Many people are concerned about the growing disparity between the richest citizens and everyone else, but few are thinking about how to profit from it. According to Reuters, the richest 1% of people in the world own 46% of global wealth. Such a concentration of wealth has consequences in many different realms, but the takeaway for investors is that this group has a large -- and growing -- share of spending power.
Companies like Sotheby's (NYSE:BID), Tesla Motors (NASDAQ:TSLA), and -- to a lesser extent -- Tiffany (NYSE:TIF) cater to the world's richest citizens. Investors looking to profit from the growing disposable incomes of the top 1% should consider investing in these stocks.
Fortunes tied to the 1%
A quick look at Sotheby's, Tesla, and Tiffany shows a high reliance on big spenders. Sotheby's stock price overshoots during every stock market bubble and strongly contracts when the stock market declines.
Since Sotheby's makes most of its money from commissions on auction sales, it makes sense that business improves as asset prices rise and deteriorates as asset prices decline. This boom and bust cycle makes Sotheby's a good bet for investors who believe asset prices will continue to rise amid unprecedented low interest rates around the world.
Tesla is also beholden to consumers with the highest disposable incomes. A standard 60kWh Model S costs nearly $70,000 before tax incentives. The price can go a lot higher depending on performance enhancements and other features. That is more than double the average U.S. car price of $31,252 -- a record set in August 2013. Clearly, Model S is not a car for the everyman.
Finally, Tiffany is a prime beneficiary of increases in the spending power of upwardly mobile consumers. Tiffany's little blue box attracts a mix of high-income consumers looking for quality jewelry and aspirational consumers who want a taste of luxury. The company sells a commodified product, but its storied brand separates it from other jewelry retailers. Tiffany's pricing power and customer demographics enabled it to remain profitable throughout the 2009 recession.
What the future holds
Although all three companies cater to a similar demographic, the risk and reward is vastly different for each stock. Sotheby's is the riskiest; investors tend to become too optimistic in boom times and too pessimistic during busts. Right now, the art market is booming. The global art and antiques market reached €47.4 billion in 2013, nearly equal to the all-time high in 2007 before the market declined 41% in just two years. In other words, you must be extremely bullish on asset prices to invest in Sotheby's today -- but you'll be greatly rewarded if you're right.
Tesla comes with a little more safety because it has yet to achieve its market potential. Its revenue will likely increase even during a sharp recession because so many people who have the money to buy a Tesla have not yet made the purchase. Analysts expect revenue to grow 43% in 2015, giving speculators a way to rationalize paying 14 times revenue for the stock. The market's high expectations pose a longer-term risk as the company battles with regulators and tests international markets, but spending by wealthy consumers could keep this stock humming along for many more years.
Tiffany is the perfect stock for investors who want to bet on higher incomes without risk of catastrophic loss. Tiffany is an old and established brand with a relatively stable market for its goods. The company's revenue, return on equity, and gross margin are either the same or slightly improved from a decade ago. Revenue fell only slightly during the recession and is expected to grow 7.5% next year. If the world's wealthiest continue to grow wealthier, Tiffany will deliver solid returns in the years ahead.
The rich are getting richer and all you can do is...profit from it. Sotheby's, Tesla, and Tiffany cater to consumers who have high incomes and don't mind spending it. Each has different risks and rewards, but all will do well if the highest incomes continue to grow higher.