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A Decade of 20% Returns

By Tim Beyers – Updated Nov 15, 2016 at 5:49PM

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Do you value stocks or opportunities? The answer can make a huge difference to your portfolio.

For all the talk of the joys of value investing here at Fool.com, you'd think that growth was like your crazy Uncle Charlie who mutters to himself in the corner during family barbeques. There's just one problem with that image: A well-designed growth strategy absolutely pummels the market.

Decades, not years
Take the original Rule Breakers portfolio at Fool.com. In the 10 years from July 1994 to February 2003, it returned 20.16% annualized, versus just 9.07% for the S&P 500 index (dividends added). Surely, you know some of the more famous names from that portfolio: AOL, Lending Tree, Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN), and Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX).

Fool co-founder and chief rebel David Gardner opened the portfolio with his own money. And he still maintains all those positions today, many of which have achieved multibagger returns.

Of course, that sounds easy now -- we're years removed from a brutal bear market that utterly destroyed returns. Just take a look at Amazon's chart. David held, he says now, because he firmly believes that the returns from Rule Breakers are best earned over decades, not years. It takes time for their industry-shattering business models to take hold. But when they do, billions are unleashed.

Opportunities instead of stocks
I've been fortunate enough to pick some stocks for our Motley Fool Rule Breakers growth investing service. One has even doubled in price since I picked it. But my pick is only one of four rebellious multibaggers in the portfolio. How do we find them, you ask? I think taking a broader view helps.

What I mean is, Rule Breaker investors look at opportunities instead of stocks. Take satellite radio, for example. The best proxy for its potential is cable and satellite TV.

We know that the four best-known cable and satellite TV firms -- Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA), Time Warner Cable, EchoStar (NASDAQ:DISH), and DirecTV -- accounted for 59.5 million subscribers at the end of 2005. Consider also that there are 108 million TV-owning American households, all of which could someday be users of cable or satellite services.

Pardon the arm-waving, please
Now, how does that compare with satellite radio? Between Sirius and XM (NASDAQ:XMSR) there are at least 9.3 million subscribers. Their combined trailing-12-month revenue equals roughly $800 million, or $86 per subscriber. Not bad, but that's not a lot for a duopoly currently valued at $11.63 billion. Is it really worth it? Let's make some assumptions.

First, I believe that Sirius and XM can generate more revenue per subscriber over time. It has certainly worked that way for the premium TV providers. Assuming the two introduce more pay channels and net a little from advertising, $120 per subscriber annually seems feasible.

Second, analysts estimate that there will be 40 million satellite radio subscribers by 2010. Do the math, and you'll find that's a compound annual growth rate of 33.9%. Wow. I doubt Sirius and XM can keep that up after 2010. Let's assume the growth rate will drop by 50%, to 17%, as we estimate our Jan. 1, 2016, subscriber count, which will then net us an industry valuation.

Ready for the math? Here goes:

  • 40 million growing by 17% annually results in 87.7 million satellite radio subscribers by the end of 2015. At $120 per subscriber annually, that's $10.5 billion in total revenue.
  • The average price-to-sales ratio for Comcast, DirecTV, and EchoStar is 1.96.
  • Applying the same multiple to satellite radio makes the market worth roughly $20.6 billion at the dawn of 2016.

That's a lot of assumptions
Yes, it is. Valuing opportunities can be imprecise and, at times, very difficult. But that's why this brand of investing can lead to extraordinary returns. And you don't have to be exactly right to spot a wonderful opportunity.

Take XM, for example. Right now, it accounts for more than 60% of the overall satellite radio market. If our industry estimates are even in the ballpark, then by 2016, XM will be valued at more than $12 billion -- up from less than $5 billion today.

Become a rebel
Learning to spot and value opportunities isn't easy, but doing so is an entirely worthwhile endeavor, in my view, and ought to be a part of every investor's toolkit. After all, unearthing just one multibagger can erase a lifetime of investing mistakes and still make you rich.

At Rule Breakers, we're aiming even higher. So far, we've been fortunate: Our team has uncovered five multibaggers. Accordingly, our average return is above 27%, and the portfolio is crushing the market by more than 21 percentage points as I write. (By the way, if that sounds good, you're welcome to a free 30-day all-access guest pass.)

The Foolish bottom line
Value investing is great. Nabbing a string of small gains will undoubtedly make you rich. And it's a relatively safe way to play the investing game, even over a relatively short-term time horizon of one to three years. Not so with Rule Breakers. Over the short term, they can be subject to gut-wrenching swings. That's the nature of disruptive businesses -- they arrive in violent fashion.

But decades later, when the smoke clears, Rule Breakers offer some of the most impressive returns available anywhere. And you, smart Fool that you are, can get in on the game by learning to value outstanding growth opportunities. Maybe all these years, Uncle Charlie wasn't so crazy after all.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers only breaks the rules in his portfolio. Wimp. Tim didn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story at the time of publication. You can find out what's in his portfolio by checking Tim's Fool profile . XM is a Rule Breakers pick, while Amazon.com is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick. The Motley Fool has an ironcladdisclosure policy.

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Stocks Mentioned

Comcast Corporation Stock Quote
Comcast Corporation
CMCSA
$31.16 (2.97%) $0.90
Starbucks Corporation Stock Quote
Starbucks Corporation
SBUX
$87.11 (3.36%) $2.83
Amazon.com, Inc. Stock Quote
Amazon.com, Inc.
AMZN
$118.01 (3.15%) $3.60
DISH Network Corporation Stock Quote
DISH Network Corporation
DISH
$14.82 (4.88%) $0.69
XM Satellite Radio Holdings Inc. Stock Quote
XM Satellite Radio Holdings Inc.
XMSR.DL

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

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