This article is part of the series Top Tech Stocks 2015. Click here to read other installments of this series.
With the onset of the new year, I've compiled a list of technology stocks I believe could make for compelling investments in 2015 and beyond.
In my overview article, I briefly reviewed each of the five names that made my list. Now I'm delving deeper into the investment thesis for each specific name, and it's time to examine the case for owning Russian search giant Yandex's (NASDAQ:YNDX).
When bears attack
Unless you've been hiding under a rock the last year or so, you should know by now that things aren't necessarily going well in Russia these days. A global oil supply glut combined with several rounds of grueling international sanctions in response to Russia's seditious behavior in Ukraine have hammered the Russian economy. Recession is imminent, if not present already. Last month, the World Bank revised its estimate of Russian economic growth in 2015 from +0.3% to -0.7%, and this analysis was based upon oil prices of $78 per barrel. With oil prices having recently fallen below $50 a barrel, this recent downward revision may still prove overly optimistic. In response, the investment community has labeled all Russian assets toxic. Its currency and stock market have lost significant value in the past year, and interest rates have spiked. However, there's a silver lining hiding in all that bad news. Take a look.
This indiscriminate sell-off has dragged down the good down along with the bad, and it's exactly this broad-based pessimism that creates the unique opportunity to buy shares of one of Europe's most successful tech companies at truly bottom barrel prices.
A long-term winner
For starters, Yandex absolutely dominates the Russian search market, holding a Google-esque iron grip on this highly lucrative segment of the advertising market. It's the reason why Yandex's profit margins have hovered between a low of 28.5% and a high of 34.1% over the last four full fiscal years. And try as it might, the mighty Google can't seem to impinge on Yandex's market dominance, even as it gobbles market share from Yandex's other domestic rivals.
Being able to maintain this dominant position, even as the world's preeminent search name continues to push into the Russian market, bodes well for Yandex for a few reasons. In terms of its overall potential, Russia's Internet penetration rate of roughly 60% remains significantly lower than other developed markets and should increase in the years ahead, recession or no recession. And despite its relatively diminutive Internet penetration, Russia has developed a robust online advertising economy that's will continue to grow at outsized rates in the years to come. At an investor conference in December, Yandex estimated online ad spend will increase at an average annual rate of 18% from last year to 2016. And while the widely expected economic contraction might dampen some of that growth, hopefully we can all agree that Yandex enjoys a dominant position in a high margin, high growth area of technology.
And now for the crux of the thesis. The massive sell-off in Yandex stock has pushed its valuations well below their normal levels. At the moment, shares of Yandex trade hands at 14.5 times its last 12-months' earnings, despite its highly favorable long-term growth trajectory. To give you an idea how just how cheap that is consider that the S&P 500 currently trades at roughly 20 times earnings, albeit I fully admit the risk factors between the two are drastically different. Even despite that, hopefully we can all agree that Yandex stock is currently selling at fire sale prices.
Patience is a virtue
Before pulling the trigger on Yandex stock, caveat emptor (buyer beware). The short-term road ahead will almost undoubtedly be a rocky one for Yandex. Advertising is a highly cyclical industry, one that could very plausibly contract as the overall Russian economy worsens.
However, looking beyond the immediate turmoil, Yandex appears to have a winning playbook. It's a company with a leadership position in an attractive core business in a market that's poised to continue to grow in the years to come. Long-term is the name of the game when it comes to investing in general, and it could once again lead to some pretty compelling results for those willing to wait out Yandex's potential short-term volatility.