Bitcoin is up by more than a factor of 10 this year. Other cryptocurrencies have surged even more. It can be tempting, looking at the near-vertical charts of these digital "assets," to dive in head-first. Some people are doing just that -- search volume for "buying bitcoin with a credit card" has risen sharply this month.
This is a mania, plain and simple. If you don't want to be left holding the bag when the party ends, consider buying stocks instead. With a stock, you own a piece of a real business and a share of its profits. With bitcoin, the only thing you get is the chance to have your "investment" stolen in a hack. If you need some ideas, we've got you covered. Here's why you should consider buying International Business Machines (IBM -0.26%), Secoo (SECO 3.63%), and Universal Display (OLED -0.93%).
A legitimate blockchain company
Tim Green (International Business Machines): Blockchain, the technology that underlies cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, has become more of a buzzword than anything else. The tech still has plenty of potential, but when shares of money-losing companies are rocketing higher for no reason other than a name change, it's hard to argue that this isn't a mania.
Still, there are some legitimate companies investing in the technology, and every single one of them are better investments than Bitcoin. One example is IBM, which has made a flurry of blockchain-related announcements this year. Earlier this month, the company announced the formation of the Blockchain Food Safety Alliance, a collaboration with Walmart, JD.com, and Tsinghua University to use blockchain technology to add transparency across the food supply chain in China.
Other notable blockchain deals for IBM include a plan to build a blockchain-based platform for trade finance for seven major European banks, and a collaboration with shipping giant Maersk to make the transport and logistic industry more efficient. Blockchain is just one component of IBM's growth strategy, which centers on cloud computing and artificial intelligence.
IBM expects to report the first revenue increase in five years during the fourth quarter, making now the perfect time to buy the stock, especially considering it trades for just 11 times the company's guidance for full-year adjusted earnings. That's a bargain compared to the broader market, and it makes a lot more sense as an investment than an overheated digital currency with no real utility.
A speculative Chinese e-commerce play
Leo Sun (Secoo): Secoo is the top luxury e-tailer in China and controls about 25% of the country's online market for luxury goods, according to Frost & Sullivan. The company went public last September, but it trades more than 30% below its IPO price of $13.
Secoo's IPO bombed because investors were worried that bigger online marketplaces, like Alibaba's (BABA -3.82%) Tmall and JD.com (NASDAQ.COM), would render it obsolete with their own platforms for luxury goods. Many luxury brands have also been setting up their own direct-to-consumer platforms in China.
Yet Secoo carved out a niche market in second, third, and fourth-tier cities -- which have rising income levels but are under-served by its bigger rivals. Demand in those markets is booming. That's why Secoo's gross merchandise volume rose 65% annually to $209.6 million last quarter, as its total revenue jumped 44% to $147.6 million.
Secoo's gross margin also expanded 80 basis points annually to 17%, while its GAAP net income surged 903% to $5.1 million. On a non-GAAP basis its net income rose more than tenfold to $6 million. For the current quarter, Secoo expects its revenue to rise 42% to 54% annually.
Those are impressive growth figures for a stock which trades at less than 1 times sales with a forward P/E of 10. If Secoo proves the bears wrong and keeps growing, its stock could easily rebound to its IPO price and beyond. But it's still a speculative play, since Alibaba and JD could eventually overwhelm it.
The next big thing in multiple industries (and a tiny dividend, too)
Steve Symington (Universal Display): Rather than bet on the questionable continued rise of a digital currency, why not buy a stock with more concrete growth catalysts in the coming years? I think organic light emitting diode (OLED) specialist Universal Display (OLED -0.93%) fits the bill perfectly.
After all, Universal Display's flagship phosphorescent OLED technology is already found in tens of millions of electronic devices, notably including a growing number of gorgeous OLED TVs from LG Display (LPL -0.90%), most Samsung (NASDAQOTH: SSNLF) smartphones and, more recently, Apple's high-end iPhone X. What's more, likely with the help of China-based display manufacturer BOE -- with which Universal Display just signed new long-term agreements to supply OLED materials -- Apple is widely expected to incorporate OLED into the displays of multiple new iPhones next year.
If that wasn't enough, LG Display began ramping production of OLED lighting panels in October. This should serve to rapidly bring down prices of OLED lighting solutions, and accelerate Universal Display's penetration of the OLED lighting market -- a market that research firm IDTechEx believes will grow into a $5.8 billion industry by 2025, good for a compound annual growth rate of 85%.
Finally, Universal Display currently pays a quarterly dividend of just $0.03 per share, equating to a tiny annual yield of 0.07% at today's prices. But keeping in mind the company only just initiated that dividend earlier this year, management has repeatedly reminded investors that they think of it as a "good place to start" and intend to increase that payout as the OLED industry continues to grow.
For shareholders willing to buy now and watch that happen, I think Universal Display's stock price will only continue to follow suit.