Since Wall Street's bear-market tailspin came to an abrupt end on March 23, 2020, the benchmark indexes have been on fire. In particular, the broad-based S&P 500 and tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite are higher by a respective 69% and 95% since bottoming out.
But if you think these gains are impressive, you've not been paying attention to leading cryptocurrency bitcoin, which has nearly quintupled in value since March 23.
The usual group of catalysts have been fanning the flames for the world's largest digital token. Enthusiasts will point to bitcoin's 21 million token limit (i.e., scarcity), the increasing number of merchants accepting bitcoin (utility), the ever-increasing U.S. money supply, and bitcoin's game-changing blockchain, as reasons behind its overwhelming outperformance.
However, I view the bitcoin investing thesis differently than most. While there is intrigue about blockchain technology, bitcoin's other selling points aren't as compelling. For instance, its scarcity is bound only by a loose promise that community consensus won't raise the token count. That's not genuine scarcity.
Furthermore, bitcoin's utility is questionable, at best. Fundera finds that over 15,100 businesses worldwide accept bitcoin as payment, including 2,300 in the United States. Just one problem... there are approximately 7.7 million businesses in the U.S. with at least one employee. That's not widespread utility. With so many tokens held by investors and out of circulating supply, bitcoin has little hope of ever having meaningful utility in the real world.
Instead of chasing after a clearly flawed investment, I'd opine that a handful of controversial stocks are much better buys, and capable of delivering superior long-term returns.
Facebook (FB 1.18%) might be the world's leading social media site, but it's also a lightning rod for controversy. Over the summer, Facebook faced backlash from more than 400 advertisers over its lack of action regarding hate speech on its platform. As a result, brand names like Coca-Cola, Microsoft, and Ford briefly pulled their ads from the social media kingpin's platform. Facebook has since taken steps to address these concerns.
But what can't be overlooked is just how dominant Facebook is, even with controversy constantly riding its coattails. This is a company that ended 2020 with 2.8 billion monthly active users visiting its namesake site, and 3.3 billion family monthly active people visiting all of its owned assets (including Instagram and WhatsApp). There's not a social media platform that comes close to matching the breadth of audience that Facebook can offer advertisers.
Another amazing thing about Facebook is that it's still in the relatively early innings of its growth. While that might be hard to believe for a nearly $750 billion company, it's yet to meaningfully monetize WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. Those are two of the six most-visited social media platforms in the world.
Additionally, Facebook has other sales channels it's yet to really explore, including Facebook Pay.
Facebook might be a megacap stock, but it still grows like a midcap company.
Teva Pharmaceutical Industries
For much of the past four years, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries (TEVA 1.93%) has been a magnet for controversy. Its former executive team settled bribery allegations with the U.S. Justice Department, and the company is facing a host of lawsuits from U.S. regulators concerning generic-drug price-fixing and the role it played in the opioid crisis. Were this not enough, Teva also grossly overpaid for generic drugmaker Actavis in 2016, which ballooned its outstanding debt.
Yet even with these concerns, Teva makes for a far more compelling investment than bitcoin. One reason this is the case is CEO Kare Schultz. Schultz is a turnaround specialist who's worked wonders in the three years and three months he's led Teva. Full-year operating expenses are on track to be down $3 billion, while net debt will have shrunk from over $34 billion to under $24 billion. With Schultz expected to stay on as CEO through late 2023, Teva could be under $15 billion in net debt by then. In other words, the company is no longer in financial straits.
Teva also finds itself at the center of a steady growth trend with generics. Brand-name drug prices aren't getting cheaper, which means there'll be an increasing emphasis on generic usage in the years to come. With access to medical care improving worldwide and baby boomers nearing their golden years in the U.S., a path exists to a big uptick in generic drug volume for Teva.
Perhaps the biggest catalyst will be putting the company's legal issues in the rearview mirror. Schultz's leadership should help the company (at worst) negotiate a settlement that involves minimal cash fines.
At a forward price-to-earnings ratio of just 5, Teva is a screaming bargain.
Another controversial stock with all the tools necessary to run circles around bitcoin over the long run is data-mining company Palantir Technologies (PLTR -2.77%).
What makes tech stock Palantir such a contentious company is its dealings with the U.S. government. Founded not long after the September 2001 terrorist attacks, Palantir began providing its data-mining software and consulting services to various government agencies, including the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agency. ICE is polarizing agency that some Americans value and others would rather see dissolved.
What isn't polarizing is the growth potential that Palantir brings to the table. This is a company that, in mid-November, raised its full-year sales guidance to forecast year-over-year growth of 44%. Significant government and defense contract wins have been a driving force for the company's Gotham data-mining platform for years.
But over the longer run, it's the company's Foundry platform that offers even greater intrigue. Foundry is enterprise-based and designed to make complex data more manageable and actionable for the company's using its solutions. Although it's the slower-growing platform compared to Gotham, investors should understand that annual spend grows over time with Palantir's enterprise customers. Give it a few years and Foundry could easily become Palantir's primary growth driver.
While not cheap in the traditional fundamental sense, Palantir offers ample long-term upside.