"As long as there are problems to be solved, there will be innovators to solve them. Companies that use the current tough times as an excuse to de-emphasize innovation are going to severely regret it."
-- Scott Anthony
At first, the idea sounds counterintuitive: Recessions actually offer disruptive companies their best opportunities to dominate. Although companies tighten their belts, cash gets hoarded, and consumers rein in their spending -- for the disruptors, it's showtime. That's the chief thesis of Scott Anthony, author of The Silver Lining: An Innovation Playbook for Uncertain Times.
Look beyond the surface
Unusual as it may be, the theory appears to hold water. During economic downturns, Anthony argues, an abundance of scarcity forces companies to shed old, outdated business models and develop and produce new ideas. With the help of technology, innovation can occur at lightning speed. Just think, Anthony writes, how quickly Facebook went from a college dorm-room project to a global enterprise.
He also notes that many great companies, such as McDonald's, IBM, and General Electric were all formed during times of recession.
In fact, more recently, harsh economic times didn't seem to stop Advanced Micro Devices
In addition, mergers and acquisitions will usually pick up speed in recessions, as the companies that have cash become more willing to spend to finance expansion, growth, and creativity. The Boston Consulting Group says this is a smart move. According to its research, deals done during a recession generate 15% more return to shareholders than deals done during a boom period. We have already started to see this happen, as big companies like BP
These industry shake-ups can have lasting impacts. Right now, as we steer our way through the greatest recession in decades, there are a plethora of opportunities to take advantage of.
Innovate, innovate, innovate
For Intel boss Craig Barrett has said, "You can't save your way out of a recession; you have to invest your way out." He's right. To truly improve profits, companies can only cut costs for so long. The only true way to come out on the right side of the recession is to innovate, break rules, and hope your ideas are better than the next guy's. The Kauffman Foundation, in a study of entrepreneurship, found that about half of the current Fortune 500 companies were founded during recessionary or bear markets.
That's why companies such as IBM are holding a series of "innovation jams" designed to come up with new and influential initiatives; why CF Industries
Time to break the rules
This line of thinking gets David Gardner, co-founder of The Motley Fool and head of our Rule Breakers team, excited about investing right now. David is a classic growth investor -- he loves companies that are breaking the bounds of normalcy and engaging in risky but intelligent shifts in their industries.
I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with David to discuss his investing strategy. He said he tries to invest in companies that he believes in, but which also have "dark clouds I can see through." David explained that if you can look past that dark cloud of adversity, but others cannot, you will often gain from other people's fears.
That's what David did when he recommended buying Intuitive Surgical
His team recently recommended Check Point Software Technologies, a company with all the traits of a recession-beater, operating in an industry whose needs are growing exponentially: the computer and network security arena. Serving mostly corporate customers, Check Point offers integrated solutions for a host of security and safety issues.
Despite losing some ground to competitors in 2005, the company has come roaring back and is now the No. 3 security software provider, boasting whopping gross margins north of 90%. In addition, with zero debt and a gigantic pile of cash on hand, this company is perfectly poised to take advantage of a growing security market that already totals $5.5 billion per year. Oh, and did I mention it's only trading at 15 times next year's earnings?
The analysts at Rule Breakers offer two new stock ideas every month that fit the winning criteria I've talked about. Some picks have turned out differently than they anticipated, but since 2004, they're beating the S&P 500 by more than 21 percentage points on average. That's pretty impressive.
If you're interested in seeing all of David's past and present stock recommendations, or learning more about Check Point, click here for more information. We're offering a 30-day free trial with absolutely no obligation to subscribe.
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Fool editor Jordan DiPietro owns shares in General Electric. Intel is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. Check Point Software Technologies and Intuitive Surgical are Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendations. Novartis AG is a Motley Fool Global Gains pick. The Fool has created a covered strangle position on Intel. Motley Fool Options has recommended a buy calls position on Intel. The Fool's disclosure policy loves finding a truly disruptive company.