Companies that can innovate faster than their competitors stand a good chance at being incredibly good long-term investments, and they have included some of the best stocks of the last 30 years.
We put together our own list of companies with innovative business models today. Below, you'll see why we think IBM (NYSE:IBM), Intuitive Surgical, Inc. (NASDAQ:ISRG), and Axon Enterprise (NASDAQ:AAXN) will be winners in the stock market.
Watson and blockchain
Tim Green (International Business Machines): IBM's revenue has been in decline for five years, so "innovative" probably isn't the first adjective that comes to mind to describe the company. But IBM is doing plenty of cutting-edge stuff. Watson, the company's cognitive computing system, is being used in a wide variety of applications, from recommending treatments for cancer patients to maximizing tax refunds for H&R Block customers.
Another new technology IBM is investing in is blockchain, the distributed database that serves as the foundation for cryptocurrencies like bitcoin. Just last month, IBM announced a deal with seven major European banks to build a blockchain-based platform for trade finance, aiming to lower costs, simplify trade-finance processes, and expand access to financing. Blockchain has a lot of potential, particularly in finance, and IBM is leading the charge.
IBM stock trades for just 11 times the company's guidance for adjusted earnings. The stock was beaten down in April after a delay in signing a few major services deals led to a revenue shortfall during the first quarter. With IBM expecting to grow per-share adjusted earnings this year, July looks like a great time for long-term investors to buy this innovative stock.
Surgical innovation even Dr. McCoy would appreciate
Cory Renauer (Intuitive Surgical, Inc.): Star Trek's Dr. McCoy wasn't a fan of fancy technology unless it improved the quality of care. With piles of convincing data that show minimally invasive surgical procedures result in fewer complications and faster recoveries, "Bones" would feel right at home seated at the console of one of this company's da Vinci surgical systems.
Intuitive Surgical's da Vinci systems aren't the autonomous robots popularized by science fiction. Seated at a console a few feet from their patients, surgeons control the movement of specialized instruments, albeit with a level of precision unattainable by traditional means.
The systems themselves only need to be purchased once, but the instruments require constant replacement. This is why revenue from the sale of the instruments tends to climb in step with the number of procedures performed; lately, the growth has been outstanding. In the first quarter, da Vinci procedure volume and instrument revenue rose 18% over the same period last year.
There's also plenty of room to grow. At the moment, the vast majority of da Vinci surgical systems are concentrated in the U.S. At last count, there were 4,023 systems installed worldwide, but all of Europe and Asia combined for just 29% of the total. Intuitive Surgical stock has climbed an impressive 550% over the past decade, but the lopsided worldwide availability of its systems suggests this innovative company's best days still lie ahead.
Innovation in law enforcement
Travis Hoium (Axon Enterprise): It's hard to change law enforcement in a short amount of time, but that's exactly what Axon Enterprise has done with its body-camera business in only the past few years. It has become a de facto standard in body cameras for law enforcement agencies around the world, and is building an incredibly innovative and profitable business around it. The core of the business is the sale of body cameras and cloud services through Evidence.com, now with a monthly fee that includes periodic camera replacement. But the innovation is happening beneath the surface of this platform.
Axon is developing what it's calling a records platform that will make body cameras central to a police officer's job. People can be interviewed with body cameras, speech can be dictated, and following an artificial-intelligence acquisition earlier this year, the company may be able to pull relevant video automatically. All of this is intended to make the officer's and prosecutor's jobs easier. And if it reduces paperwork and gives officers more time on the street it'll be a huge win for everyone, including Axon.
Sometimes innovation is more about pulling the technology people need together into an easy-to-use package than about reinventing the wheel. Axon didn't invent the camera or the cloud or records management, but it's putting those items together in a package that can make law enforcement easier and more effective. That's an innovation everyone should be able to get behind.