3 Stocks With iRobot-Like Return Potential

By John Rosevear, Keith Speights, and Keith Noonan Markets Fool.com

Which stocks have the potential to be the next iRobot (NASDAQ: IRBT)?

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First, let's explain what we're asking. Shares of home-robot-maker iRobot have surged over the last year, rising about 135%, thanks to terrific global demand for its latest Roomba 900-series vacuums and Braava floor-mopping models.

The question we put to some of our Foolish specialists is this: Which stocks have the potential to double (and then some) over the near term, like iRobot did? Below, they explain why they thinkWeibo (NASDAQ: WB), Epizyme (NASDAQ: EPZM), and a dark horse -- Ford Motor Company (NYSE: F) -- might fit the bill.

Ford's self-driving research program will likely shift into high gear under new CEO Jim Hackett. Image source: Ford Motor Company.

New leadership for an undervalued industrial icon

John Rosevear(Ford Motor Company):A century-old automaker is not the kind of company you'd expect to find on this kind of list. But humor me for a moment: Right now, Ford is arguably quite undervalued. It's trading at about 6.6 times its expected 2017 earnings, well below its historical multiple (in good times) of about 10 -- despite strong profits and a solid earnings-growth plan.

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As I write this, Ford's stock price is right around $11. An iRobot-like rise would put it around $26. Is that plausible?

I think it's possible, because Ford is in a unique situation. Last fall, Ford rolled out aplan to transform itselfinto a company that not only makes vehicles, but also profits from a series of new technology-enabled mobility businesses.

It's a good plan that should boost Ford's profitability and keep it competitive as technology transforms the industry. But I think Wall Street hasn't priced the plan into Ford's shares for a couple of reasons:

  • Ford told us how much this will all cost (a lot), but it didn't do a good job of explaining how and when those heavy investments in future technology will pay off.
  • The pace of change at Ford so far has lagged the pace set by Ford's old crosstown rival,General Motors.

Both of those things fall on former CEO Mark Fields -- who wasreplaced on Monday by Jim Hackett. Hackett, who led a transformation as CEO ofSteelcaseand who is well regarded for both his team-building skills and his future-tech savvy, is expected totake Ford more aggressively into the future, while maximizing the profitability of its existing business.

If he's successful, it's entirely possible that Ford's annual net income could surge over $10 billion a year -- and its stock price could get into the mid-$20s. A bet on Ford now is a bet on Hackett and on the wisdom of the Ford directors who appointed him. It's not a slam dunk, but itcouldpay off big if everything works out.

A more promising microblogging platform

Keith Noonan(Weibo): Chinese social-media company Weibo has gained roughly 170% over the last year, but investors who missed out on those returns might still have the opportunity to capture explosive growth with the stock. Like Twitter, the company operates a microblogging platform built around 140-character messages. However, unlike its American counterpart, Weibo is already profitable and is posting huge growth in key areas.

The last fiscal year saw the company's sales increase 37%, with advertising revenue growing 42% year over year on new customer additions and increased advertiser spending. Net income generated by the social platform increased a whopping 211% compared to the prior year.

The platform's reach is growing at a rapid clip, as well. As of December 2016, Weibo boasted an extremely impressive 313 million monthly active users -- up 33% year over year -- while the company's average daily active user base increased 30% year over year, to reach 139 million. Thanks to backing from Chinese internet giants Sina and Alibaba, which both are substantial stakeholders in the social-media platform, Weibo is connected to two of the biggest players in the world's largest internet market and sees opportunities in promotions and feature integration that could continue to boost its sales and user base.

With a forward P/E value of roughly 47, Weibo trades at a premium relative to its expected earnings, and does facechallenges that could disrupt its share price. However, the company appears to have plenty of room to continue growing its top and bottom lines and the potential to deliver huge wins for shareholders.

A clinical-stage biotech taking a different path

Keith Speights(Epizyme): Many biotechs focus on the genetic causes of disease, but small-cap biotech Epizyme is taking a different approach. Epizyme is a leader in the field of epigenetics, which studies inherited changes that can cause disease but don't involve changes to the underlying DNA.

The company's lead product istazemetostat. This experimental drug is being evaluated in four midstage clinical trials. One of those studies targets treatment of solid tumors. Another focuses on treatment of mesothelioma, a cancer that typically affects the lungs. Two of the studies are evaluating tazemetostat in treating non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL).

Epizyme has attracted the attention of several big players. Roche is conducting an early stage study oftazemetostat in combination with its cancer drug Tecentriq in treating NHL. Eisai licensed rights for tazemetostat for the Japanese market.

There's even more interest from larger drugmakers for Epizyme's other two early stage pipeline candidates. Celgene (NASDAQ: CELG)is collaborating with the small biotech on development of experimental acute myeloid leukemia drug pinometostat.GlaxoSmithKline is testing Epizyme's experimentalPRMT5 inhibitor in treating several types of cancer.

After reporting positive interim data from its mid-stage study of tazemetostat, Epizyme now hopes to be able to submit the drug for accelerated approval in 2018. If the company stays on track for achieving this goal, Epizyme could become an iRobot-like stock in the epigenetics arena.

10 stocks we like better than Weibo
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John Rosevear owns shares of Ford and General Motors. Keith Noonan has no position in any stocks mentioned. Keith Speights owns shares of Celgene. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Celgene, Ford, and iRobot. The Motley Fool recommends Sina and Weibo. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.