The Dow Jones Industrial Average, arguably the world's most iconic index, has had a rough go of things over the last couple of weeks. The Dow has shed well in excess of 1,000 points since mid-August, and volatility has been off the scale as Wall Street and investors cope with what could be a slowdown in China, an uncertain growth environment in Europe because of Greece, and a befuddled Federal Reserve that isn't sure whether to raise rates in the U.S. or to stand pat.
Yet, one positive still working in favor of the Dow and its components is that Wall Street expects profits to grow on an annual basis over the next five years for 28 of 30 components. Just oil giants ExxonMobil and Chevron are expected to see their bottom-line contract.
Because the Dow is comprised of some of the United States' largest companies, it's not typically known for having the fastest-growing stocks. However, a quick screen of Dow stocks actually shows that more than a quarter are projected to grow their EPS by a double-digit percentage over the coming five-year period (at least according to Wall Street). While EPS growth alone isn't enough to tell us whether a stock is worth buying, it's a great jumping-off point for additional research.
With that in mind, here are the most rapidly growing stocks in the Dow:
Visa (V 4.29%): 18.1% projected five-year growth rate
Among the fastest growing stocks in the Dow, payment processing facilitator Visa takes the cake with a whopping EPS growth rate of 18% per year. Following the $2.27 in EPS it reported in 2014, Visa's EPS is expected to hit $4.14 by 2018.
What's fueling Visa's growth? It's actually a number of factors. For starters, there's an extremely high barrier to entry in the payment processing space. With the exception of MasterCard, American Express, and Discover Financial, there aren't any other serious threats at the moment to Visa's massive merchant network. This high barrier to entry ensures its pricing power and allows it to maintain a tight relationship with its merchants.
Next up, there's an ongoing push away from cash and toward the more convenient debit and credit access around the globe. With a mere 15% of the global market tapped by payment processors, there are literally decades of opportunity sitting in front of Visa and its peers.
Another point you can't overlook is that Visa and MasterCard are the only two processors that don't also act as lenders. This means they have no exposure to a rise in credit delinquencies, and thus see steadier earnings growth than their peers over the long run.
While Visa's 0.7% dividend yield does leave a lot to be desired, its reasonable PEG ratio of 1.5 insinuates that there could be additional upside in this growth stock.
Home Depot (HD -0.40%): 14.3% projected five-year growth rate
It may come as a bit of a surprise, but Home Depot's 14.3% projected growth rate also places it among the Dow's fastest-growing stocks.
How does Home Depot plan to keep up its strong growth rate? Like Visa, you won't find its catalysts all in one place. Of late, Home Depot's strength has come from a rebound in the housing market, led by historically low mortgage rates and a stabilization and subsequent rise in home prices. By positioning itself to take advantage of the commercial side of the business with contractors, as well as benefit from home remodels with residential customers, Home Depot appears to have a formula that could win in just about any housing environment.
Home Depot has also made important investments in its future to stand out from its competition. An easier to use point-of-sale system, a focus on beefing up the knowledge of its employees, and a genuine focus on convenience vis-a-vis online sales have also been key factors pushing Home Depot's future profit estimates higher. To that end, Home Depot is spending $300 million in 2015 on new mobile technology, facility enhancements, and an upgraded warehouse management system.
Between Home Depot's strong brand-name appeal, its 2% dividend yield (which is right on par with the broader market average), and its reasonable PEG ratio of 1.5, I'd also suggest modest upside could be in the cards for Home Depot over the long term.
Disney (DIS 3.33%): 14% projected five-year growth rate
Nipping at Home Depot's heels in terms of the fastest-growth rate among Dow stocks is Disney with its annual forecasted growth rate of 14%.
Although Disney could seemingly do no wrong since the last recession, the acclaimed House of Mouse hit a proverbial rodent trap with its third-quarter earnings results. Disney's Q3 sales missed the mark with Wall Street, while its forecasted cable profit growth came in weaker than the Street expected.
The good news is this quarter is more of an anomaly than a long-term trend of weakness out of Disney. Arguably, its greatest asset is its brand name and consumer recognition. Children absolutely adore Disney, and it has developed multiple pathways to take advantage of the experience it can deliver for families. From theme park revenue and movies (ahem, Star Wars) to cable and merchandise sales, Disney has multiple ways it can hedge its growth.
Investors should also understand that Disney is a master innovator. For example, even though not all of its movies will be winners, it's generated more than its fair share of sequels from hit movies, and it should continue to generate interest in its theme parks around the world.
Like Visa, Disney's 1.3% dividend yield isn't much to look at, but its PEG ratio of 1.4, like the preceding two stocks, suggests Disney is still reasonably priced and could have modest upside potential.
Apple (AAPL 4.01%): 14% projected five-year growth rate
Lastly, it should come as absolutely no surprise that technology giant Apple rounds out the Dow's fastest-growing stocks with a forecasted growth rate to match Disney's at 14%.
The primary growth driver for Apple is its superior innovation. You certainly don't have to look far to find signs of consumers' allegiance to Apple, with lines stretched around the corner anytime the company releases the latest version of its iPhone or a new product, such as the Watch.
But Apple is much more than just a products company. It's in the process of transforming into a full-fledged platform company with Apple Pay, its payment processing platform, the announcement that it's planning to introduce its own car by 2020, and the introduction of the wearable gadgetry that should help tie many of its innovations together.
Apple also has undeniable flexibility that a mere fraction of its peers can boast. Apple's more than $200 billion in cash and cash equivalents allow it to reward shareholders with unprecedented levels of share buybacks, a monstrous dividend payment, and affords it the ability to take big chances when it comes to product development.
Considering that Apple is the most valuable brand in the world, at least according to researcher Millward Brown, and it's still a leader in innovation, I'm going to once again opine that the most likely direction for Apple's stock over the long term is up.