One bitcoin was worth roughly $1,000 a year ago. Today, the same token fetches the princely sum of $7,900. It's hard to beat extreme growth like that one, right? But since bitcoin prices swung all the way up to $19,200 per token in December, today's prices can't hold a candle to those highs.
If bitcoin's high-stakes roller coaster makes your stomach churn, you'll often find better risk-reward balances in the stock market. So we asked three Motley Fool investors what they would buy today instead of bitcoin. Here's why our panelists would rather own Square (NYSE:SQ), Globalstar (NYSEMKT:GSAT), and HealthEquity (NASDAQ:HQY).
A leader in digital transactions
Chris Neiger (Square): You could make investments in speculative cryptocurrencies, or you could invest in Square and the myriad ways it allows people to exchange money. You've likely seen the company's point-of-sale payment terminals or its mobile credit card readers, but the great thing about this company is that it's evolving along with trends like peer-to-peer payments and cryptocurrencies, minus all of the volatility.
Square not only allows businesses to accept credit card payments, but its Square Cash app is allowing people to easily pay each other with their phones, too. The amount of P2P payments is expected to balloon to $244 billion, the company already has 7 million active users on the app, and it recently rolled out the ability to buy and sell bitcoin on the platform.
One the most promising aspects of Square's business is that the company can adapt for nearly any payment trend that pops up. Most of its transactions are still done through credit cards, but bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies could easily become a big part of its transactions in the future -- its devices already accept Apple Pay.
Square is just coming off a fantastic fourth quarter where the company beat expectations on both its top and bottom lines, with sales growing 36% year over year to $616 million and adjusted earnings per share hitting $0.08. To top it all off, gross payment volume (GPV), the metric the company uses to track total payments, jumped 31% from the year-ago quarter to $17.9 billion. Square's strong growth, solid user base, and its ability to ride new trends in digital payments make the company a solid prospect for investors looking to bet on the next big thing in digital payments.
Riding a healthcare trend
Brian Feroldi (HealthEquity): Crypto investors are clearly attracted to securities that offer huge growth potential. That's why I think that a small-cap growth stock called HealthEquity is right up their alley.
HealthEquity helps other businesses to set up and manage health savings accounts (HSAs). The company has been growing like a weed in recent years as more and more companies offer their employees high-deductible health plans as a way to help them save money on their health insurance premiums. Signing up for a high-deductible health plan makes an employee eligible to use an HSA account.
HSA accounts are a wonderful place for employees to stash money because contributions are made with pre-tax money. As long as the funds are used to pay for healthcare expenses, then there are no taxes to pay. What's more, any money that is contributed to an HSA will roll over from one year to the next and can be transferred in the event of a job change. These benefits make using a HSA account a no-brainer for eligible employees.
These advantages have led millions of Americans to open accounts, which is a tailwind that HealthEquity has taken advantage of. The company's customer count grew 24% in 2017 to 3.4 million while assets under management expanded 35% to $6.8 billion. Better yet, its customer retention rate was 98%, a sign of how much they value the company's services.
Between asset growth and new accounts openings, I think HealthEquity should be able to post double-digit revenue and profit growth for the foreseeable future. That makes this a great stock for growth-focused investors to get to know.
Anders Bylund (Globalstar): If bitcoin is even on your radar as a serious investing option, I'm betting that you are OK with balancing some risk against the promise of big returns. That's exactly what you get in satellite communications expert Globalstar.
The company owns two important assets: a basket of radio spectrum licenses both in America and around the globe, and the technology to use these satellite-grade licenses for consumer-friendly data services in a terrestrial network.
So far, so good -- but Globalstar has found it difficult to commercialize this brand-new network model. The company has spent several years in Federal Communications Commission trials to gain the authority to run land-based services built around radio licenses originally intended for satellite communications. The last of these approvals arrived in 2017, and Globalstar shares nearly tripled in six months as investors expected a big payoff in short order.
Another year later, Globalstar's stock has lost all of those gains and more, trading at four-year lows instead. No network partner has stepped forward to license, buy, or otherwise validate Globalstar's network ideas. Telecoms hungry for more spectrum are not knocking on this company's door with the intent to buy Globalstar itself or any of its spectrum licenses, nor to strike up a technology partnership that could lead to real business results in the future.
So the drooping stock chart certainly makes sense in light of these disappointments, but this is a marathon and not a sprint, leaving lots of room for any or all of these positive outcomes to play out later. In fact, Globalstar might become a buyout target or a sought-after technology provider once the 3GPP standards body locks down the 5G wireless standard, which would immediately tie into Globalstar's network plans to replace the current 4G/LTE solution with a more efficient and reliable technology.
Yes, this is a big gamble. Globalstar is losing money and burning cash, with a $514 million debt balance overshadowing $42 million of cash reserves. The company can't wait forever. But if and when a deal comes through, making a reality out of Globalstar's long-suffering network dreams, the stock should surge much like bitcoin did last year.