Many of the best investments are not obvious winners. Instead, they are dark horses coming up from behind to deliver big gains when nobody expects it.
Finding these sneaky winners before they hit it big is not an easy task, so we asked a panel of The Motley Fool's best growth investors to share some of the market's most interesting dark horses right now.
A company creating connections
Anders Bylund (Rogers): Everybody knows all about smartphones and tablets. Soon, we'll be experts on the Internet of Things, too. Connected devices are commonplace in your daily life today, and will only grow more familiar in the future.
But I'm not here to pick a smartphone maker or an up-and-coming IoT expert. That wouldn't be much of a dark horse bet.
But how often do you think about the company that supplies specialized materials for the antennas and batteries in all of these connected gadgets? That's where Rogers comes in.
Forty percent of the company's quarterly sales come from advanced connectivity solutions these days. Demand for 4G wireless antenna materials is running low at the moment, but will be replaced by 4.5G and 5G antennas in the next few years. Rogers is already developing solutions for this emerging market. In the meantime, the company is making up for that soft spot with solid demand from the military and aerospace sectors.
Looking just a little bit further down the road, Rogers promises to become a core player in the automotive computing and Internet of Things sectors, too. Even so, this won't be a name you see mentioned too often on Wall Street. Running a business that's a few steps removed from the consumer can do that to a ticker.
That makes Rogers an authentic dark-horse investment. The stock has gained 54% so far in 2017, and all you hear is crickets. Only four analyst firms offer estimates for Rogers' results. You might expect that kind of treatment for a no-name microcap stock, but Rogers is an established sector leader with a $2.1 billion market cap and $700 million of trailing revenue.
Do yourself a favor and take a closer look at Rogers. I think you'll like what you see.
A car lender with a few blemishes
Jordan Wathen (Santander Consumer USA): This subprime auto lender's prospects look a lot better after making it through the Fed's stress tests and securing the right to pay a dividend to investors starting in the fourth quarter of 2017. It can pay $0.03 in the fourth quarter of 2017, and $0.05 per share in each of the first two quarters of 2018.
Although the dividend may seem trivial, it's important for many reasons. First, it shows the Fed took no issue with Santander Consumer USA either on a quantitative or qualitative basis, whereas in prior years the lender failed due to the Fed taking issue with qualitative factors surrounding "supervisory issues." To be sure, Santander Consumer USA has had its issues, particularly as it relates to estimating loan losses, but that increasingly appears to be in the rearview mirror.
Second, the ability to pay a dividend gives Santander Consumer USA Holdings another avenue for capital allocation. One of the ironies of the CCAR process is that banks that fail the test have little recourse but to simply keep growing by retaining earnings and writing more loans, lest they be penalized by Wall Street for hoarding capital and diluting returns on their capital base.
It's my view that the best financial companies are those that pay a dividend as they grow, limiting the capacity for underwriting errors that result when lenders stretch to deploy every dollar of capital to make the marginal loan.
Santander Consumer USA's dividend is just a start, equating to about 10% of the company's earnings over the last 12 months. As that payout ratio grows, so does the bull case for one of the financial industry's biggest punching bags in recent years. Shares could return as much as 25% if the stock simply trades for tangible book value.
Still in the game
Keith Noonan (GameStop): The case against GameStop is pretty well established at this point. As video games are increasingly sold through digital downloads, the retailer's share of software sales will continue to shrink -- and earnings will follow suit. With new and pre-owned game sales accounting for 16% and 32% of profits, respectively, in its last quarter, the company's biggest moneymakers are on what looks to be an irreversible decline. Those conditions do a lot to explain why GameStop trades at just 6.5 times forward earnings estimates and packs a 7% dividend yield.
Software profits will likely continue to fall, but exactly how fast that will happen is less clear. The success of Nintendo's recently launched Switch console (which has little in the way of the on-board storage space that's needed for digital games) looks to be a significant boon for GameStop's new and used game sales over the next five years, and a slower decline for its software segments should give the company more time to build up its tech products, collectibles, and game development ventures.
Last quarter saw its collectibles segment (which mostly consists of video game merchandise and pop culture memorabilia) increase sales 39% year over year to reach $114.5 million, and GameStop expects that this business can hit $1 billion in revenue in fiscal 2019. Its technology brands segment (which includes retail chains that sell Apple hardware and post-paid AT&T wireless services and products) also posted 21.5% year-over-year growth last quarter, so there's some substantial momentum behind its turnaround businesses.
GameStop still has a lot of work to do to move away from its dependence on game sales, but with a low earnings multiple, a big dividend, and a somewhat sunnier outlook for software sales in the medium term, it's a dark-horse stock that deserves consideration.