Back in 2013, video game giant Activision Blizzard Inc. (NASDAQ:ATVI) made a huge move, when CEO Bobby Kotick led an investor group that freed the company from the majority ownership of Vivendi, which had shadowed the company -- and made investors very wary -- for a number of years. Since then, the company has continued to release megahit video games, add new exciting (and very profitable) titles to its stable of content, and expanded into casual gaming.
Between these profit-boosting moves and a stock market that's fallen in love with the company and pushed its valuation much higher, investors have seen almost 500% total returns since. Looking for a stock that could have similar potential in coming years? Look no further than these three suggestions from our contributing investors: SunPower Corporation (NASDAQ:SPWR), International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE:IBM), and Kinder Morgan (NYSE:KMI).
Keep reading below to learn what sets these three companies up for big gains in the years to come.
A French owner, a beaten-down stock, and a megatrend
Jason Hall (SunPower Corporation): Just as Activision Blizzard did in 2013 and before, SunPower is currently majority-owned by a French company -- in this case, integrated energy giant Total S.A. But that's really where the similarities end between the two. Total's investment in SunPower is generally a good thing, since Total is very profitable on its own and isn't likely to squeeze SunPower for cash, as Vivendi was wont to do with Activision Blizzard. To the contrary, Total's financial strength -- and literally giving money to SunPower -- is a major reason SunPower exists as a stand-alone company.
SunPower makes some of the best, most efficient, most reliable solar panels in the world, and Total management realizes that the future of energy is not in fossil fuels. Panel makers like SunPower will be in high demand for decades to come, and Total's financial strength and global reach should play a big role in its future growth.
SunPower hares are still down almost 17% since earnings that the market misunderstood in early August, and well worth buying today. The solar market is in a cyclical slowdown, but this short-term pause is, as usual, distracting the market from the long-term prospects for SunPower in the years to come.
If you look beyond the short-term thing that's holding the market's attention, you'll see SunPower's wonderful long-term prospects. Investors who did that with Activision Blizzard back in 2013 know how that worked out.
Ready for a break
Reuben Gregg Brewer (International Business Machines): As my colleague Demitrios Kalogeropoulos recently pointed out, just three game franchises accounted for the bulk of the game maker's business back in 2013. It has since protected its core while also broadening, tapping into new areas of the market like casual mobile games (Candy Crush). I see IBM, a stock I own, in a similar light as it works to reinvent itself.
IBM started by selling off older businesses that weren't material profit centers, such as its server business. Now it's working to protect core businesses while also expanding into new areas. For example, the technology giant recently launched a new series of mainframes (the Z14), a core business. One key attribute of the new machines is that they basically allow for the constant encryption of data -- data protection is an increasingly important issue. IBM expects sales of this product to help juice its top and bottom line in the second half of 2017.
And then there are the new lines of business, which include such things as cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and blockchain. The company's collection of newer businesses, which it calls strategic imperatives, made up roughly 43% of IBM's revenue in the second quarter. That's close to a tipping point, where new and growing businesses will have more of an impact on the top line than older businesses, some of which are in a state of slow decline. And while investors are rightly concerned about the long string of quarterly sales losses, the company continues to report robust profits, allowing it the time it needs to shift its business around.
In short, I believe IBM is close to a point where its financial results will start to reassure investors that it will not only survive in a new technology world but thrive. And that, in turn, should lead IBM's stock to break out of the range it's been stuck in for the last few years, just as Activision Blizzard's did after breaking free from Vivendi in 2013 and proving it could thrive in a changing gaming world.
A company with a clear path ahead
Chuck Saletta (Kinder Morgan): Pipeline giant Kinder Morgan saw its shares get punished by Wall Street when it cut its dividend by 75% in late 2015. As painful as that cut was for investors who had been relying on that dividend for income, the move allowed the company to shore up its balance sheet and invest more of its cash flow in its growth plans.
That combination means that today's Kinder Morgan is in financially stronger shape today than it was just prior to its dividend reduction. Even credit rating agency Moody's agrees, confirming that Kinder Morgan's debt rating is considered stable within the investment-grade range -- up from the negative outlook just before the cut.
Despite its far stronger financial position, Kinder Morgan's shares are below where they traded in the weeks before the dividend cut. Still, there's a very real catalyst that positions the company's shares for a substantial potential recovery over the next few years, similar to Activision Blizzard in 2013. In Kinder Morgan's case, the company's shares were punished by a reduction in its dividend, making its upcoming expected dividend increases the potential catalyst for its share recovery.
From that perspective, Kinder Morgan announced that it expects to increase its dividend from today's $0.50 annualized pace to $0.80 in 2018, $1.00 in 2019, and $1.25 in 2020. At that expected 2020 dividend level, today's stock price would represent a staggering 6.4% yield. Investors buying today have the very real potential of either a substantially higher yield in the not-too-distant future and some serious stock price appreciation if income-oriented investors rediscover its shares.
Chuck Saletta owns shares of IBM, Kinder Morgan, and Kinder Morgan. Jason Hall owns shares of Activision Blizzard, Kinder Morgan, and SunPower. Reuben Gregg Brewer owns shares of IBM. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Activision Blizzard and Kinder Morgan. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.