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3 Stocks That Look Just Like Nike in 1980

By Anders Bylund, Steve Symington, and Timothy Green – Jun 18, 2017 at 11:09AM

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The sportswear giant has rewarded early investors with 31,000% returns in 37 years. These three stocks could be poised to copy that feat of long-term value creation.

It's easy to forget that Nike (NKE) wasn't always the $90 billion in market capitalization gorilla of sporting goods you see today. But it's hard to forget the skyrocketing growth that took Nike to these great heights over the years.

So where can you find the next massive growth story in Nike's mold? We asked three top Motley Fool contributors to share the stocks they see matching the hypergrowth of early Eighties Nike. Read on to see why they selected The Trade Desk (TTD 4.42%)Netflix (NFLX -1.12%), and Quantenna (QTNA).

Bright red Netflix logo on wall outside company headquarters.

Image source: Netflix.

Disrupting an industry

Tim Green (Netflix): Video streamer Netflix is already a giant company, valued at around $65 billion. But in the same way that Nike disrupted an industry, going toe-to-toe with then-dominant Adidas and ultimately prevailing, Netflix is disrupting the cable TV industry. For $10 a month, Netflix offers its subscribers on-demand access to its extensive catalog of shows and movies, providing an alternative to an expensive cable TV package.

Another similarity with Nike is debt. Nike founder Phil Knight, in his book chronicling the company's early days, described the precarious nature of its explosive growth. Banks were reluctant to lend to a company that poured every available dollar back into the business, creating situations where one late check could cause a crisis.

Netflix has far more resources available today than the fledgling Nike did decades ago. The company is hurling money at its content library, with plans to spend $6 billion on content this year. Free cash flow is wildly negative, coming in at a loss of nearly $1.6 billion last year, with rising debt making up the difference. Netflix has no plans to slow down as it aims for internet TV domination.

Piling on debt is risky. If investments in content don't provide the expected return, Netflix will be faced with lower profits in the future than investors are banking on. But if all this spending pays off, the company could grow into an entertainment Goliath worth far more than its current valuation.

No, you don't know this company -- and that's exactly the point

Anders Bylund (Quantenna): So you've never heard of Quantenna, a small-cap company that designs high-end Wi-Fi networking chips. That's OK -- you probably didn't know much about Nike in 1980, after all.

Back then, Nike was a relative newcomer with just 16 years of operating history, the ink still drying on its IPO papers, and annual sales of just $270 million at a 5% profit margin. The sporting goods company's market cap stopped short of $400 million in 1980.

By comparison, Quantenna was founded in 2006 and launched its IPO in October 2016. We're coming in just a little bit earlier in Quantenna's growth story, with roughly breakeven earnings on annual sales of $143 million. This market cap sits at $644 million today, comfortably in line with Nike's small-cap stature 37 years ago.

Now, I can't argue that Quantenna is destined to repeat Nike's unparalleled success story and deliver 31,000% returns over the next four decades. The minute Quantenna starts looking like a winner on that massive scale, larger chip companies would buy the company out in a hurry. It's a very different endgame this time.

That being said, Quantenna is currently showing many of the same signs of a long-term winner that Nike presented in 1980. It's a small company with strong sales growth in a clearly defined niche market, with a clear path to sustainable profits. Starting from a small market cap leaves plenty of room for multi-bagger returns on your investment.

Quantenna investors are following in the footsteps of Nike owners in the early 1980s. Now it's up to the company to maintain its strong growth trends by winning more contracts for top-shelf Wi-Fi connectivity in home entertainment systems, set-top boxes, and consumer-grade network routers.

Growth chart bouncing off a trampoline.

Image source: Getty Images.

A recently public ad giant in the making

Steve Symington (The Trade Desk): Though The Trade Desk may have nothing in common with Nike's core business, there are a number of reasons the digital advertising technology specialist feels like Nike in 1980. For one, The Trade Desk only just held its initial public offering this past September, still has a relatively small market cap of around $2 billion as of this writing and enjoys a massive runway for growth in the burgeoning global market for programmatic ad buying.

What's more, The Trade Desk shares traded largely flat for the first five months following its IPO. But shares also popped nearly 30% in a single day last month after the company announced stellar first-quarter 2017 results. More specifically, The Trade Desk's revenue last quarter skyrocketed 75.7% year over year, to $53.4 million, driven by a combination of omni-channel growth (led by mobile), new customer growth across nearly every major economic sector, and impressive 95% customer retention.  

And in addition to heavy investments in hiring and launching new products in high-growth areas like mobile and video, The Trade Desk continues to expand its overseas presence, opening its 18th and 19th offices in Paris and Madrid, respectively, last quarter. 

As The Trade Desk continues to improve its technology and delight its customers worldwide, I think the stock will do the same for patient, long-term investors.

Anders Bylund owns shares of Netflix. Steve Symington has no position in any stocks mentioned. Timothy Green has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Netflix and Nike. The Motley Fool also recommends The Trade Desk. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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