Around this time seven years ago, if you'd put $10,000 into an S&P 500 proxy, say the SPDR S&P 500 ETF, and reinvested dividends all long, you'd have more than doubled your investment to roughly $24,500 today.
Incredible, isn't it?
Now, what if I tell you that you could've earned thrice as much, or even more, during the same period if you'd bought some stocks? And I'm not even talking about high-flying tech names like NVIDIA or Netflix!
Three stocks that belong to relatively boring industries like payments, equipment rental, and logistics have soared more than 500% in the last seven years. I'm talking about Mastercard (NYSE:MA), United Rentals (NYSE:URI), and XPO Logistics (NYSE:XPO).
Each company has a similar story to tell: steadily growing revenues, net incomes, and operating cash flows. Mastercard, United Rentals, and XPO Logistics are also earning double-digit returns on capital employed. Even better, strong tailwinds could continue to propel the three stocks higher in coming years.
United Rentals: 522% growth in 7 years
Mergers and acquisitions have been integral to United Rental's growth. In 2011, the company made one its biggest acquisitions yet when it acquired RSC Holdings, a heavyweight in the construction-equipment rental space. In hindsight, it was a smart move as the deal opened up the industrial rental markets for United Rentals while reducing its exposure to the relatively volatile construction-equipment market. Today, industrial and non-residential construction makes up 50% of United Rental's revenue.
The timing of the acquisition couldn't be any better either: Between 2011 and 2015, the North American rental industry grew at high single-digit percentages annually.
Over the years, United Rental's fleet has grown to more than 520,000 units of equipment worth $11.5 billion, with greater exposure to heavyweight brands like Caterpillar Inc. Meanwhile, a disciplined yet flexible approach to fleet management in-line with end market conditions and a judicious mix of organic and inorganic growth has helped United strengthen its balance sheet and expand cash flows steadily.
For fiscal 2018, management is projecting revenue to range between $7.3 billion and $7.6 billion and free cash flow (FCF) between $1.3 billion and $1.4 billion, compared with $6.6 billion in revenue and $983 million in FCF that it generated in fiscal 2017. With infrastructure spending in the U.S. gathering steam, United Rentals should be able to earn strong returns for shareholders in the long run.
Mastercard: 657% growth in 7 years
One of the biggest trends taking shape in recent years is digitization and cashless payments. Economies across the globe have witnessed a surge in electronic transactions as people have become more tech-savvy and e-commerce has taken off. The biggest beneficiaries of the trend have, undoubtedly, been credit card companies such as Mastercard, which dominates the space in an oligopoly with Visa.
Mastercard's business is all about the "network effect," which refers to how products and services become more valuable as the number of users increases. In Mastercard's case, as more merchants accept its credit and debit cards, more banks issue them, and more customers use them, thereby adding value through the entire chain. Every time someone swipes a Mastercard-branded card anywhere in the world, the company earns a fee. It's a lucrative business: Mastercard earns operating margins above 50%. As of Dec. 31, 2017, there were 2.4 billion Mastercard and Maestro-branded cards worldwide.
Between 2016 and 2018, Mastercard expects to grow its revenue by 13% to 14% and earnings per share in the mid-20s percentages.
There's huge growth potential for Mastercard as large cash-driven economies like India go digital. At the same time, Mastercard is keenly adopting advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence and biometrics to secure and strengthen its payments network further even as it bets big on high-growth markets, especially China and India. When you consider those tailwinds alongside Mastercard's strong financials and prudent management, you're looking at a stock that could reward you richly for not just years, but decades to come. Not to forget management's commitment to shareholders, having returned nearly $21.4 billion to shareholders since 2011 in the form of share repurchases and dividends.
XPO Logistics: 1,100% in 7 years
That number isn't a typo. XPO Logistics has been what investors' dreams are made of.
That jaw-dropping rise in XPO shares wasn't a fluke. In FY 2010, XPO generated revenue worth $158 million. Fast-forward to FY 2017, and the company's top line had soared to $15.38 billion, making it one of the fastest-growing transportation companies. XPO's earnings, meanwhile, climbed from $0.15 per share in 2010 to $2.45 a share in 2017.
Four factors have played a major role in XPO's growth over the years:
- An asset-light business model that relies heavily on contracted transport and logistics facilities and contributes 69% to XPO's revenues.
- A strong geographical footprint, with 40% of revenue originating outside the U.S. currently.
- A solid 50,000-plus customer base spread across industries and geographies.
- Aggressive acquisitions, such as of Norbert Dentressangle SA and Con-way.
More recently, XPO's smart bet on last-mile logistics has vaulted its fortunes. Last-mile is the final leg of delivery of goods to the end consumer, which requires greater expertise, especially with heavy goods such as furniture and home appliances, and tight delivery timelines. Today, XPO is the largest last-mile provider in North America that handles nearly 13 million deliveries every year.
XPO Logistics ended FY 2017 on a strong note and is well on its way to yet another good year. Last year, CEO Bradley Jacobs revealed the company plans to spend as much as $7 billion to $8 billion on acquisitions in the near future. With e-commerce as a tailwind, XPO stock could continue to be a multibagger.