It isn't hard to find stocks with a track record for strong sales gains. But the truly rare investment is one that combines growth with a large market opportunity -- and the competitive advantages necessary to protect those wins over the long term.
Below, Motley Fool investors explain why Starbucks (SBUX -0.05%), Netflix (NFLX -1.96%), and Mastercard (MA -2.20%) are good enough growth stocks that you could feel comfortable owning them for the next quarter-century.
Brewing up long-term growth
Jeremy Bowman (Starbucks): Starbucks has fallen out of favor with investors of late as the company's once-blistering growth rate has slowed down, but I think there are still plenty of reasons to count on the coffee giant for the next 25 years.
Its brand is unmatched in coffee, and demand for the buzzy brew isn't going anywhere. While complaints about Starbucks saturating the market are familiar, the company still has opportunities for growth in food with digital orders, delivery, consumer packaged goods, stand-alone Princi bakeries, and premiumization with its Reserve brand. It's easy to imagine automation also taking a significant role in the Starbucks of the future.
Investors also seem to be discounting the opportunity in China, a market that chairman Howard Schultz said will one day be larger than the U.S. The opening of the recent Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Shanghai shows the brand's appeal in China: At the new location, the company is ringing up nearly $500,000 in sales a week, with an average check of $29.
The market seems to be frustrated with the coffee chain, as comparable-sales growth has slowed from 5% a few years ago to just 2%, but considering the "restaurant recession" going on in the U.S. over the last two years, Starbucks is still outperforming most of its peers. The recent challenges are manageable, and Starbucks has overcome such setbacks in the past; it will get better at handling digital orders, for example.
Adjusted earnings per share still grew 14% in its latest report. With growth like that, the recent pullback seems to represent a buying opportunity for long-term investors, not a reason to panic.
Many more seasons left in this run
Demitri Kalogeropoulos (Netflix): Last year, Netflix's streaming service celebrated its tenth birthday. In just that short time its user base has grown to 117 million subscribers, split about evenly between U.S. and international streamers, who happily pay around $11 per month for commercial-free access to a wide range of (increasingly exclusive) TV shows and movies.
Netflix's big-picture outlook envisions many more decades of growth ahead as internet entertainment completely elbows out traditional broadcast television. After all, radio dominated home media for half a century before TV took over for the next 60 years or so. The new era of internet-focused entertainment "is likely to be very big and enduring also," executives argue, "given the flexibility and ubiquity of the internet around the world."
There's no better validation of that forecast than Disney's recent move to launch two of its own streaming video services, which abandon its TV networks in favor of bringing content directly to consumers. Sure, one of these products will begin competing with Netflix in late 2019. But there's room for many winners in a massive industry shift like this. And, as the current leader in the space, Netflix has a good shot at accruing more than its fair share of profits as home entertainment morphs into an internet-based service over the coming decades.
How plastic money can make you money
Neha Chamaria (MasterCard): Mastercard celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2016. Another quarter of a century later, the payments-processing behemoth not only should still be around, but also is likely to have grown at a strong pace and rewarded patient investors richly. Consistent performance, solid growth catalysts, and a thirst to beat rival Visa in the game underpin my confidence in Mastercard.
Mastercard's growth so far has been nothing short of phenomenal, as it took advantage of the world's growing interest in digital payments and plastic money. Its growth continued into 2017, when revenue and adjusted net income grew by 16% and 18%, respectively, driven largely by 10% growth in its gross dollar volume (the total dollar amount of transactions and cash disbursements made with Mastercard-branded cards). The company also returned nearly $4.7 billion to shareholders in the form of share repurchases and dividends.
2018 could be an even bigger year, what with Mastercard upgrading its 2016-2018 financial goals to a revenue growth of 13% to 14%, and compound EPS growth in the mid-20s percentages. The company continues to earn operating margin above 50%.
In the longer run, two things make me particularly bullish about Mastercard: its intent focus on technology, and the massive global opportunities as cash economies like India turn cashless. From artificial-intelligence programs to mobile payment solutions and a biometric card, the company is constantly innovating to adopt new technologies and secure its payments network. With its strong management and financials to boot, Mastercard is perfectly poised to ride the next digitization wave and reward shareholders handsomely in coming decades.