It isn't easy to make piles of money on the stock exchange, but it isn't impossible, either. There are a great many examples of companies that either flew under the market's radar or plunged into a slump, only to recover spectacularly later on.
Investors who catch the right stock at the right time, then, can watch their investment rise ever higher until it's many times higher than what they paid for it. And it's not even that difficult to find a number of recent examples. Here are two well-known stocks that had enough lift to add a pair of zeroes onto a $7,000 investment.
Does your portfolio include a sizable position in Pets.com? Have you recently loaded up on Webvan or eXcite shares?
The answer to these questions is a resounding "no," because all three stocks were spectacular dot-com-era flameouts that no longer exist. A peer internet company from that time, online travel agency Priceline Group (NASDAQ:PCLN), also looked as if it would go that route.
When the company listed on the exchange as Priceline.com in 1999, the rapacious investor hunger for anything with a ".com" after its name drove the stock through the roof from the start. On its first day of trading, it closed at over 330% higher than its IPO price.
But the dot-com era would come to a sudden halt.
Like many of its peers, Priceline posted some stomach-churning losses on the bottom line. This was forgivable, even expected, during the boom, but not when investors started ditching internet stocks. For Priceline, the problem was compounded by the 9/11 attacks, which struck a crippling blow to the travel industry. A highflier at nearly $1,000 per share in its early days, the stock could be bought for less than $7 only a few years after its debut.
But, slowly and quietly at first, the company started to gain altitude. It began posting an operating profit, and before long it flew into the black on the bottom line, too. Both revenue and net income started to climb, helped by a string of (mostly) clever acquisitions that continue to this day.
Fast-forward to now: Priceline Group, next to arch-rival Expedia, is one of the two online travel agency giants on the U.S. market, with annual revenue approaching $11 billion and a bottom line that lands well, and consistently, in the black. A frothy global travel market looks as if it has some distance to fly, which plays beautifully to Priceline's strength in international bookings and makes for a promising future.
Even investors who waited too long after that bleak post-9/11 period to jump into Priceline still stand to profit very handsomely. A $7,000 buy-in during the summer of 2002 would be worth around $700,000 today.
In most corners of the world these days, it's almost impossible to avoid Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS). Considered by many to be the entertainment-industry stock, the company is deeply invested in nearly every facet of show business. It controls one of the traditional free-TV broadcasters, its costumes and dolls line toy-store shelves, every kid wants to visit one of its theme parks, and humanity still flocks to see the Star Wars films.
This makes it easy to forget that following the 1966 death of its namesake founder, Disney hobbled along for decades. Its film studio wasn't very active and didn't produce many hits, while its few theme parks brought in revenue but didn't make the company an outperformer.
That all changed in 1984, when the company wisely brought on young, ambitious executive Michael Eisner as its CEO. Eisner installed a similarly restless and youthful executive, Jeffrey Katzenberg, to head Disney's studio.
These two very driven men transformed their company from a sleepy has-been to an entertainment juggernaut. During their era, Disney bought or built a clutch of TV assets (ABC and ESPN), constructed its first theme park outside the U.S. (Euro Disneyland, now Disneyland Paris), and ramped up its film production and distribution efforts into a studio rivaling the sturdiest of the Hollywood incumbents.
Eisner and Katzenberg are both long gone from Disney, but their energetic, let's-make-a-deal spirit lives on. Some of Disney's most important units -- Marvel, source of lucrative comic-book adaptations, and Star Wars parent Lucasfilm -- were bought during the reign of current CEO Robert Iger.
I believe that despite some drags on its business, notably the thorny problem of declining ESPN viewership, Disney still has much opportunity to exploit. A good example is the upcoming Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge themed area at Disneyland and Walt Disney World, a smart example of leveraging of a top brand. It's hard to imagine that this won't be a monster hit from the company that can write the book on monster hits.
Disney investors who managed to hold on during the dark days should be ready for a comfortable retirement. A $7,000 investment in the pre-Eisner/Katzenberg era would make for a nest egg well above $700,000 these days.