The best growth stocks generally represent businesses with formidable market advantages in important industries. Sometimes those industries are flashy and exciting, and sometimes they're so boring they're overlooked. For instance, Apple built an empire by designing sleek consumer gadgets that provided tremendous utility to users and became one of the best growth stocks of the last two decades. But since 2011 its shares have actually underperformed those of A.O. Smith, which sells water heaters, industrial boilers, and home air purifiers.
Then again, you're probably prioritizing the returns from your portfolio, not its excitement level. That's why we asked three contributors at The Motley Fool for their predictions of what will be among the best growth stocks of the next decade, regardless of whether they're household names. Here's why they chose Codexis (NASDAQ:CDXS), Mastercard (NYSE:MA), and Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN).
A biotech company with an important (and diverse) niche
Maxx Chatsko (Codexis): It's common for the word "biotech" to be used interchangeably with "biopharma," but that's incorrect. Biology-based technologies span agriculture, industrial chemicals, food ingredients, animals, mining, and even digital data storage, just to name a few areas. Codexis has the unique advantage of being positioned to serve multiple biotech sectors with its technology platform.
The company engineers enzymes, which are biologic molecules that power all living things. They help chemical reactions within cells to occur faster, with less energy and fewer steps -- and enzymes work just as well in an industrial setting as they do in single cells. Codexis sells enzymes that help manufacture pharmaceutical ingredients and food ingredients, as well as licenses to its enzyme engineering software platform. It's also developing diagnostics for various healthcare and genetic analysis applications, in addition to a pipeline of biologic drug candidates in which the enzyme is the medicine.
The business is still developing, but it's on a promising trajectory. Codexis reported total revenue of $60.6 million in 2018, up 21% from the year before, and delivered product gross margin of 50.7%. That high-margin growth helped to reduce its operating loss from $23 million in 2017 to $11.3 million last year. Management expects the growth to continue in the year ahead.
Codexis issued full-year 2019 guidance that calls for at least $69 million in total revenue, which would mark year-over-year growth of 14% at the low end of the range. While product revenue is only expected to comprise $26 million of the total this year, the business has been diversifying its revenue base and replacing revenue lost from aging contracts in recent years. So the flat total product revenue totals don't tell the whole story. That could soon change, however.
Codexis has teased promising updates for the diagnostic products it's been market-testing recently. Leading companies in DNA sequencing and healthcare have approached the enzyme leader to help co-market the portfolio, which is set to debut in 2019. Throw in the potential to receive up to $336 million in pre-commercial and commercial milestone payments from its first drug candidate, which successfully wrapped up a phase 1a trial months ago, and this sleepy enzyme engineering company could be valued at much more than $1.1 billion in 10 years.
This emerging trend is too compelling to ignore
Neha Chamaria (Mastercard): Cashless transactions and digital payments are, unarguably, one of the biggest future trends. At a recent forum, Mastercard highlighted how 80% of all transactions in the world are still cash-driven, especially in emerging markets. That number will shrink with time as the population becomes increasingly digitally savvy and e-commerce reaches every nook and corner of the globe. For Mastercard, one of the world's largest companies that facilitates and processes payments over its expansive network, the addressable market runs into the trillions of dollars.
Mastercard's growth in recent years is already proof of how the world is gradually going cashless. To put some numbers to that, Mastercard's revenue grew at an annual compound rate of 15% between 2016 and 2018 while its earnings per share (EPS) grew at a compound clip of 28% during the period. The company earned operating margins well above 50% in each of those years. Over the next three years, Mastercard expects to grow revenue and EPS by low-teens and mid-teens percentages, respectively, with operating margins of "minimum" 50%.
Mastercard's astounding margins can largely be credited to its asset-light business model. As of the fourth quarter, the business had nearly 2.52 billion Mastercard- and Maestro-branded cards in circulation worldwide. Every time someone swipes its cards -- issued by banks -- to make a purchase, the company earns a fee. With e-commerce just getting started in some of the most populous and fastest-growing economies in the world like India, banks will eventually issue more cards. The company only needs to build upon its partnership with banks and maintain a secure and technologically advanced network to watch its business grow. The opportunities are huge, and Mastercard looks poised to exploit them for decades to come.
This e-commerce giant has more tricks up its sleeve
Chris Neiger (Amazon): You might be thinking that Amazon's best growth days are behind it, particularly when you consider that the company's stock price is up 389% over the past five years. But there are two key markets that the company is only beginning to tap (hint: neither one is online retail) and they could be the key drivers to Amazon's success in the coming years.
The first of these is the company's cloud computing business, called Amazon Web Services (AWS). The public cloud computing market will grow from a $145 billion industry last year into a $278 billion one by 2021 -- and Amazon is the undisputed leader. The company currently holds 32.3% of the market, and its next closest competitor, Microsoft, has just 16.5%.
Not only is AWS already the leader in this fast-growing market, but the business is also Amazon's most significant profit generator as well. While e-commerce brings in the vast majority of Amazon's sales, it's AWS that is adding to the company's bottom line.
Aside from AWS, Amazon's advertising business is only beginning to ramp up and could help bring additional growth for the company in the years ahead. Last year Amazon brought in $4.6 billion in ad revenue and held 4% of the U.S. digital display advertising market share. But Amazon is expected to grab 7% of the digital advertising market in the U.S. by 2020 as it takes some business away from Alphabet and Facebook.
Sure, e-commerce will always be a huge part of Amazon. But for investors looking for a stock that still isn't done growing -- and that is investing in its future -- Amazon's bet on cloud computing and advertising will be significant drivers in the years ahead.