To me, it somehow seems wrong to call bitcoin an investment. With the wild ride that comes with ownership, no underlying assets, and no idea what tomorrow may bring, it seems a bit more like closing your eyes and rolling the dice. To me, that sounds more like gambling than investing.
For those not interested in the thrill ride, buying stocks has a much longer track record of generating wealth over the long term, without the sleepless nights.
With that in mind, we asked three Motley Fool investors to choose companies that they believe provide a more traditional alternative to the bitcoin phenomenon. They offered arguments for Universal Display (OLED -2.11%), Baozun (BZUN 7.17%), and Alphabet Inc. (GOOGL -1.82%) (GOOG -1.98%).
Another kind of industry disruption
Steve Symington (Universal Display): While many investors believe cryptocurrencies could disrupt the global financial markets, it's easy to forget that bitcoin is only one of hundreds of cryptocurrencies vying to play a central role to that end -- that is, if they can overcome regulatory challenges that come with the territory.
So why not invest in a disruptive technology whose future is much more certain? Take organic light emitting diode (OLED) specialist Universal Display, for example, whose flagship technology is already found in the displays of hundreds of millions of electronic devices -- including smartphones and tablets from Samsung, LG, Google's Pixel line, and even Apple's iPhone X and Apple Watch.
But if OLED is already found in so many devices, how can Universal Display continue to grow?
For one, Apple is widely expected to expand its use of OLED displays to the rest of its iPhone line over the next couple of years. And LG Display (Universal's second-largest customer behind Samsung Display) is still in the early stages of ramping up production for its cutting edge OLED TVs -- each of which require significantly higher volumes of the patent-protected OLED emitter materials that Universal Display sells.
In addition, Universal Display signed new long-term agreements with Chinese display giant BOE Technology Group a few months ago, paving the way for massive growth from the Chinese smartphone and TV market going forward.
Perhaps most exciting, the OLED lighting industry is still in its infancy, and is expected to grow exponentially over the next decade or so as dozens of lighting manufacturers improve their respective OLED lighting solutions. If that happens, Universal Display will play a central role enabling that growth.
That's not to say Universal Display is undisruptable; shares fell in March after reports that Apple was in the early stages of quietly developing its own competing MicroLED display technology. But even that technology is still years away from commercialization -- if it even reaches that point -- giving Universal Display that much more time to solidify its technological edge.
A Chinese company with huge potential
Jeremy Bowman (Baozun): The bitcoin craze may have come and gone, as the most popular cryptocurrency is now worth less than half what it was at its peak last December. That doesn't mean that investors' hunger for huge returns has disappeared. One stock that has the potential to deliver on that is Baozun.
If you haven't heard of Baozun, you're not alone. The stock is lightly covered by Wall Street analysts and has been public for only three years. However, the stock has gotten more attention recently as shares have nearly tripled over the last year.
Baozun is often likened to the Chinese version of Shopify, the leading e-commerce software provider in North America. But that comparison doesn't do Baozun justice, as the company offers software and so much more to multinational companies doing business online in China. It handles operations end-to-end for its brand partners, including marketing, customer service, warehousing, and fulfillment.
It has been steadily adding brand partners over the last five years and now has 152, including giants like Philips, Nike, and Microsoft. The Chinese market and regulatory landscape are notoriously difficult for foreign companies to navigate, making Baozun's services highly valuable. The service provider has been steadily gaining market share and now claims nearly 25% of the e-commerce services market, nearly triple its closest competitor.
The company is moving away from a direct selling model and toward a higher-margin services model, which should help drive profitability. In its most recent quarter, revenue rose 23%, but profits more than doubled. Sitting at the intersection of two huge opportunities -- the growth of the Chinese middle class and the rise of e-commerce -- Baozun should see profits soar just by riding that wave. Its growing market share is an added bonus for investors.
A bet on blockchain -- and more
Danny Vena (Alphabet): While bitcoin gets all the headlines, it's really the underlying blockchain technology -- the digital and distributed ledger that bitcoin uses to record transactions -- that made the tech world stand up and take notice. The technology is being used for a range of purposes, including food safety and medicine tracking, with more uses being developed every day.
Investors wanting to cash in on the massive opportunity of blockchain without the inherent risk of digital currencies should instead buy shares of Alphabet, the parent of internet search giant Google.
The company's foray into blockchain technology may have stayed mostly off the radar, but Google is heavily invested in the technology, through its venture capital subsidiary Google Ventures. The company has backed six blockchain start-ups in recent years, according to market intelligence platform CB Insights. This includes business-to-business payments facilitator Veem, blockchain-protected cloud storage service Storj, and cryptocurrency trading platform LedgerX. It even funded up-and-coming cryptocurrency and digital payment network Ripple.
Alphabet has a solid industry-leading search business as well as a pole position in artificial intelligence (AI) research. This groundbreaking technology has been used to improve many of the company's key features, like the algorithms that govern its search, and to reduce power consumption by improving the efficiency of its servers.
Another massive trend that will benefit the company is cloud computing. While Google Cloud was initially disregarded as an also-ran, it has become the fastest-growing cloud operator, and recently revealed that the business already generates $1 billion per quarter in revenue.
Alphabet offers investors the opportunity to benefit from blockchain, but also cloud computing, AI, and much more. It offers all the excitement of bitcoin -- without all the risk.