Explosive short-term growth can be great cause for celebration, but it's worth remembering that the maxim of "what goes up, must come down" applies to the large majority of companies enjoying rapid expansion. The most dramatic investment returns will typically come from owning businesses that are capable of shaping and navigating industry trends to sustain healthy growth over long periods of time.
With that in mind, we asked three Motley Fool investors to spotlight a company that has what it takes to sustain a high level of performance and deliver great returns for shareholders. Read on to see why they think Disney (NYSE:DIS), National Beverage (NASDAQ:FIZZ), and Tencent Holdings (NASDAQOTH:TCEHY) are top growth stocks for the long term.
Upending the beverage business
Travis Hoium (National Beverage): There aren't a lot of high-growth companies in the beverage business, but National Beverage is leading the pack. The company makes the popular La Croix brand that's taken the sparkling-water world by storm. It's also the product that's driven double-digit top-line growth over the past two years.
What's exciting about National Beverage in the long term is the way management has been able to expand margin as it's capitalized on its products' popularity. In the 12 months ending Oct. 28, 2017, operating margin was 20.8%, up from 11.5% in fiscal 2015. And that's with more than 20% growth in top-line revenue in the first six months of this fiscal year.
The trends that driving National Beverage's growth -- a focus on health and zero-calorie beverages -- aren't slowing down anytime soon, and that'll fuel the company. Margin won't be able to expand as it has the past three years, but even low double-digit growth over the next few years will make the current price-to-earnings ratio of 36 seem like a steal.
As investors, owning health and wellness companies that are leaders in their respective businesses is a great place to be right now. National Beverage is going up against the biggest names in food and beverages, but it's winning the battle, and with a brand like La Croix leading the way, this is a company that I think will grow even more long-term.
Count on the House of Mouse
Dan Caplinger (Disney): As long-term growth stories go, it's hard to find a more impressive one than Disney. Having started out from modest roots in the early 20th century, Disney grew to become an entertainment colossus, spanning just about every facet of the media and entertainment industry. Building from its foundation as a movie studio business, Disney has a huge exposure to the television industry through its holdings of the ABC and ESPN networks, as well as having created its own TV-based distribution channels for Disney-produced content. Its theme parks continue to draw sightseers from across the globe, and its retail store operations take advantage of the hype that its movie and television assets generate through sales of related merchandise. Digital entertainment has also become more important for Disney, with potential in areas like video games based on Disney properties.
Many investors have resisted Disney recently because of concerns about the transition away from cable television, which has been a cash cow for its television business. As more consumers cut the cable cord, revenue from ESPN in particular faces a threat. Yet Disney has already taken steps to deliver valuable content through other distribution channels, and the end result could well be an increased share of revenue if viewers truly value Disney programming over its competitors. With growth prospects remaining strong in content generation thanks to acquisitions of Marvel, Pixar, and Lucasfilm, Disney has a long runway to sustain growth.
A Chinese tech and multimedia giant
Keith Noonan (Tencent Holdings): Investors seeking long-term growth opportunities would do well to add exposure to the Chinese technology sector to their portfolio. China is already the world's largest internet market, but roughly 40% of the country's population has yet to connect to the net, and urbanization is expanding the country's middle class and per-capita discretionary spending at a rapid clip. If benefiting from those macro-level trends sounds appealing, I'd recommend taking a deeper look at Tencent Holdings.
Tencent is a well-diversified multimedia giant that already has a market cap north of $500 billion. Even so, it looks to have a long runway for growth. The company recently announced that its WeChat messaging service passed a billion monthly active users -- a distinction that makes it China's most popular social-media platform. WeChat is more than a simple message-delivery system, however.
The service's popularity and wide-reaching functionality give Tencent a foothold in many of China's key internet growth markets including e-commerce and online payment -- and it also creates synergies with the company's gaming products. The significance of WeChat as a sort of centralizing hub for many of the company's other businesses has led Tencent to take a somewhat cautious approach to featuring ads on the platform, but the service's huge user base and stellar engagement suggests that there's opportunities to drive ad sales on the platform without significantly diminishing its appeal.
The company's video game business is thriving and looks positioned for continued growth thanks to the strength of its properties, WeChat tie ins, and favorable trends at the industry and national levels. Tencent has a significant growth opportunity in the cloud services space as well -- another fast-emerging segment that's ripe with synergistic potential. All told, the company looks very strong on a holistic level, and its stock is a standout way to ride momentum in the Chinese tech and entertainment sectors.
Dan Caplinger owns shares of Walt Disney. Keith Noonan has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Travis Hoium has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Tencent Holdings and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.