Since 1926, about half of all the gains in the U.S. stock market were driven by just 86 stocks. That's what a group from the Arizona State University W.P. Carey School of Business discovered while researching stock market returns.
This statistic is truly staggering. It suggests you can get rich by picking individual stocks over index funds -- that is, as long as you're finding and buying these rare gems.
Stock picking is more of an art than a science, so there's no magic formula. That said, winning companies often share common qualities, giving stock pickers something objective to look for. Here are two factors I like to see when buying a stock: high employee approval ratings (in this case, from the website Glassdoor, with its anonymous employee reviews) and a history of market-beating stock performance.
The five companies in this article exhibit both, which is why I think they could be among the relatively few stocks creating riches.
- 2021 Glassdoor ranking: Second.
- Five-year stock returns: 2,000%.
High-performance computing company NVIDIA (NVDA -2.75%) appears to be doing everything right. Employees love working there and overwhelming approve of CEO Jensen Huang. And happy employees often perform at a higher level, resulting in business success. Nothing's guaranteed, but there's certainly some correlation, and it might partly explain why this company has crushed the market.
Think about some trends developing around the world. The global pandemic pushed remote work and streaming TV like never before, causing data-center companies to beef up their power to support the increased internet activity. Then there are video games, which are increasingly a mainstream form of entertainment. According to the NPD Group, video game sales hit all-time highs in 2020. Finally, there are more speculative trends like the increasing acceptance of cryptocurrencies and the promise of self-driving cars. NVIDIA's products have application for all of these trends.
Thinking about these tailwinds and projecting five years hence, I expect NVIDIA's products to be in greater demand than they are today. Therefore, with a strong corporate culture and history of stock market success, I bet NVIDIA will continue to deliver for shareholders.
NVIDIA is scheduled to report earnings on Feb. 24.
- 2021 Glassdoor ranking: n/a.
- Five-year stock returns: 1,100%.
Cloud-based software company AppFolio (APPF -1.22%) fell off of Glassdoor's top-100 list in 2021 after being ranked 45th in 2020, but this market beater still receives high marks for corporate culture. The business proved resilient throughout the coronavirus' impact on the economy; through the first three quarters of 2020, revenue was up 26% year over year. Furthermore, by selling its law-firm software subsidiary MyCase for $193 million in 2020, it became debt free and simultaneously boosted its cash position.
Approximately 90% of AppFolio's revenue already came from real estate customers. But by selling MyCase, the company doubled down on this industry, which is in the early innings of a technological overhaul. AppFolio helps landlords manage their properties. And because of the pandemic, digital leases and remote tenant screening have taken off. While COVID-19 might have catalyzed these changes, I imagine digital gains will stay and become even more commonplace.
As of the third quarter of 2020, AppFolio had over 15,000 real estate customers, up 9% year over year. That's good growth, but there's plenty of room for more. Consider that Fortune Business Insights estimates the property-management software industry will be a $23.6 billion market by 2026, meaning AppFolio is still capturing a small piece of the pie.
- 2021 Glassdoor ranking: Eighth.
- Five-year stock returns: 450%.
There's more to lululemon athletica (LULU 1.59%) than yoga pants. Last June, the company spent $500 million to acquire connected-fitness device company MIRROR.
MIRROR didn't launch until late 2018 but was already on pace to generate $100 million in full-year 2020 revenue at the time of the acquisition. And since being acquired by Lululemon, its growth has surged: Management expects to report $150 million in full-year 2020 revenue for MIRROR.
This clearly illustrates why this was such a savvy acquisition by Lululemon. These two business are complementary and can mutually drive brand awareness and sales growth. Not to mention, each MIRROR hardware sale comes with an ongoing high-margin subscription plan, which could help Lululemon grow profits long term.
Besides the benefits of acquiring MIRROR, there are other growth initiatives for Lululemon, like international expansion. So if you do more research on this stock, I think you'll agree there's a lot more to like.
- 2021 Glassdoor ranking: 28th.
- Five-year stock returns: 280%.
Payments network Mastercard (MA 1.35%) is a great way to invest in the global secular shift away from cash, which is giving financial services companies like this a strong tailwind. But one of the reasons I particularly like Mastercard is its strong international presence. In the fourth quarter of 2020, almost 70% of the company's gross dollar volume (the cash flowing through its network, including balance transfers) came from outside the U.S.
Many international markets are very early in the shift toward e-commerce and digital transactions. And as consumers make the change, Mastercard has brand recognition in those markets, giving it a competitive edge. This is one reason I'm excited about the company's future.
While the growth story plays out, Mastercard's shareholders are rewarded by management. Even though revenue fell in 2020 because of the pandemic, the company still returned $6.1 billion to shareholders through share repurchases and dividends. The longer you're willing to hold the stock, the more it can compound your return.
- 2021 Glassdoor ranking: 43rd.
- Five-year stock returns: n/a.
Lastly, feedback platform SVMK (MNTV -3.94%), also known as SurveyMonkey, is an off-the-radar stock with potential. The company only went public in September 2018 (so it doesn't have five-year returns) and until recently was a market beater. But its guidance for 2021 failed to impress Wall Street and the stock fell more than 20%. But I think SurveyMonkey could pleasantly surprise.
SurveyMonkey's mission is to ensure all voices are heard. And the greatest validation of how effectively it does this is its stellar Glassdoor ratings: Management is apparently listening to its own workforce. But just the business results alone reinforce the company's relevance: In 2020, revenue grew 22% year over year to over $375 million, throwing off free cash flow of $45 million.
For 2021, SurveyMonkey is guiding for revenue of $436 million to $443 million, good for 16% to 18% year-over-year growth. But that's a deceleration from 2020 and is why the stock fell.
Here's where this gets interesting to me: The company's revenue from enterprise customers is growing at a much faster rate than overall revenue (up 65% in 2020). Long term, overall growth could reaccelerate if its enterprise business overtakes its self-serve business. That's not far-fetched: More and more companies are seeing the need to make data-driven decisions, and SurveyMonkey's software can provide the needed insight.
It's far from a sure thing. But SurveyMonkey stock is cheap at just eight times trailing sales. Buying today gives you a value stock with good free cash flow and a chance to get in before its enterprise business accounts for a larger portion of its revenue.
One final thought
As always, it's good to remember that these stocks likely won't make you rich overnight. I believe that identifying market-beating stocks can compound your wealth over a lifetime. But no one has a perfect stock picking record. Therefore, it's a good idea to build a diversified portfolio of stocks -- and NVIDIA, AppFolio, Lululemon, Mastercard, and SurveyMonkey all deserve some consideration.