It's late August 2004, and you have a dilemma. You have $5,000 to invest, and you can't decide between two stocks: one a growth selection, the other a value play. The growth stock is Google, a leader in Internet search engines that everyone is talking about. You can buy in at $100 per share. No one seems to have a clue regarding the value of this company, and you don't really know anything about search engines, except that you can search old high school buddies on Friday afternoons at work.

The value pick is Mattel, the popular maker of children's toys. Several analysts have crunched the numbers on this one and determined that the share price is significantly undervalued at $16. And doesn't Peter Lynch recommend that you buy what you know? You may not know search engines, but you know toys. Kids like toys, and parents spend loads of money on their kids. In the end, you convince yourself to buy $5,000 of Mattel at $16 per share. Google is just too darn risky.

Today, Mattel trades at $16.23 per share, which amounts to a return of 1.4% over the course of just about 14 months. Needless to say, you're not exactly pleased with the result. However, Google now trades at $429.12, which has yielded a 329% return over the same period. The $5,000 you invested in Mattel is now worth $5,070; the $5,000 you might have invested in Google would be worth $21,456. Should you consider the difference between the two investments ($21,456 - $5,070 = $16,386) the opportunity cost of choosing the safer investment?

Perhaps not. But this admittedly simplistic illustration does suggest that there might be a price to be paid for ignoring high-growth sectors like biotechnology, the Internet, and nanotechnology. At Motley Fool Rule Breakers, we respect the tenets of fundamental analysis, but we also know that sometimes you have to look beyond traditional valuation techniques to find the next ultimate growth stock.

The method in our madness
Fictitious biotech start-up Cure-all is trading at $5 a share and has 10 million shares outstanding. The company will be spending $10 million a year developing a late-stage drug for the next four years. The new drug comes on the market in the fifth year and will return $100 million a year thereafter. For this company, we might use a discount rate of 15%. (Think of the discount rate as the rate of return you would require on your investment, given a particular level of risk.) To value any company, we must first add the present value of all future cash flows. The terminal value (year five and beyond) is determined by dividing the $100 million cash flow by the discount rate. We would then need to determine the present value of that figure. The numbers would look like this:

Year 1

Year 2

Year 3

Year 4

Year 5 Onward

Cash Flows

-$10 million

-$10 million

-$10 million

-$10 million

$667 million ($100 million/.15)



Then it's just a matter of taking the present value of each of the cash flows:

(-10/1.15) + (-10/1.152) + (-10/1.153) + (-10/1.154) + (667/1.155) = $303.3 million

We would then divide the $303.3 million by 10 million shares, which would yield an intrinsic value of $30.33 per share for this company.

In other words, you can buy a stock worth $30.33 for a mere $5 per share. Even a value investor would see this as a good deal, right? Not so fast -- there's one more thing to consider. Let's say that there is a significant possibility that the drug would not be approved. In our simple example, such a scenario would lead to a valuation of zero for the company. Still interested? Faced with the possibility of a zero valuation, many investors would walk away.

But Rule Breakers analysts would dig deeper. Next, they would subject Cure-all to a probability analysis. If the odds of the drug being approved are 50%, then your expected return is very attractive. If the drug is approved, your $5 share is worth $30.33, resulting in a profit of $25.33. If the drug is rejected, your $5 share is worth nothing, resulting in a loss of $5. Overall, your expected return is $10.17 [.5 ($25.33) + .5 (-5)].

To accurately determine the probabilities, we would need to consider how similar drugs have fared in the past and examine the track record of the firm's management. At some point, our analysts would decide whether to invest in Cure-all. Traditional valuation methods would affect the decision, but other qualitative factors would also be important.

This hypothetical example illustrates a number of lessons. First, it might be wise to invest in companies with a positive expected return -- even if there is a possibility of losing everything. With diversification, you will benefit over the long term. Second, growth investing demands patience and fortitude. It can take several years for your investment to pay off. Sometimes the investment might not pay off at all. Finally, the illustration shows that there is an art and a science to growth investing.

The vision thing
One of the most difficult tasks in valuing any company is trying to predict future cash flows. Obviously, this task is easier with established companies such as Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO) -- both of which have steady cash flows -- than it is with younger, higher-growth companies. When David Gardner, lead analyst for Rule Breakers, first invested in eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) back in 1999, he had to look beyond classical valuation techniques and envision the opportunities for a firm in this industry. That sort of vision has rewarded him handsomely -- eBay stock is up more than 300% since he bought it.

The recent events involving Archipelago, a fully electronic stock exchange, offer yet another instructive case study. I think even David would admit that when he recommended this stock, he never envisioned that it would rocket up almost 60% in one day, as it did earlier this year. But he was able to look beyond the fundamentals and make an informed prediction as to where the trading industry was headed. With Rule Breaking investing, you need to be able to assess what could be, far more than what is.

There are considerable risks with this strategy, obviously. One of our biotech stock selections is down more than 60% since it was selected last fall. With dimming long-term prospects, it has since been sold out of the portfolio. When you swing for the fences, there will be strikeouts along the way. We recommend that investors allocate anywhere from 5% to 30% of their portfolio to growth stocks, depending on their time horizon and risk tolerance. That way, investors will not miss out on the next Urban Outfitters (NASDAQ:URBN) or the next Chico's (NYSE:CHS) or even Celgene (NASDAQ:CELG). As the following table indicates, each of these three companies outperformed the market by a considerable margin over the past five years.