With the S&P 500 up less than 3% year-to-date, there are certainly alternatives to best those meager returns. We asked three of our Foolish contributors to select a few stocks that are attractive today for savvy investors in search of growth. So what stocks are smart investors learning toward today?
Tim Brugger (IBM): Despite IBM's nice stock price run following a strong first quarter -- the share price has risen nearly 9% from pre-announcement levels -- it remains one of the least expensive opportunities in the tech sector. Priced at just 10 times forward earnings, IBM represents a fantastic value.
Even more attractive than its relative value is the significant strides IBM is making in its "strategic imperatives" initiatives. Though a bit late to the party, IBM has already taken a leadership position in what many believe is the fastest-growing piece of the cloud pie: Software-as-a-Service. According to one estimate, SaaS delivered via the cloud will generate over $100 billion in revenue by next year and grow 30% annually for several years into the future.
As demonstrated last quarter, IBM's emphasis on delivering services rather than relying on the highly commoditized cloud infrastructure market is paying dividends. At an annual run-rate of $3.8 billion -- a 60% improvement from 2014's Q1 -- IBM is climbing toward the top of the cloud heap. Now toss in cutting-edge business analytics and a comprehensive suite of big data solutions, and IBM is ideally positioned for future growth.
As more and more people recognize this isn't their father's IBM, savvy long-term investors who get in now stand to reap significant rewards. Oh, and let's not forget to enjoy IBM's industry-leading 3% dividend yield along the way.
Jeremy Bowman (Restaurant Brands International): A stock doesn't have to be high-concept to be a favorite of Wall Street's bigwigs, and Restaurant Brands International -- the company formed by the merger of Burger King and Tim Horton's -- may be the best reminder of that. Restaurant Brands carries some big-name backing, including billionaires like Warren Buffett, Bill Ackman, and Jorge Paulo Lemann of the Brazilian Investment Firm 3G Capital.
3G Capital was the majority owner of Burger King Worldwide and engineered the deal last year in the hopes of working with Tim Horton's to execute the same playbook that worked with AB/InBev and Burger King -- strip down costs and expand internationally. 3G owns a 51% stake in Restaurant Brands, while Buffett pitched in $3 billion in financing for preferred shares and then acquired more than 4% of the common stock. Bill Ackman's hedge fund Pershing Square Capital Management owns 19% of the stock, leaving about a quarter of the shares divided among smaller investors.
Restaurant Brands posted positive results in its first earnings report last week as both Tim Horton's and Burger King delivered strong same-store sales growth and earnings per share of $0.18 topped estimates by a penny. 3G has had success in the past with food and beverage companies, and Restaurant Brands may add other chains under its umbrella should the opportunity arise. Don't be surprised if the company replicates the success of Yum! Brands, whose portfolio includes KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell. This may be the most appealing aspect for potential investors, as the company is clearly focused on profitable growth, and 3G has an impressive track record in that area. As the well-known activist investor said of 3G, "This is a management team that does not need shareholder activists."
Andres Cardenal (Apple): According to the Goldman Sachs Very Important Positions list, Apple is the top holding among fundamentals-driven hedge funds. Also, renowned investor Carl Icahn is famously invested in Apple, and he recently stated via Twitter that he believes Apple is still undervalued and misunderstood. Mr. Icahn seems as bullish as ever when it comes to Apple stock and its potential over the years ahead.
When looking at the company's fundamentals and financial performance, it's no wonder that so many smart investors have a bullish opinion of Apple stock. Apple is the most valuable brand in the world according to Interbrand, and demand for the latest iPhone models -- iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus -- is nothing short of breathtaking.
The company reported a big increase in revenue of 27% year over year during the quarter ending in March, reaching a massive $58 billion. The iPhone was the main driver: unit sales grew 40% to an impressive 61.17 million devices during the period. Further, sales in the Greater China region are extraordinarily strong, jumping 71% versus the same quarter in the prior year to $16.8 billion.
Apple has also accumulated a gargantuan cash hoard of nearly $194 billion in cash and liquid investments on its balance sheet. This provides a lot of flexibility and financial firepower for the company to continue rewarding investors with growing dividends and stock buybacks over the years ahead.