Finding market-beating stocks is easier said than done. And it's admittedly painful to see any of your stocks decline, even if its long-term thesis remains intact. But patient investors know that even a single big winner in your portfolio can make up for several losing investments.
So we asked three top Motley Fool investors to pick stocks they believe could be game changers for your returns. Read on to learn why they chose Boston Beer Company (NYSE: SAM), Alibaba (NYSE: BABA), and Foot Locker (NYSE: FL).
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Toast to (even) better days ahead
Steve Symington (Boston Beer Company): Shares of Boston Beer Company have fallen 13% so far in 2017, as competition and a softening craft beer market have taken their toll on growth. But the situation looked even more dire for the Samuel Adams brewer before the stock popped 15% in a single day following its encouraging second-quarter report two weeks ago.
Even then, those results didn't look particularly strong on the top line; quarterly revenue climbed just 1.3% year over year to just under $265 million, driven mostly by price increases as shipment volumes remained flat. On the bottom line, however, Boston Beer managed to grow its net income per share by more than 14% (to $2.35), thanks to both cost savings initiatives and share repurchases over the past year. Both figures handily beat the market's expectations.
So why might investors want to buy after the recent pop? For one, depletions -- a key industry measure for how fast Boston Beer's products travel from warehouses to consumer outlets -- fell "just" 3% year over year, marking a massive improvement sequentially from the metric's 14% decline a quarter earlier. And though investors are rightly excited about this progress, Boston Beer isn't about to relax anytime soon. Rather, the company insisted it will continue to work hard to return its core Samuel Adams and Twisted Tea brands to growth, while simultaneously fostering the brewing innovation and variety that helped them win beer drinkers' hearts in the first place.
Considering Boston Beer still commands less than 2% of the total U.S. beer market, last month's gains should be only the beginning if the company is able to sustain its momentum going forward.
Alibaba: The Chinese revenge
Anders Bylund (Alibaba): If you don't know Alibaba yet, you will soon. In fact, chances are that you have already bought things via the company's e-commerce infrastructure without knowing it. The final retail experience might have been eBay or Amazon.com, but those fidget spinners and cut-rate electronics were almost certainly sourced from Alibaba or one of its subsidiaries along the way.
Technically, more than 90% of Alibaba's business is done within China. But many Western resellers use Alibaba's tools to connect with manufacturers in China. Then they take the low-cost goods to America and set up storefronts on services like Amazon and eBay. In particular, Amazon makes it easy by allowing drop shipments in your name at an American warehouse. This leaves the messy business of storage, packing, and shipping to Amazon's highly automated procedures.
This is only the beginning of a more ambitious global retailing strategy for Alibaba. The company is plotting major international expansion in the next few years, on top of a Chinese business that already ranks among the largest e-commerce businesses in the world.
The Chinese freight train is stomping the overall market with a 73% return for far in 2017. Already an extreme large-cap investment with a $388 billion cap, Alibaba may look like an impossible growth stock. But both sales and free cash flows have doubled in less than three years, and the top-line growth rate is accelerating:
Alibaba is setting itself up to add game-changing returns to any portfolio. If you bought Amazon 10 years ago, you could cash in a 1,200% return today. That's the future I see for Alibaba, and it's the kind of return that makes you forget about half-dozen utter misfires and failed ticker picks along the way.
Don't throw out the baby with the bathwater
Tim Green (Foot Locker): The consensus is unequivocal: Traditional retail is dying. Too many stores, coupled with the disruption brought about by the rapid growth of e-commerce, has led to an upheaval in the retail industry. Retail bankruptcies hit a record pace during the first quarter, and hardly a day goes by without news of store closings.
You need to do two things to generate stellar returns. First, you must bet against the consensus. Second, and more importantly, you must be right. The retail industry is indeed going through a tumultuous period, and there will be plenty of losers. But there will be winners as well. Betting on beaten-down retail stocks that ultimately survive and thrive in the future will do wonders for your returns.
Investors willing to jump into retail stocks should consider Foot Locker. The stock has tumbled more than 30% since the start of the year, driven down by a lackluster first-quarter report and fears that a partnership between Amazon and Nike will hurt sales. But there's a lot to like about the company. Foot Locker's e-commerce business accounted for 14% of sales during the first quarter, growing by 11% year over year and generating an impressive 15% operating margin. And the balance sheet features net cash of $922 million. Unlike other traditional retailers that have loaded up on debt in recent years to pay for share buybacks, Foot Locker has taken a more conservative approach.
If you're going to bet on a traditional retailer, a strong balance sheet is a must. Foot Locker's results in the near term may not be pretty, but the stock could provide exceptional returns if the company can convince the market that it's a retail survivor.
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Anders Bylund owns shares of Alibaba and Amazon. Steve Symington has no position in any stocks mentioned. Timothy Green has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon, Boston Beer, eBay, and Nike. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.