Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) was a controversial stock even before a recent tweet by its CEO ignited controversy over whether the electric car maker will soon take itself off of public markets. Putting that debate aside, investors aren't confident about many important aspects of Tesla's business, including the company's long-run growth potential, its profitability outlook, and the sustainability of its manufacturing ramp-up.
Below, Motley Fool contributors put the spotlight on a few businesses that appear to have a clearer path toward solid returns. Read on to see why eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY), Roku (NASDAQ:ROKU), and Etsy (NASDAQ:ETSY) shareholders have a good shot at outperforming Tesla stock from here.
Cash flow is destiny
Demitri Kalogeropoulos (eBay): While Tesla's sales growth has been impressive lately, many investors are understandably nervous about its lack of positive cash flow, given the high fixed costs required to compete in the auto manufacturing industry. If you fit into that category, you might want to take a closer look at eBay.
Sure, the online marketplace isn't exactly disrupting its industry. In fact, sales growth slowed to about 4% over the past six months, while fully integrated peers like Amazon and Walmart are growing their online businesses at closer to 30%.
However, eBay's asset-light operating model delivers far stronger profitability, with operating margin of 22% over the past year compared to 4% for Walmart and Amazon (and a 16% loss for Tesla). Meanwhile, the platform is set to churn out $2.2 billion of free cash flow in 2018, which translates to a whopping 21% of revenue. That level of financial strength should buy management plenty of flexibility as they work to get sales growth back up to the high single-digits. It's also likely to supercharge returns for investors, assuming management's long-term rebound initiatives go according to plan.
Roku is ready
Rich Duprey (Roku): Streaming media player maker Roku is not the same company it was a year ago, when it went public, particularly because its platform revenue, money it gets from services such as The Roku Channel, is now how it makes most of its money. It hasn't given up on its hardware business, but there's a lot more potential from the softer side of its operation, of which it's only begun to scratch the surface.
In its most recent quarterly earnings report, Roku platform revenues nearly doubled form the year-ago period, to $90 million, while player revenues increased by 24% to $66 million. Expect that diversion to widen significantly in the future now that Roku has opened its channel to the web, which means no matter what kind of device you're using, you can access content through The Roku Channel.
Two things will grow out of that. First, content providers will want to be on the platform, which will eventually increase revenue further, and second, more users will want to use the platform to access the content. It already has 22 million users, and The Roku Channel is already a top-five channel on the platform. With additional plans to make the platform available on other devices -- you can now find it installed on Samsung smart TVs -- it may become an effective alternative to Netflix at some point.
While much of the potential is still in the future, that means the returns it generates in the coming years can ramp up considerably, so getting in now gives investors the opportunity to drive off with returns that would make Tesla investors envious.
E-commerce for all
Nicholas Rossolillo (Etsy): A year ago, e-commerce marketplace Etsy was just beginning to show signs of life after a long and difficult stretch. Spending was out of control, and sales growth wasn't getting any benefit from it. Investors also fretted that increasing digital competition in the handmade crafts retail space would weigh on Etsy.
Under the guidance of new CEO Josh Silverman, Etsy has turned things around in dramatic fashion. Spending was reduced to only those projects that would provide a meaningful return, and a renewed focus was put on driving customer success. In short, that meant helping Etsy's merchants, artists, and home-based businesses around the world sell more.
As a result, growth has accelerated at the digital company. So far in 2018, the value of all merchandise sold on Etsy has increased 20.1% from a year ago to $1.76 billion. Year-to-date revenue is up 27.6% to $253.3 million, and earnings per share are up 30% to $0.13. Thanks to cost-cutting, free cash flow -- or money left over after basic operations are paid for -- is up over 200% in the last year to $107 million.
This could be more than a rebound story, though. Online-based retail continues to grow by double digits, and Etsy occupies a unique niche in the burgeoning digital industry. It continues to expand its international reach, helping small businesses and artists increase consumer awareness of their wares. With the company growing at double digits and still just a small enterprise, at $5.5 billion, there is plenty of room for this stock to move higher.