Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) is just about the most iconic tech stock and high-growth vehicle on the market today. Consumers love Cupertino's products, and Apple's stock has made many investors very wealthy.
But that burnished pedigree doesn't automatically make Apple the best tech stock to buy today. Three Motley Fool contributors had no problem coming up with even better investment vehicles for the long run. Time Warner (NYSE:TWX.DL) is a media powerhouse shifting into a higher gear, Cisco Systems (NASDAQ:CSCO) is quietly building a solid turnaround story, and Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) is in the early stages of constructing a global empire.
Read on for much more detail on these three proposed Apple-beaters.
Tim Beyers (Time Warner): Who says you need tech stocks to get tech-stock-like gains? Media companies have been producing market-crushing gains for a while now. Time Warner could continue the trend in the year ahead, outperforming even Apple.
Distribution is a big reason why. Warner has done an excellent job getting its DC Comics properties into the hands of more licensees. Consider Gotham. 21st Century Fox (NASDAQ:FOX) won a bidding war for the right to distribute the show on regular television. Warner preserved the streaming rights, which it has since sold to Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) for a reported $1.75 million per episode. Add it up, and Gotham looks to be one of this season's most profitable debuts.
Yet it's not the only one in development. CBS (NYSE:CBS) has ordered Supergirl to a series, with Glee's Melissa Benoist cast in the title role. Syfy has hired David S. Goyer to develop a Superman prequel called Krypton, and The CW recently unveiled the first trailer for the DC Comics-based horror comedy iZombie. Warner is producing each show and, where appropriate, collecting fees for licensing the characters involved.
Mix in HBO and a wide range of highly successful theatrical releases -- including the Academy Award-nominated American Sniper -- and it starts to become clear why Rupert Murdoch bid $85 a share for Time Warner in July. The business has only grown more valuable since, yet the stock continues to trade below Murdoch's offer. Don't expect that to last much longer.
Anders Bylund (Netflix): Let me tell the Netflix story from two angles.
First, there's the rearview mirror. Over the past five years, Apple has crushed the S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^GSPC) index and its 81% return with a solid 312% surge. This span includes most of the iPhone era and just about the entire history of the iPad series. It's Apple's finest hour, at least in terms of raw business performance.
Meanwhile, Netflix raced to a heart-stopping 778% gain. It was hardly a smooth ride, including the boneheaded Qwikster scare in 2011 and a double helping of large corrections in 2014. Still, Netflix delivered more than twice the shareholder value of Apple's admittedly impressive performance.
If you think I was cherry-picking a time frame to show Netflix in a better light than Apple, I'd like to show you an even longer view. Netflix has held its own against the fruit-flavored growth phenom over the past decade, too:
Past performance is no guarantee of future returns, of course. So let's look ahead, too.
Apple is bumping up against the law of large numbers nowadays. With a $664 billion market cap leaning on just under $200 billion in trailing revenues, you kind of need a cosmic bulldozer to move Apple's needle any further.
Netflix, on the other hand, is just getting started.
The company offers streaming services in just over 50 countries today. Netflix aims to cover the entire globe in less than two years, expanding its addressable market fourfold. This will be done while reporting positive earnings along the way -- and then Netflix shifts gears from market expansion to maximized profits.
The shareholder value you'll see unlocked in 2017 promises to be staggering. In the meantime, Netflix is a relative minnow with just $5.5 billion in annual sales supporting a $27 billion mid-cap market value.
Come back in five years, and I believe you'll find Netflix's market cap in the same ballpark as Apple's. We're talking multibagger potential here.
Dan Caplinger (Cisco Systems): Value investors always like to seek out promising stocks that are out of favor. Cisco Systems hasn't been in investors' good graces for years as the tech giant has gone through a painful transition. The networking giant never fully recovered from the tech bust in 2000, and efforts to diversify beyond its core business have had only mixed success.
Yet there are signs now that Cisco's turnaround story might finally be making progress. In its most recent quarterly results, Cisco set new records for revenue. With its emphasis on taking advantage of the rise of the Internet of Things, Cisco is in a strong position, as it offers enterprise customers products that cover networking, communication, and security needs in an integrated package. As Cisco aims to sell not only hardware but also software for cyber-protection and data analytics, it has the opportunity to make the most of its impressive customer base. In addition, Cisco has become an increasingly relevant player in the server business, which has become increasingly important in a cloud-computing world. With its Unified Computing Systems aimed at companies that want to handle all-purpose computing needs, Cisco has positioned itself to be a one-stop source for technology solutions for large and small customers alike.
Moreover, Cisco treats shareholders well. It has dramatically increased its dividend in recent years, with a 2.7% current yield that easily tops Apple. Cisco also spent $1 billion on stock buybacks in just the most recent quarter, and further repurchases are likely -- especially given that the shares currently fetch just 13 times forward earnings. With so much room to run, Cisco looks like a good candidate for investors in 2015 and beyond.
Anders Bylund owns shares of Netflix. Dan Caplinger owns shares of Apple. Tim Beyers owns shares of Apple, Netflix, and Time Warner. The Motley Fool recommends Apple, Cisco Systems, and Netflix and owns shares of Apple and Netflix. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.