We're halfway through 2018 already. We investors may want to take a mid-year look at our portfolios, rebalancing and introducing new ideas. The tax year will end before you know it, so it's a good idea to stay on top of your nest egg long before December rolls around.
In that spirit, we asked a few of our Motley Fool investors what they see as the best investment ideas at the start of July, 2018. They were quick to suggest Chinese e-commerce giant Baidu (BIDU 2.65%), coffee giant Starbucks (SBUX -1.83%), clean energy specialist TerraForm Power (TERP), semiconductor veteran Intel, (INTC 1.79%), and Texan bank Cullen/Frost Bankers (CFR -0.89%).
Read on for all the juicy details on these timely investment ideas.
Look beyond our borders
Danny Vena (Baidu): As a whole, U.S. investors tend to focus on domestic companies, but in doing so miss out on significant international opportunities. This is especially true of China, which is a walled garden when it comes to internet-related services, and as a result, U.S. companies will never achieve the level of popularity or penetration that homegrown businesses realize in the Middle Kingdom.
A great example is that of Baidu, which commands a 70% share of China's internet search market. Its ongoing success and dominance have allowed the company to invest in a number of next-generation technologies to spur future growth.
Baidu recently spun off its video streaming unit, iQiyi, which has been called "The Netflix of China." Baidu still owns a controlling share of the company, which has soared since its IPO. iQiyi is the leader in the country's nascent streaming market, which has experienced a 10-fold increase over the past four years. The number of consumers paying for streaming video is expected to triple by 2022 -- giving iQiyi a massive growth opportunity.
There are other areas that represent significant future potential for the search giant. Baidu is widely regarded as the leader in artificial intelligence (AI) research in China and has been recognized by the Chinese government as a "national champion" in the field of self-driving cars.
Last week, Ford Motor Company and Baidu announced a collaboration "to jointly explore areas of cooperation in connectivity, artificial intelligence, and digital marketing." This comes on the heels of a China Mobile announcement that will use Baidu's AI expertise in image recognition, voice recognition, and natural language processing and apply it to telecommunications.
While search is still its bread and butter, Baidu continues to invest in forward-looking technologies that will deliver the next phase of its growth.
A great business at a fantastic price
Brian Feroldi (Starbucks): The newsflow out of Starbucks hasn't been positive for quite some time. Consider the following headlines that investors have had to deal with in the last few months:
- Founder and Chairman Howard Schultz announced his decision to step away from the business.
- CFO Scott Maw announced plans to retire later this year.
- The company had a public-relations fiasco in April after two black men were arrested in one of their stores.
- Management reported same-store sales growth of just 1% in the most recent quarter. That marks the third quarter in a row of failing to reach its long-term target of 3% to 5%.
- The company is closing 150 stores.
That's a lot of bad news for investors to digest in a short period of time so it is no wonder why shares are currently trading at a three year low.
Despite all of the doom and gloom, I still believe that Starbucks is well-positioned to create huge shareholder value from here. Why? Let me count the ways:
- The move into ultra-premium coffee is still in its infancy.
- China remains a huge growth market.
- The company is about to receive a $7.2 billion check from Nestle. For context, Starbucks' current market cap right now is $67 billion.
- Management plans on returning a total of $25 billion to shareholders between now and fiscal 2020. The bulk of that total will be through stock buybacks, which is a move that I approve of at current prices.
When adding in the company's other growth initiatives market watchers believe that Starbucks will be able to post double-digit earnings growth over the next five years. That's quite strong for a company that is currently selling for 18 times next year's earnings estimates and offers up a dividend yield of nearly 3%.
What a difference great management makes
Jason Hall (TerraForm Power): I've followed this renewable power producer for some time now, but the bankruptcy of former sponsor SunEdison in 2016 -- and the potential implications for TerraForm -- kept me on the sidelines. However, last year's move by Brookfield Asset Management to take a controlling stake in the company got me paying closer attention.
