"In the short run, the market is a voting machine but in the long run, it is a weighing machine."
-- Benjamin Graham
The stock market can be a tricky place for both companies and investors alike. Wall Street is obsessed with short-term predictions and near-term profits. However, at The Motley Fool, we believe it pays to be a long-term investor in a short-term world. Investing in well-run businesses that will be around for decades to come is one of the surest ways to reap generous profits for years on end.
Consider this: Investors who bought shares of Apple 10 years ago have since seen its value grow by an astounding 3,892% in that time, not including dividends. Finding the next Apple stock means looking to the future and investing in well-run companies that are sacrificing near-term profitability for long-term value. It is in this spirit that I've outlined two companies in which big-picture visions should pay off for patient shareholders down the road.
1. The road less traveled
Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN) boggles the minds of analysts everywhere for its ability to consistently deliver slim profits without meaningful backlash from investors. In fact, having patient shareholders is one of the e-commerce company's biggest competitive advantages today. That's because it allows Amazon to invest heavily in its network of distribution centers, its cloud-computing offering known as Amazon Web Services, and even hardware like its Fire TV set-top box and new 3-D-enabled smartphone.
Amazon's founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos has never been shy about his long-term ambitions for the company. In his original shareholder letter in 1997, Bezos wrote, "It's all about the long term." He went on to say, "We will continue to make investment decisions in light of long-term market leadership considerations rather than short-term profitability considerations or short-term Wall Street reactions."
The e-commerce giant plays by those same rules today. Last year, Amazon generated a net profit of just $274 million, which was microscopic compared to its revenue of $74.5 billion that year. Taking the long view, Amazon continues to invest in its future with a broad array of initiatives ranging from its AmazonFresh grocery delivery and Amazon Web Services to payment processing using "Login and Pay with Amazon."
For investors, it helps to know that the company's interests are aligned with its shareholders' interests. Amazon's highest-paid employee, for example, has a salary of just $175,000 because Amazon prefers to pay its executives with stock compensation rather than cash, according to the Economist. Ultimately, Amazon's strategy of sacrificing current profits for future profitability and, perhaps, world domination, should reward patient shareholders with a five-to-10-year time horizon.
2. Upending the auto industry
Tesla Motors (NASDAQ:TSLA) is another big-picture stock with a visionary leader behind the wheel. The electric-car maker is in the early stages of its growth story, and the road ahead looks promising. Not only has Tesla demonstrated that electric cars can be sexy, but it has also proven it can sell gas-free cars in a global auto market dominated by traditional automakers like Ford and General Motors. In fact, Tesla's Model S was the top-selling car in North America among comparably priced cars last year, according to the company.
However, that's small-time compared to the possibilities on the horizon. There's a massive opportunity for Tesla outside of the U.S., in markets such as Europe and Asia. Tesla began selling cars in China earlier this year. And the company now expects Model S sales in Europe and Asia combined to be nearly double those in North America by the end of 2014.
The fact that Tesla's Model X crossover EV will hit the road in the second quarter of 2015 is another catalyst for the stock going forward. As I mentioned last month, early indicators suggest that the Model X could become Tesla's best-selling vehicle once volume production of the vehicle begins next year. Moreover, Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk was unusually optimistic about the upcoming launch. At the company's annual shareholder event he said, "At Tesla, whenever we show off a car as a demonstration item, the actual production car will always be better than what people saw."
If the Model X does, in fact, exceed our expectations, it could be a windfall for Tesla's stock down the road. Additionally, the company's planned Gigafactory should help drive down lithium ion battery costs over time, while providing a steady supply of the batteries for powering Tesla's zero-emissions vehicles. Similar to Amazon, Tesla is spending much of the cash it generates today to fund big-picture initiatives.
As discussed above, some of these include the production of its upcoming Model X, international sales, supercharging infrastructure, and a massive battery manufacturing plant. Because it could take years for these projects to really pay off, investors should be prepared to own Tesla's stock for the long haul.
Let 'em run
What these companies have in common is visionary leadership and business models that opt for the long view. While I have little doubt these stocks will reward shareholders in the long run, both Amazon and Tesla boast pricey valuations today. Amazon, for example, currently trades at 108 times next year's earnings, whereas Tesla trades at more than 75 times forward earnings today. However, ultimately, you're paying for their future potential... and given what we discussed above, the reward could outweigh the risk for patient investors with a long time horizon.