Investing in so-called growth stocks can be as exciting as it is frustrating. All too often, investors who own growth stocks panic when they realize that the road to market-beating gains is fraught with volatility.
That doesn't always mean downside volatility, either. You might sell a stock after a big gain, for example, only to helplessly watch it run higher for an extended period of time. In any case, assuming the thesis for owning the stock hasn't changed, patient investors who can see through the noise stand to crush the market in the process.
But finding businesses that merit this kind of patience is easier said than done. So we asked three top Motley Fool investors to each pick a growth stock that they believe farsighted investors can appreciate right now. Read on to learn why they chose Pandora Media (NYSE:P), Facebook (NASDAQ:FB), and Intuitive Surgical (NASDAQ:ISRG).
Music to investors' ears
Steve Symington (Pandora Media): Pandora Media certainly isn't in the market's good graces right now. Shares are down more than 40% over the past month after the music streaming specialist followed strong third-quarter results with disappointing forward guidance.
More specifically, Pandora expects difficult advertising market conditions to weigh on its top line in the fourth quarter, which should mean revenue arrives in the range of $365 million to $380 million. That's down from roughly $393 million in the same year-ago period, and a far cry from the $413 million Wall Street was modeling.
But things aren't as bad as they seem. For one, last year was unusual, given a significant amount of political advertising revenue surrounding the elections. Pandora also only just finished divesting its Ticketfly subsidiary and winding down its Australia/New Zealand operations -- both moves that should allow the company to hone its focus on its more promising subscription services, Pandora Plus and Pandora Premium, where a 29% increase in paid subscribers (to 5.19 million) helped subscription revenue climb 50% year over year to $84 million. And that's not to mention receiving a massive a massive vote of confidence from Sirius XM, which is in process of making a $480 million investment in the company.
In addition, Pandora's new CEO, Roger Lynch, who previously served as the founding CEO of Sling TV, believes the company has been missing out on significant opportunities to expand its reach. In the near term, that means we'll see him lead Pandora to more aggressively pursue new distribution opportunities (think smart devices, connected home products, and automotive), new forms of audio content (like podcasts, spoken word, and traditional radio), and more rewards-based advertising that can make the service stickier and potentially upsell free listeners by helping them temporarily unlock premium features.
Lynch also outlined plans to address significant gaps in Pandora's advertising technology, including expanding access to data and engagement metrics for advertisers to help it better compete with peers in this increasingly crowded space.
We can't expect Pandora to address all these issues overnight. But for farsighted investors willing to buy Pandora stock near its all-time lows, any signs of a successful turnaround could mean incredible market-beating gains going forward.
Just getting started
Sean O'Reilly (Facebook): Some might think Facebook, which is already worth $520 billion in market cap, is an odd pick for a growth stock for farsighted investors. However, Facebook has a growth-card up its sleeve: average revenue per user (ARPU) outside the United States. You see, practically everyone in the U.S. has a Facebook account. As of Sept. 30, 11.5% of Facebook's 2.07 billion monthly active users were from the United States or Canada. However, these 239 million users made up 48.7% of revenue. Diving a little deeper, it gets even crazier. In Q3, the company averaged $21.20 in ARPU in the U.S. and Canada, mostly from ads, while grossing just $6.85 ARPU in Europe, $2.27 ARPU in the Asia-Pacific region, and a minuscule $1.59 ARPU in the rest of the world.
Facebook has not one but two amazing growth levers. The first is continued increases in monthly active users. As this trend continues, and penetration into foreign markets rises, Facebook will be able to command higher ad prices. And that leads us to the second growth driver: increasing its ARPU on a global basis. Despite its size, Facebook has a long runway of growth ahead of it.
Competitive advantages loom large for this medical device giant
Sean Williams (Intuitive Surgical): Some investors might look at robotic-assisted surgical giant Intuitive Surgical and say that it's had its run. I'd suggest that farsighted investors with a long investment timeframe could see a similar run-up in its stock.
Intuitive Surgical brings a number of competitive advantages to the table in the robotic-assisted surgical space. Having begun installing its da Vinci surgical systems back in 2000, the company has 17 years of experience and medical community rapport to fall back on. It takes time to train surgeons on how to use this equipment, which gives the company a massive head start on its competition which, in many instances, is just getting its feet wet.
Intuitive Surgical currently specializes in soft-tissue surgeries, and holds significant market share in urology and gynecology procedures. However, it's making quite a push into general surgery -- more specifically, thoracic and colorectal procedures. In the intermediate term, procedural growth in the high single digits to low double digits can probably be expected.
But it's not procedural expansion that's even the most exciting aspect of Intuitive Surgical. It's what should happen to the company's margins over time. You see, while the company's da Vinci systems are pricy at $0.6 million to $2.5 million per machine, they're a low-margin item. These are highly intricate surgical devices that cost a lot to build. The real margin power comes into play when these systems are installed. Servicing costs to hospitals and universities of $80,000 to $170,000 a year for each machine, coupled with $700 to $3,500 for each procedure, are extremely high-margin forms of revenue. Thus, as Intuitive Surgical's base of installed machines grows, its margin quality should improve, yielding higher profit growth relative to sales growth. That's what makes Intuitive Surgical such an attractive option for farsighted investors to consider buying.
Sean O'Reilly has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Sean Williams has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Steve Symington has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Facebook, Intuitive Surgical, and Pandora Media. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.