Investors relying solely on the mainstream media to find investment ideas are probably doing themselves a disservice. The media tends to focus on the biggest names, overlooking smaller but strong opportunities in the process. Mid-cap stocks in particular struggle to get their fair share of attention. At the very least. the industry can tout small caps as ground-floor opportunities.
To that end, mid-cap stocks NCR (NCR -0.04%), Glaukos (GKOS -1.83%), and Crocs (CROX 3.86%) are all worth a closer look -- and perhaps worth stepping into -- right now. Each has something to offer that's largely been ignored of late, but won't be ignored forever.
The coronavirus plays into the hand NCR has been holding
NCR (formerly known as National Cash Register) has been around for decades, but its mission hasn't changed much -- helping its customers accept payments in exchange for goods and services. That's a key part of the reason NCR was among the hardest-hit stocks in February and March, when the coronavirus pandemic first took hold in the U.S. If consumers are wary of stepping foot in stores, what good is a cash register? Never even mind the wave of retail bankruptcies we've seen in recent months, further shrinking NCR's market.
Investors are viewing things from the wrong perspective though, making this stock's failure to fully recover in the middle of this year that much more of an opportunity. Here's why:
COVID-19 may be temporarily crimping retail, but it's permanently changing consumers. A recent Harris poll found that 70% of U.S. consumers now prefer a completely contactless shopping experience, and that 72% of consumers would specifically shop at a store that offered contactless transactions and curbside pickup. In the same vein, annualized growth estimates for the contactless payment technology market range anywhere from 12% to 26% over the course of the next five years. Even at the low-end of that scale, clearly the tide is rising in a big way.
This is great news for NCR, which already offers self-service and lower-contact checkout solutions, but recently stepped up its game. Namely, in August the organization unveiled a completely contactless ordering and payment solution for restaurants. Then on Monday of this week the company announced that California-based River Valley Community Bank had selected NCR's DI platform, giving the bank's customers (among other things) more contactless self-service options like smarter ATMs and remote tellers. This new interest from differing industries sets the stage for surprisingly strong earnings growth next year, and again in 2022 (see below chart).
Glaukos is quietly building a growth machine
Glaukos is anything but a household name, though it's possible you or someone in your household has benefited from a Glaukos-made product. The company develops drugs for eye diseases like glaucoma and macular degeneration, and thanks to last November's acquisition of Avedro the company is also in the cornea health business.
Glaukos offers investors a couple of defensive things most other mainstream stocks can't right now. One of those is continued sales growth driven by insurer-paid care that proves relatively immune to economic turbulence. The other is its lower profile which makes it less of a target should investors decide en masse to start selling again. Those aren't the typical reasons to buy and hold a stock, but it wouldn't hurt to think a little bit strategically here.
Where Glaukos really stands out as an overlooked mid-cap opportunity, however, is the sheer pace of sales growth the company was producing even before it completed its purchase of Avedro. Consider this: Total revenue grew a solid 53% annually from 2013 till 2019. Excluding the Avedro purchase, last year's organic glaucoma sales were up 27% year over year. In addition, there's potential for related acquisitions, such as the deal to buy DOSE Medical Corporation, to thrive under the umbrella of an established eyecare specialist. Glaukos is building a robust drug portfolio that's yet to be fully appreciated by the market.
Finally, add Crocs to your list of mid-cap stocks to buy right now, if you're looking to fill in certain holes in your portfolio.
This is the same Crocs that made the funky foam clogs that were all the rage in the early 2000s, until the fad fizzled by 2009. This footwear fell back into favor in 2019. Last year's top line improved to the tune of 13%, driving more than a 100% increase in operating income. Sales are projected to be flat for this year, but not due to a lack of demand. Many consumers just aren't comfortable going back to stores, and supply chains have been disrupted by shutdowns anyway. Even so, Crocs' expectation of 10% year over year sales growth for the quarter ending this month suggests it's overcoming coronavirus woes that others aren't.
Investors dismissing that quarterly growth outlook as a one-off rather than repeatable progress may be looking past a couple of important details.
One of those details? Much of this recent demand is built on function and comfort. Technology market research outfit IDC suggested earlier this month that by 2024, 60% of the United States' workers would be working outside of an office, including at home. This means that while appropriate attire may be needed for business-related video calls to the extent visible on camera, consumers love the ultra-comfortable footwear not seen by co-workers. Perhaps it took a decade for people to accept the foam clogs' unusual appearance.
The other reason Crocs isn't as prone to the sort of peak it saw in 2009? To the extent fashion and marketing does matter, the company is smarter. It's selectively collaborating with brands that help the company sell its wares -- there's a Vera Bradley Crocs shoe, for instance, yet it's also teamed up with Kentucky Fried Chicken -- rather than merely cranking out as many ordinary shoes as it can. While it's never provided specifics, the company has repeatedly credited these alliances for much of its sales growth since 2017 when they first began. This may have been the missing ingredient a little over a decade ago, and investors as well as analysts may still not be seeing the full potential of collaborations yet.