Shares of Zebra Technologies (ZBRA -1.32%) rose 25.1% in April 2020, according to data from S&P Global Market Intelligence. The maker of barcode readers and printers, data management systems, and rugged mobile computers got an assist from fellow asset-tracking expert Impinj (PI -2.44%) and followed up with a strong earnings report of its own.
Zebra largely tracked the S&P 500's swings and bumps through most of April, but the stock started pulling away from the pack when radio frequency identification (RFID) specialist Impinj reported impressive first-quarter results. It was Zebra's turn to publish first-quarter results the very next morning, and it was a rock-solid showing. The company largely met Wall Street's expectations in spite of significant COVID-19 disruption to Zebra's manufacturing and shipping operations, including a government-ordered state of martial law in Malaysia.
"We wanted to start ramping our new manufacturing facilities in Vietnam and Malaysia the Monday after the Chinese New Year," said Zebra CEO Anders Gustafsson in a phone interview with yours truly. "That obviously did not happen quite the way we had expected."
Market makers were impressed by Zebra's ability to deliver strong results despite game-changing coronavirus headwinds. Supplying tools that help retailers, e-commerce shops, and healthcare systems grease the wheels of their business turns out to be a strong business plan in these difficult times, when manpower and working hours are scarce. Zebra and Impinj can automate business processes that otherwise would involve a human with a keyboard or a notepad, both speeding up the process and insulating it from one more source of human error.
Zebra's stock has now gained 16% over the last 52 weeks, leaving both the broader market and Impinj far behind. Cautious investors might want to wait for a lower buy-in price, but you get what you pay for. In this case, a generous price-to-book ratio gives you shares in a reliable growth stock with a rapidly expanding target market.