Microsoft (MSFT -0.20%) investors enjoyed nearly a 100-fold return in the 1990s. Shares bought at the start of the decade had delivered a stunning 9,300% gain when the Y2K bug was dodging the fireworks 10 years later.
That kind of value creation is impossible to duplicate, but we asked a panel of Motley Fool investors to come up with a few tickers that could at least come close to Redmond's golden decade. Read on to see why they selected next-generation screen-technology researcher Universal Display (OLED -1.14%), biotech developer Ionis Pharmaceuticals (IONS -3.42%), and petroleum explorer Pioneer Natural Resources (PXD -1.71%).
High-tech returns from an unexpected place
Matt DiLallo (Pioneer Natural Resources): Shale drilling has revolutionized the oil industry in recent years. Thanks to several technological advances and innovations, oil companies can unlock a treasure trove of oil. Further, they can earn high returns on those investments, which has the potential to fuel tech-like returns for their investors.
Take shale-driller Pioneer Natural Resources, for example, which is on pace to deliver 15% compound annual production growth through 2026, while living within cash flow at around current oil prices. Fueling the company's growth forecast is its prime position in the Permian Basin of western Texas, which, thanks to a combination of factors, can achieve remarkable returns on capital of 50% to more than 100% per well. Because of those robust returns, Pioneer believes it can grow its cash flow from operations by a more than 20% compound annual clip over the next decade. That's a stunning growth rate that few companies can match.
In fact, according to an analysis by JPMorgan, only 15 stocks in the Russel 1000 index achieved that level of compound annual cash flow growth over the previous decade, several of which were tech giants. What's worth noting about these companies is that their rapidly growing cash flow streams helped fuel market-crushing returns for investors as these stocks delivered an average total return of 662%, which works out to about 19% annually. Given that history, Pioneer could provide tech-like returns for its investors over the next decade even if oil prices don't do all that much, making it an excellent option for growth-focused investors.
First we take the smartphone, then we take the TV
Anders Bylund (Universal Display): Microsoft offered a 100-fold return on your investment across the 1990s. If you allow me to cheat a little bit, we Universal Display investors have seen our holdings triple in two years. As a result, stock prices must only rise by 3,300% in eight years to match the golden days of Redmond's finest.
That's still a stretch, of course, but the organic LED technologist is doing its best to keep up with Microsoft's strongest years in the stock market.
The gains have so far been built around smartphone screens with a small side order of tablet displays and an even tinier helping of big-screen TV sales. This approach has served as an effective entry point into the mainstream market for high-quality screen technologies, but the best is yet to come.
You see, Universal Display collects royalties and material resale revenues based on the square footage of screens that are built and sold. A single 55-inch TV screen contains as much OLED material as a hundred 5.5-inch smartphone displays. Several home-electronics builders have started churning out big-screen OLED TV sets in reasonably large volumes, driving consumer prices down as economies of scale start to kick in.
Continue down that path, and Universal Display stands to multiply its revenue stream many times over in the next few years. It won't be enough to match Microsoft's gains when the PC was young, but investors could get close if they grabbed that two-year triple that I mentioned above.
In ballpark terms, it's going to be pretty close. That's why I own Universal Display today, and why I plan to ride the OLED wave for the long term.
This biotech has one of the deepest drug development pipelines
Sean Williams (Ionis Pharmaceuticals): Trying to find a company that could grow like Microsoft is incredibly tough since we don't see too many Microsoft-caliber companies come along during a lifetime. But if I had my arm twisted, biotech drug-developer Ionis Pharmaceuticals could be a multi-decade growth story.
One of the greatest allures of Ionis Pharmaceuticals is its proprietary antisense drug-development platform. Ionis is able to use the results of previous clinical studies to predict the outcomes and success of developing drugs. This antisense platform has allowed it to move around five new drugs a year into clinical studies, which is an exceptionally strong rate. This doesn't mean every clinical program will be a success, but it gives the company ample opportunities to knock one out of the park.
Currently, Ionis has 27 ongoing clinical-phase trials, along with three Food and Drug Administration-approved products. A majority of these studies involve rare diseases, which is smart on Ionis' part since rare-disease drugs tend to have minimal competition and exceptional pricing power and protections.
You'd also note, after a quick look at its pipeline, that many of Ionis' developing therapies are licensed or partnered. A full two-thirds of its 27 developing products have a licensing partner, which often means an upfront cash payment for Ionis and the ability to earn milestone revenue based on the development and sales of a drug in question. This constant stream of licensing and milestone revenue has proved critical to buoying Ionis' cash balance and has mostly kept it from diluting investors with common-stock offerings.
The most important approved product in its pipeline is Spinraza, a treatment for spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) in adults and children. Partnered with Biogen, Spinraza has blockbuster potential considering that it's the first drug approved to treat SMA. Biogen reported sales of $203 million for the drug in the second quarter, up 328% from the $47 million recorded in the sequential first quarter. Meanwhile Ionis recognized $27.6 million in royalties from the sale of Spinraza in Q2.
The key point with Ionis is that there's so much drug diversity in its portfolio that it's not out of the question that more Spinrazas could exist within its pipeline. With recurring profitability in sight by, perhaps, 2019, the sky could be the limit for this unique drug developer.