3 Stocks That Could Put Amazon's Returns to Shame

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Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) is, without question, one of the most successful stocks on the market today. The giant internet retailer is accustomed to crushing the competition -- and its stock performance shows that it usually does. But are there stocks even better than Amazon?

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We asked three Motley Fool investors to suggest stocks they thought could put Amazon's returns to shame. Here's why they chose Bed Bath and Beyond (NASDAQ: BBBY), Codexis (NASDAQ: CDXS), and Vertex Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: VRTX).

Pessimism overload

Tim Green (Bed Bath & Beyond): Retailer Bed Bath & Beyond is not doing well. During the second quarter, comparable sales dropped 2.6% while net income plummeted 44%. Both gross margin and operating margin have been moving lower since 2012, due in part to an overreliance on coupons. The company expects to produce earnings per share of just $3 this year, down from a peak of $5.10 in fiscal 2016.

This performance is already reflected in the stock price. Shares of Bed Bath & Beyond have shed 72% of their value over the past three years, pushing down the valuation to extremely pessimistic levels. Priced around $20 per share, the stock trades for about 6.7 times the company's earnings guidance. The market is clearly expecting things to get a whole lot worse.

Things might get worse, but if Bed Bath & Beyond can show any sign of progress, the stock could soar. And if the company can stabilize the bottom line, that mid-single-digit earnings multiple will likely be a thing of the past. Buying Bed Bath & Beyond stock is a bet that the worst-case scenario won't play out. If the company is able to stop the bleeding, the stock could certainly produce some Amazon-like returns.

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Catalyzing growth opportunities

Maxx Chatsko (Codexis): If I were looking for Amazon-esque returns, then I'd probably start by looking at small-cap stocks. Why? They have higher potential for eye-popping returns than larger companies. Then again, they also have higher levels of risk. That makes it important to only consider quality businesses boasting significant advantages. That's what draws me to a little company called Codexis.

The roughly $300 million company has built an industry-leading platform for designing, building, and testing enzymes for chemical manufacturing applications. Enzymes reduce energy consumption, increase yield, reduce the number of process steps, and avoid the creation of toxic byproducts -- significantly reducing expenses for manufacturers. Codexis forged its reputation by focusing on pharmaceutical manufacturing, winning three Presidential Green Chemistry Awards from the U.S. EPA in the process, but it only recently began expanding the reach of its platform beyond this niche. The expansion appears to be gaining traction.

Codexis is also developing and partnering enzymes for use in biopharmaceutical manufacturing, food ingredient manufacturing, genomics, and even industrial applications (likely metalworking or textile manufacturing). It will begin clinical trials for its own biologic drug candidate in 2018. Product sales for the first nine months of 2017 increased 73% from the year-ago period, and management expects double-digit revenue growth next year. If the company continues gaining traction for its multiple growth opportunities, then double-digit annual growth could become the new normal. 

Trouncing Amazon so far in 2017

Keith Speights (Vertex Pharmaceuticals): It's not an easy task to find a stock with growth prospects stronger than Amazon's. Maxx's approach of going with a small-cap stock and Tim's idea of picking a bargain stock are smart. I took a somewhat more difficult route by choosing a stock that already has a relatively large market cap of nearly $37 billion and isn't a bargain (at least in terms of earnings multiple). That stock is Vertex Pharmaceuticals.

Can Vertex really put Amazon's returns to shame? It has so far this year. While Amazon stock has jumped more than 50% in 2017, Vertex's share price has soared nearly twice as much. The biotech has achieved this impressive performance by continuing to dominate in its niche market, treatment of cystic fibrosis (CF).

Vertex's two approved CF drugs, Kalydeco and Orkambi, are on track to combine for sales of more than $2 billion this year. Over the short term, Orkambi is the biotech's main key to success. However, another potential winner could be just around the corner: The FDA is scheduled to make an approval decision on a combination of tezacaftor and Kalydeco for treating CF by Feb. 28, 2018. 

Over the long run, Vertex's path to beat Amazon's returns hinges on its pipeline. The biotech has several promising three-drug combos that could greatly expand its potential market. Wall Street analysts think Vertex can grow annual earnings by nearly 65% over the next five years -- faster than projections for Amazon.

10 stocks we like better than Amazon
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John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. Keith Speights has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Maxx Chatsko has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Timothy Green has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon. The Motley Fool recommends Vertex Pharmaceuticals. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.