In a little over two weeks, we'll hit the one-year anniversary of when coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) chaos officially took over Wall Street. Between Feb. 19 and March 23 of the previous year, we saw the benchmark S&P 500 lose more than a third of its value. It was a jaw-dropping move that occurred during an unprecedented pandemic.
But from this chaos we've watched growth stocks emerge as true winners. Historically low lending rates and ongoing fiscal stimulus from Washington are encouraging fast-growing companies to keep their proverbial foot on the gas pedal. As we move into February, the following three growth stocks stand out as having a good chance to make investors richer now and for many years to come.
No matter what happens in the short run -- fourth-quarter earnings are on tap tomorrow (Feb. 4) -- social media giant Pinterest (PINS 4.66%) is a growth stock you're going to want to own.
Like most tech stocks, Pinterest benefited in a variety of ways from the COVID-19 pandemic. People being stuck in their homes spent more time browsing online. This helped Pinterest's user growth accelerate beyond the 30% average annual increase registered between 2017 and 2019. In the September-ended quarter, for instance, monthly active user (MAU) growth tallied 37%.
What's more, Pinterest gained new advertisers at the expense of Facebook (FB 1.83%) during the summer. Though you wouldn't know it from Facebook's stellar operating results, the company faced backlash over its lack of action to restrict hate speech. In response, a number of companies pulled or reduced their advertising with Facebook for a short period of time. Although no other platform comes close to Facebook's 2.8 billion MAUs, Pinterest saw a healthy uptick in ad revenue, courtesy of Facebook's miscues.
Looking forward, two key catalysts have the potential to send Pinterest's valuation a lot higher. First, there's the company's overseas users. Approximately 90% of its new MAUs are from non-U.S. countries. Though average revenue per user (ARPU) tends to be much lower in international markets, it's also a lot easier to double international ARPU than it is to double U.S. ARPU. Pinterest managed to double international ARPU in 2019, and it'll probably be able to double overseas ARPU a handful of times this decade.
The other exciting catalyst is Pinterest having the potential to become a leading e-commerce destination. Since its users are willingly sharing the things, places, and services that interest them, Pinterest is arguably the most targeted social media platform of all for advertisers and small businesses. Acting as the medium to connect small businesses with its users, Pinterest is using a host of tools (video, video, and more video) to keep its MAUs engaged, while partnering with Shopify to aid small businesses in their quest to get Pinners to spend.
I stand firm on my thoughts that Pinterest could be a 10-bagger this decade.
Following years of speculative trading in the cannabis industry, investors are finally getting an idea of which companies will be long-term winners and losers. U.S. multistate operator (MSO) Cresco Labs (CRLBF -2.35%) has all the makings of a big-time winner.
Maybe the most interesting thing about Cresco Labs and other U.S. marijuana stocks is that they don't need federal legalization to thrive. Though legalizing cannabis at the federal level would eliminate some operating redundancies, it's not a necessity for marijuana stocks to grow. Cresco Labs projects as one of the fastest-growing pot stocks over the next four years, and this estimate doesn't take into account any changes from the federal government.
Like most MSOs, Cresco Labs does have a retail presence. It holds 29 licenses and has 20 operating retail locations. Of these 20 dispensaries, 10 are located in the limited license state of Illinois. With the Land of Lincoln limiting the number of retail licenses it'll assign, Cresco has a solid opportunity to gobble up share in a market that hit $1 billion in annual weed sales in 2020.
To build on Cresco's retail presence, it's also in the midst of purchasing Bluma Wellness in an all-stock transaction valued at $213 million. Assuming the transaction closes, it'll add seven operating stores in Florida to Cresco's portfolio, along with eight additional retail licenses in the Sunshine State. Florida projects as the third-largest marijuana market by 2024.
But it's the company's wholesale operations that really allows Cresco to shine. The Origin House acquisition in January 2020 gave it access to a cannabis distribution license in California, the most lucrative cannabis market in the world by annual sales. This license allows the company to place pot products into more than 575 dispensaries throughout the Golden State. Though wholesale margins are lower than retail, Cresco has more than enough volume from California to make it worthwhile.
Palo Alto Networks
A third growth stock that could make investors a lot happier and richer in February is cybersecurity specialist Palo Alto Networks (PANW 0.94%).
Like Pinterest, Palo Alto was a direct beneficiary of the COVID-19 pandemic. We were already witnessing a steady push toward remote work prior to COVID-19, but have seen this shift expedited by the pandemic. That's placed the onus of protecting cloud-based enterprise and consumer data on third-party providers like Palo Alto Networks.
To add, it also doesn't hurt that cybersecurity is no longer considered optional. Just as homeowners need electricity and water, businesses of all sizes need protection against human and robot hacking threats in any economic environment. This means demand for cybersecurity solutions should remain relatively steady no matter how well or poorly the economy is performing.
The excitement surrounding Palo Alto has to do with the company's ongoing transformation to a subscription-based operating model. Having de-emphasized physical firewall products, Palo Alto has seen its percentage of sales derived from subscriptions climb at an extraordinary rate. That's good news given the high margins and predictable cash flow that accompanies cybersecurity subscriptions.
Furthermore, this is a company that's not afraid to damage its very near-term operating results if it means acquiring more cloud-protection market share for the long run. Palo Alto has, for years, been making bolt-on acquisitions that broaden its product portfolio and make it more attractive to small and medium-sized businesses. This combination of organic growth and acquisitions should allow the company to continue growing its sales by 15% to 20% each year.
In an industry characterized by price-to-sales multiples of 20, 30, or even higher, investors can scoop up a premier cybersecurity name in Palo Alto for about 8 times Wall Street's projected full-year sales in fiscal 2021. That's a very reasonable value for a company at the center of a high-growth basic-need service.