With many investors focusing on defensive options, looking for growth stocks may not seem like the smartest thing to do right now. Indeed, we could be headed into a recession, interest rates remain stubbornly high (compressing valuations), and there are plenty of geopolitical concerns brewing, so trying to stay safer makes sense.

But stocks that grow their businesses make good investments and over the past two decades, companies that have delivered explosive growth have seen impressive increases in their stock prices, and I'm looking for that kind of growth. These three stocks are among the top options I'm considering now. 

Alibaba

Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba (BABA 2.12%) has seen some impressive price action thus far this year. The stock closed last year under $90 per share and shot above $120 per share in January before giving up essentially all of its gains. It's trading flat for the year at this point and is down about 11% over the past 12 months.

Investors are disappointed in Alibaba's top line. The company recently published fiscal third-quarter results that showed only 2% revenue growth in the quarter ending Dec. 31. For a company that in recent years had been providing consistent 30%+ annualized growth, this is the sort of pace many hyper-growth investors don't want to see.

That said, on Alibaba's bottom line, earnings growth of 14% was enough to perk up investor interest when the company reported before the market opened on Feb. 23. The stock, however, then declined as investors appeared to be brushing off the company's earnings growth potential given the current geopolitical situation as well as the unique risks tied to Chinese equities.

I think Alibaba's price action this year reflects the eagerness of investors to take a bullish position in a dominant e-commerce player in the world's largest consumer market. And it also reflects the downside risks associated with an authoritarian government that appears to remain steadfast in its view that large tech companies need to have any monopolistic power (real or perceived) curtailed. That said, over the long run, I believe this is a company that can see significant bottom-line growth, particularly as the Chinese economy reopens and China will likely outperform other major global economies on a relative basis in terms of growth.

Meta Platforms

There is no doubt that 2022 was a challenging and unsatisfying year for Meta Platforms (META -0.28%). As with Alibaba, the growth slowdown seen at Meta may preclude this stock from most investors' list of growth stocks to watch. However, I think there's more to the story than the company's current situation.

For the fourth quarter and full 2022, Meta saw revenue decline 4% and 1%, respectively. Those aren't the kind of results many would have expected would lead to a surge in stock price following the report.

However, Meta stock spiked the day after the report and is currently up about 20% from its price prior to its earnings release due to investor enthusiasm about announced cost cuts and a massive share buyback program announced this past quarter. The company increased its share buyback authorization by $40 billion, and has billions in cost cuts tied to layoffs and facility consolidation, moves that investors appear to appreciate. While the company appears to still be aiming its focus on the future, investing in the metaverse and other non-social-media businesses, these sorts of efficiency measures could boost profitability growth. 

Right now, it's profitability growth investors most care about. And at 20 times earnings, Meta stock hasn't been this cheap in a very long time. Thus, if the company is able to return to its roots and focus on growing the profitability of its core business (while streamlining its operations further), explosive growth is certainly a viable outcome.

Pinterest

Another volatile stock that's worth at least putting on your watch list right now is Pinterest (PINS 0.02%). During the pandemic, Pinterest experienced a surge in user growth. However, like the other names on this list, recent quarters have not been so kind to Pinterest, which has once again become unprofitable as the overall ad market appears to be weakening.

That said, I think Pinterest's long-term outlook remains robust. As far as social media platforms are concerned, Pinterest has among the most monetizable models out there. Of course, the degree to which the company is able to monetize it rests in the hands of its management team.

Looking at the company's numbers, there's not a lot to like, but as the company continues to roll out sponsored posts and shoppable pins that let people buy from the post, I think Pinterest's numbers will improve. One report shows 86% of digital buyers in the U.S. reported difficulty getting from a social media site to a brand site and that's something Pinterest is trying to address, and it could pay off.  

If the company's numbers don't improve, my thesis may change. But for now, this is a stock I'm holding on to.

I like these stocks

While there's plenty of execution and time-related risk to consider with these stocks -- each has its own unique future catalysts and investors might want to wait and see how growth materializes -- these are three companies I continue to hold. There are no guarantees in life, but companies with great potential whose stocks are in a downturn tend to provide much more impressive upside than the broader market when things turn around.