Individual investors should never attempt to time the market because, well, no one can time the market. It's much better to buy great companies taking aim at unaddressed opportunities within reach of their technology platforms and sit pat for the long-haul. Smoothing over an industry's pain points is a pretty great way to create value for customers and shareholders alike.
Of course, the stock market doesn't always award innovative companies in a timely manner. While there are good reasons for these stocks to be relatively subdued at the moment, there are also solid reasons that each one could be set to pop. Investors looking to add some excitement to their portfolios should take a closer look at Venator Materials (NYSE: VNTR), Codexis (NASDAQ: CDXS), and Invitae (NYSE: NVTA).
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The newest titanium stock
You may have never heard of Venator Materials, but that's because it was only recently spun out of Huntsman Corporation, where it was formerly the titanium dioxide and pigments division. What the heck is titanium dioxide? It's a nanomaterial that provides unique pigment properties to paints, coatings, and even sunscreen (it's the specific ingredient that blocks UV rays).
It's also on the heels of a major breakout thanks to a sharp recovery in selling prices. That's great news for Venator Materials, which is one of the top global producers with 785,000 metric tons of annual manufacturing capacity. Shares haven't done anything too exciting since the IPO, but the stock may be about to pop. Why?
The pro forma results -- those stretching back in previous periods when it was still a part of Huntsman Corporation -- don't demonstrate what it should be able to do as a stand-alone company. Consider that selling, general and administrative expenses decreased 23% in the first quarter of 2017 compared to the year-ago period. Cost of product revenue fell 11% in the same time. It was still readying for its IPO during the first half of 2017, so it's very likely that inefficiency led to unnecessary costs -- and that costs will fall even further in the quarters ahead.
Investors may find additional confidence that Venator Materials will report strong performance in the second half of 2017 by surveying the recent performances of top global titanium dioxide producers such as Chemours Co. and Kronos Worldwide. Both are raking in the profits from their titanium dioxide businesses, reporting triple-digit year-over-year improvements. If the newly IPOed company lands on its feet, it should start making some noise Mr. Market won't be able to ignore.
Behind-the-scenes manufacturing boost
Codexis has quietly grown revenue at double-digit clips each year since 2013, when it transitioned away from a partnership with Royal Dutch Shell to supply enzymes for the production of next-generation ethanol. The company is still making enzymes -- complex molecules that enable chemical production to occur at lower temperatures, pressures, and with fewer reaction steps -- but is now focusing on high-value applications in pharmaceuticals and food ingredients manufacturing.
The company may be relatively small, but it's well-known in the industry. It's one of a handful of companies to win at least three U.S. EPA Presidential Green Chemistry Awards for innovative chemical synthesis (the only others in this category are multibillion-dollar chemical and biopharma giants). Customers are certainly catching on -- 15 of the top 20 pharmaceutical companies in the world work with Codexis -- and it will only be a matter of time before Wall Street does, too.
Why could the stock be set to pop? Where do we begin?
In the first half of 2017, the company grew product sales to $12.2 million, a 74% increase from the year-ago period. The enzyme business is growing so quickly that Codexis increased its full-year 2017 guidance for product sales 20% from prior expectations, resulting in a new range of $25 million to $27 million. In 2016, total product revenue was just $15 million.
After posting total first-half 2017 revenue of $18.3 million, Codexis is expecting full-year 2017 revenue of $50 million to $53 million, up to an 8.5% increase over last year. The large difference between halves is due to a large milestone payment expected from announcing a new major pharmaceutical partner. Throw in an upcoming award from a patent infringement settlement decided in the company's favor, a new enzyme aimed at next-generation sequencing (DNA) platforms, and the beginning of clinical trials for its own biotherapeutic in 2018, and there are no shortages of catalysts capable of driving the stock higher.
Genetic information for all
One of the biggest pain points in genomics is cost -- and that's where Invitae is planning to make a living. Whereas companies in the past (cough, Myriad Genetics) made a handful of tests, patented them, and then sat idly by collecting rent, Invitae has designed low-cost, high-quality genetic tests for all relevant human diseases. Its business strategy is driven by volumes, not overcharging patients.
So far, so good. In the second quarter of 2017, revenue grew 155%, test volumes grew 144%, cost per sample decreased 31%, and operating expenses grew just 33% compared to the year-ago period. To be fair, growing the business has been expensive, resulting in annual cash burn of about $80 million. Management has funded growth with newly issued shares, and dilution has sapped returns in the last three years.
But dilution should be less of a risk in the next two years. Invitae expects to post full-year 2017 revenue of $55 million to $65 million, more than double that achieved last year. However, that doesn't account for the recent acquisitions of GoodStart Genetics and CombiMatrix, which combined for $17 million in gross profit last year. The combined trifecta would deliver up to $105 million in revenue and up to $40 million in gross profit in 2017.
Although operating loss and net loss would remain the same as before the acquisition for the combined company in 2017, the growth and synergies from integration could provide a big boost to Invitae sooner than Wall Street expects. Depending on growth in 2018, investors should expect net losses to begin shrinking -- perhaps in a big way. That could be all it takes for this high-growth stock to pop in the next few quarters.
What does it mean for investors?
Whether or not these stocks pop in the next few quarters, investors have ample reasons to be pretty optimistic about the long-term trajectory of each business. Venator Materials should climb back to healthy margins after shedding the inefficiencies from operating within a larger company. Growth at Codexis should allow it to be profitable in the next few years -- and at gross margins exceeding 40%, that could be dangerous. Meanwhile, Invitae has taken aggressive steps to grow its network of customers and expand into biopharma partnerships now, so that it can become a cash cow in the future. Each stock should at least be on your watchlist.
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