established tech leader
Steve Symington (Cirrus Logic): With its relatively modest market capitalization of roughly $4 billion as of this writing, it's easy to forget that Cirrus Logic was actually founded in 1981. To that end, note Intel was established way back in 1968. So 30 years ago, the CPU giant was already a 19-year-old company that had yet to realize the bulk of its staggering growth potential.
Similarly, shares of Cirrus Logic -- an integrated circuit specialist that focuses on audio and voice signal processing applications -- are up 70% over the past year as of this writing as it begins to capitalize on its own potential. Revenue last fiscal year climbed 31.6% to $1.54 billion, marking its third straight year of more than 25% top-line growth. And adjusted net income for the year rose nearly 90% to $298.9 million, or $4.49 per share.
That shouldn't be terribly surprising considering audio and voice features continue to proliferate across multiple high-growth technology segments. Some of the most promising emerging opportunities today include improved smartphone audio outputs, smart home products, and voice biometrics applications.
As Cirrus Logic strives to continue innovating and ensures its technology will play a central role enabling these trends, I think it will easily be able to sustain its growth going forward. And over the long term, I see no reason it can't ultimately rival the size of its larger, CPU-centric peer.
A video compression specialist with a deep bench
Demitrios Kalogeropoulos (Ambarella): Like Intel in its early days, Ambarella is staring at a potentially huge long-term opportunity as devices that demand its technologies flood the market in the decades ahead. Its semiconductors are already used in a wide range of products and industries, including wearable sports cameras, home and business security, and drones. The automotive segment represents another attractive possible growth source.
Ambarella’s advantage comes from its deep experience in producing the type of high-performance, low-power video compression solutions that customers need today and will increasingly use over the next few decades. These technologies deliver high-definition and ultra-high-definition video images that, because of their small footprint, don’t require lots of storage space and are easily shareable and transmittable between devices and onto the cloud. Its system-on-a-chip solutions also solve many of its customers' problems in a single, integrated offering.
The company’s sales growth pace has been volatile lately in part because of swings in demand in the consumer-focused sports camera segment. Wall Street is also worried that bigger competitors will steal its market share before Ambarella gets a chance to really benefit from economies of scale.
That risky positioning makes product innovation the key to its long-term success. Thus, investors who buy this stock are betting that Ambarella’s veteran engineering team, which has pushed the industry ahead through powerful innovations in video encoding and chip design, will manage a string of design wins that continuously keep the business one step ahead of rivals.
This stock could be printing profits for decades to come
Sean Williams (3D Systems): Today, Intel is a dominant global processing player. However, 30 years ago that wasn’t necessarily the case. It was bogged down in a sea of competition and reliant on its innovation to separate itself from the pack. One company that demonstrates some similarities to Intel from 30 years ago is 3D-printing specialist 3D Systems.
3D Systems isn’t without its faults. Since 2015, all 3D printing companies have taken it on the chin, and 3D Systems is no exception. Orders for 3D printers have slowed, management turnover has arguably slowed progress at 3D Systems, and the company has been working to integrate seemingly dozens of acquisitions.
Though it’s had some intermediary struggles, there are also plenty of reasons to be excited. Initially, it was believed that industrial applications would be 3D Systems' bread and butter, but it looks as if healthcare applications could be its long-term winner. According to an analysis by Mordor Intelligence, the healthcare 3D printing market, which ranges from hip and knee replacements to organ bioprinting, is slated to grow by nearly 21% annually between 2016 and 2021, hitting $4.7 billion by 2021. An aging population in the U.S. -- the elderly population is expected to nearly double between 2015 and 2050 -- should open the door for 3D-printing specialists to see steady growth from the healthcare industry.
The company has also done a good job of improving its cash flow. During the first quarter, despite a challenging environment, 3D Systems generated $19.4 million in positive operating cash flow and ended the quarter with a healthy $161.7 million in cash. 3D Systems is known to be an active acquirer, and being able to generate positive cash flow should allow it to nibble from time to time.
As my Foolish colleague Beth McKenna also pointed out recently, some bigger names are getting involved in the 3D printing space: HP (NYSE:HPQ) and General Electric (NYSE:GE). While this, in theory, means more in the way of competition, it also suggests that bigger names see strong growth potential in the 3D printing market.
Long-term investors that have the time to let 3D Systems bloom are likely to be pleasantly surprised by the outcome.