Investors are often wary of stocks trading at or near new highs. That's natural: If a stock has recently had a big run-up in price, it's easy for investors to feel that they've missed the boat -- or put another way, that there's nowhere to go but back down.
Sometimes, though, a stock trading at a new high is just beginning its run-up. In fact, some investors have learned that (with certain stocks, anyway) a new high might be a buy signal, a sign that something has recently changed for the better.
Of course, you need to look closely at such stocks before concluding that the growth story is just beginning. We asked three Foolish investors to name stocks that they think are worth such a close look right now. Here's why they think Ferrari (NYSE:RACE), Activision Blizzard (NASDAQ:ATVI), and Take-Two Interactive (NASDAQ:TTWO) still have a lot of growth left, despite their recent price surges.
A luxury company like no other
John Rosevear (Ferrari): Supercar maker Ferrari was a private company for decades, owned by Italian automaker Fiat and the Ferrari family. But Fiat, now part of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, decided to spin off its 90% stake in Italy's automotive crown jewel late in 2015, bringing Ferrari to the public markets for the first time in its long history.
At first, investors didn't know what to make of Ferrari, which limits its annual production to preserve exclusivity. How would a company that refuses to increase sales generate the profit growth that investors seek? A few months after the IPO, CEO Sergio Marchionne answered that question -- and then this happened:
Ferrari's stock took off like, well, a Ferrari. Now it's trading at a very rich valuation -- about 32 times its expected 2017 earnings. But despite that very rich valuation, Ferrari's shares might still be a buy. Consider the following:
- Ferrari's EBIT margin in the second quarter was an eye-popping 21.9% -- and that's normal. General Motors was at 10% in the second quarter, about as good as it gets in Big Auto. Even luxury companies like Coach (NYSE:TPR) struggle to get into Ferrari's neighborhood: Coach's operating margin was 15.2% in the most recent quarter.
- Ferrari isn't recession-proof, but it's close. Its super-wealthy clientele is somewhat shielded from global economic ups and downs. And with just one factory, Ferrari doesn't have the huge fixed costs of a global giant like GM.
- Disruption? Nah. Ferrari's customers aren't going to replace their beloved rides with self-driving electric transport pods -- if anything, Ferrari will thrive on the contrast. Ferrari is embracing hybrid technology, a version of which is now required in top-level Formula One racing -- but its revered V8 and V12 gasoline engines won't go silent anytime soon. Silicon Valley is no threat here, at least not in the near term.
- That profit-growth plan is a solid one. Ferrari will modestly increase its production over the next couple of years, while adding more super-high-priced limited-production models for its wealthy hardcore fans, expanding high-margin options on its regular cars, licensing its brand in ways that don't compromise that all-important exclusivity, and expanding its service and restoration offerings for older Ferraris.
Marchionne has argued (persuasively) that Ferrari deserves a valuation in line with luxury companies, in the neighborhood of 25 times earnings. It's ahead of that right now -- but if it can boost its bottom line substantially over the next few years, as seems likely, then there's still room for growth here.
Investing in the future of gaming
Steve Symington (Activision Blizzard): Shares of video game giant Activision Blizzard are up nearly 70% year to date, and trade within a grenade's throw of all-time highs as of this writing. But with eight game franchises now generating annual sales of at least $1 billion, the Call of Duty and Warcraft creator's recent strength is unique in that it easily crushed expectations for the second quarter despite a relatively light slate of new releases.
More than 80% of Activision's revenue last quarter came from digital channels, which means it's not leaning nearly as hard on retail sales of new consoles or physical game releases to drive revenue and earnings. And for those who doubted its $5.9 billion acquisition of mobile game leader King Digital in late 2015, King has grown bookings per paying user for each of the past eight quarters, and maintained two of the top-10 highest-grossing titles in U.S. mobile app stores for the past 15 quarters.
In addition, Activision is looking forward to the impending launches of Destiny 2 and Call of Duty: World War II in September and November, respectively. Management has stated that both pre-order momentum and hands-on feedback have been strong for the two blockbuster titles.
Over the longer term, Activision also remains poised to benefit from the rise of esports. The company says 285 million people worldwide watched esports events last year. And just last month, Activision announced the sale of the first Overwatch League teams for major global cities to several entrepreneurs and sports/esports leaders, including the likes of Kraft Group CEO and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, New York Mets VC and COO Jeff Wilpon, NetEase (NASDAQ:NTES), and Kabam co-founder Kevin Chou.
In my opinion, as arguably the best-positioned company to capitalize on the stunning momentum of the gaming world, Activision should be able to continue generating market-beating returns for years to come.
Beyond the current high score
Keith Noonan (Take-Two Interactive): Shares of video game publisher Take-Two Interactive have climbed to new heights following the company's latest blockbuster earnings report, and its stock has now more than doubled over the last year. Even with these impressive gains, the stock looks to present worthwhile upside for the long-term investor.
The company's strong results in its recently reported quarter were once again driven by the incredible ongoing success of Grand Theft Auto V and growth in high-margin digital sales. Grand Theft Auto looks to be a franchise with long-term staying power, and the series will likely remain Take-Two's most important property for the foreseeable future, but it's actually the company's potential to build out its stable of blockbuster video games that points to huge growth potential.
The company now expects to launch at least one blockbuster, non-sports game each year -- indicating that it's no longer just the Grand Theft Auto company. Spring 2018 will see the release of Red Dead Redmption 2, which looks poised to be a strong performer, and Take-Two has also announced that it will release another big franchise title before the end of its next fiscal year in March 2019 -- possibly a new installment in the Borderlands series. Factor in opportunities in mobile, mixed reality, and esports, and Take-Two still has room to run.
Continued sales from Grand Theft Auto V and its online mode have done a lot to smooth out earnings, but if the company can release a game (outside of its annual sports titles) with strong sales potential on a roughly annual basis, it will likely be able to deliver substantial earnings growth that translates to continued capital appreciation.