After watching the company move forward under a new executive team made up almost exclusively of people who have proven their chops at other Brookfield subsidiaries, and a new go-forward strategy that's proven successful, I decided it was time to buy just last week. And I think other investors should do the same thing.
Going forward, management intends to pay approximately 80%-85% in CAFD -- cash available for distribution -- to shareholders in dividends, retaining the remainder to reinvest in growth. This is a solid improvement from its prior plan to pay out nearly all CAFD, leaving the company with no margin of safety and requiring it to rely on the whims of debt and equities markets to fund future growth. This strategy may be new to Terraform Power, but it's not new for Brookfield subsidiaries, which have used it to generate wonderful shareholder returns for years.
With a forward yield of 6.5% based on the company's $0.76 per-share dividend target for 2018, Terraform Power is a great buy today. With excellent management and a proven approach, it's worth owning for the long-term.
Investors ignored Intel's good news in June
Anders Bylund (Intel): The semiconductor giant is in hot water right now. CEO Brian Krzanich resigned on June 21, following an internal investigation. The five-year CEO had violated Intel's code of conduct by having a relationship with an Intel employee. Share prices fell 4% that day, amplifying the echoes of a generally weak chip sector, and Intel's stock took a 10% haircut in June as a whole.
I call that a buy-in opportunity.
The announcement of Krzanich's resignation also included preliminary second-quarter results. Revenues should land near $16.9 billion and adjusted earnings are headed toward $0.99 per share. That's up from April's revenue guidance of $16.3 billion and an original earnings target at $0.72 per share. Revenue is rising 14% year over year and earnings will take a 38% jump.
These strong pre-announced results were largely ignored as investors focused on the Krzanich news instead. The full weight of Intel's business momentum should hit home when the company reports its full second-quarter results on July 26. Sales are accelerating in the high-margin segments that Intel calls "data-centric," helping the company let go of legacy businesses like the fading PC market in an orderly fashion.
And I don't see Krzanich's departure as a big problem. Longtime CFO Bob Swan should have no trouble shouldering the interim CEO title until Intel can find a suitable long-term replacement. And Brian Krzanich's performance at the helm has not always been stellar. In fact, fellow Fool and chip-sector authority Ashraf Eassa thought it was great news.
"I think Krzanich's stepping down is the best news Intel stockholders could've possibly hoped to get," Eassa said.
The exit could help Intel find a leader with a stronger commitment to healthy manufacturing operations. The changes would take years but Fools are all about investing for the long term anyhow. Grabbing Intel shares at a 10% discount makes a ton of sense when the underlying news actually point to positive surprises both in the second quarter and for the long haul.
A bank others want to be
Jordan Wathen (Cullen/Frost Bankers): Good banks make good loans. Great banks make good loans and attract customers who trust the bank to hold their deposits even if it doesn't pay the highest interest rate. Under this framework, Cullen/Frost Bankers is undoubtedly a great bank.
Cullen/Frost is the holding company for Frost Bank, which operates exclusively in Texas. A true relationship bank, it targets small and medium-sized commercial customers who value loyalty and service over the best possible deal on every loan and dollar in deposits.
Its relationship-based approach allows Cullen/Frost to haul in deposits at an extraordinarily low cost. Roughly 41% of its deposits are non-interest-bearing, meaning it doesn't pay so much as a dime in interest on them. Including deposits on which it does pay interest, its total deposit costs averaged just 0.16% in the first quarter.
Banks that have low-cost deposits don't need to take outsized risks in their loan portfolios to earn high returns. It's notable that over the last five years, which includes a deep downturn in oil and gas prices, Cullen/Frost charged off just 0.23% of loans, on average, less than half the net charge-off rates of its peers.
Cullen/Frost is rarely cheap, given its obvious funding advantages, double-digit returns on tangible equity, and its long history of high-single-digit deposit growth. But if there were ever a bank stock you could confidently buy and hold forever, Cullen/Frost is certainly it.