by Travis Johnson, Stock Gumshoe | April 6, 2015 3:36 pm
Nothing beats a time machine for getting rich — if we learned nothing else from Back to the Future 2, we at least know that. So what is this “Time Machine” stock the Motley Fool folks have been touting?
It’s not about going back in time and betting on football games with the benefit of a future Sports Almanac, I’m afraid — that appears to not be a newsletter service anyone is offering — but about kinda “going back” and getting in on the first stages of the internet revolution with a new investment.
Less exciting, right? Well, this “second chance” stock idea, from David Gardner and the Motley Fool Stock Advisor folks, does also at least name-drop Bill Gates (something a lot of newsletters have been doing lately), and (spoiler alert!) the stock they’re touting is more nicely-priced than it was a few months ago. Come along with us on our journey of discovery, and we’ll get you some answers (and maybe even some opinions).
Here’s the intro that’s been catching the attention of Gumshoe readers:
“Second chances in life are rare…
“But if you missed buying some of the defining stocks of the Internet era (and the MASSIVE returns that came with them), that’s exactly what the market is now giving you…
“That’s because of a technology that got its start as a little-known gadget in Bill Gates’ $147.5 million mansion…And has now morphed into a massive new tech market that General Electric puts on par with the Industrial Revolution.
“Not only that, experts believe it could be 37 times BIGGER than the Internet (seriously)…
“And just like the best Internet stocks of the ‘90s (like AOL and Amazon.com, up 20,000%+ and 10,000%+ respectively), there’s a company that’s perfectly positioned for this massive new tech wave…”
This “little-known gadget” in the Gates mansion is the tracking pin that every visitor receives, which allows the house to be “smart” and to know what temperature to make a room when you enter it, which lights to turn on or off, which art to display on the wall screens, etc. — very futuristic stuff when the house was built, for sure, and still impressive (but far cheaper to implement) now.
So yes, this is another “internet of things” pitch, I expect — the growing interconnectedness of all things electronic, and growing army of sensors and controllers that can communicate details of their existence to the internet consistently, allowing you to control your home from your phone or, in more industrial applications, have sensors on every aircraft wing, automobile part, piece of highway, etc.
Here’s the basic Motley Fool take on why this will be so big:
“Even in today’s high-tech era, technology is still dependent on us to tell it what to do.
“Leaving the house for vacation? You need to set your thermostat to energy-save mode.
“Want to avoid traffic when driving to work? You need to input your work address and take the correct detour.
“Wondering what your blood pressure is? You need to check it yourself.
“With the Internet of Things, technology can now solve all of the above problems with no input whatsoever from you.
“Simply put, this is the shift from the ‘old Internet’ to the ‘new Internet.'”
And, of course, there’s a secret stock that they think we must buy — the ad is signed by Brendan Byrnes, an investment analyst at the Fool, but it’s about a stock picked by David Gardner for the Motley Fool’s Stock Advisor newsletter — here’s what Byrnes says about the pick to get us salivating:
“In an era where the so-called academics have been preaching that beating the market is impossible, David Gardner has been proving them wrong time and time again for 12 years running.
“That’s why I’ll never forget when David recently told me all about the Internet of Things… and explained why he saw a trend on par with, or even bigger than, the Internet.
“And not only that, but he also walked me through a stock that is in the absolute perfect position to take advantage of this massive new market.”
So what is that stock that’s in “absolute perfect position?” Here are our clues:
“I like to call this my ‘time machine’ stock.
“Looking back in history, investors have almost never gotten two chances like this to invest early on in era-defining technologies….
“With the Internet of Things, we have another….
“This company is already one of the leaders in the Internet of Things space and doesn’t have to rely on any one industry. It can make money from helping connect everything from cars to thermostats to appliances….
“Amazingly, despite the fact that this technology is growing at an extraordinarily fast rate, only about a quarter as many Wall Street analysts cover this stock as they do Apple….”
Right, right… so what do they actually sell? More clues…
“… this company is a leader in the modules that gather and transmit data from all different kinds of Internet-enabled devices. Using a technology known as machine-to-machine (M2M) communication, these modules can track your location, listen to various sensors, and transmit data to other devices….
“… leadership position in the fast-growing automotive market, with companies like Ford, BMW, Toyota, and Tesla all customers. Its modules allow vehicles to transmit their location and communicate to the outside world via a wireless connection….
“Other applications of this company’s modules include everything from monitoring the status of the power grid to reporting the inventory of a vending machine….
“… already carved out an impressive 33% share of the ENTIRE M2M market.
“Even Cisco, a company that’s gone all-in on the Internet of Things, counts this company as a vital supplier.”
This isn’t quite as detailed as Fool teaser pitches have usually been in the past… but it’s enough for us to get to a pretty high level of certainty that the Thinkolator is correct in saying that this is, once again, Sierra Wireless (SWIR, or SW in Toronto).
Sierra Wireless is a wireless technology company that was originally built on the back of their Aircard business, selling little dongles that folks could use to access wireless networks on their laptops — but they sold that business a year or so ago and are now focused solely on the “M2M” internet of things opportunity, making the little wireless connectors that allow your car or your refrigerator or whatever to use wireless networks to share information. Cisco is a partner to at least some degree, they do have a large automotive business (and yes, Ford, BMW, Toyota and Tesla are all customers), and I’ve seen several reports indicate that they do own a third of the M2M market.
Doesn’t mean they’ll own that market share forever, of course, and it’s almost certain the the huge wave of competition in the “Internet of Things” space has not yet crested, there will be more entrants, more new ideas, more newer and cheaper technologies. SWIR is probably still well-positioned in the core wireless modules space, with good customer relationships and a large base of users, but it’s not guaranteed that they’ll be able to maintain market share or profit margins.
They sell a few different lines of equipment, mostly their AirLink and InMotion gateways for vehicle-based or other remote networks and their AirPrime embedded wireless modules that are small and flexible enough to connect almost anything. Revenues have been growing nicely, with the stock really starting to trade on the “Internet of Things” story over the past year or so — and though they sold off the Aircard business that was their real profit generator, and therefore haven’t consistently posted a real profit over the last five or six quarters (they have generated positive cash flow most of the time, but acquisitions and other charges have cut into reported income).
The stock is certainly not cheap, trading at about 30X trailing free cash flow and about 30X current-year earnings estimates, but analysts are expecting truly bone-shaking growth from SWIR — they think earnings will grow at 38% in 2016 after almost doubling this year, and at a 90%+ annual rate for the next five years. That seems a bit ludicrous, predicting that kind of growth for five years, and we’d do well to ignore that level of optimism… but you can certainly make a case that paying 30X expected earnings for a stock that is growing rapidly is reasonable. Particularly if the stock is small (Sierra Wireless is still just a $1 billion market cap company) and is in a market where there is huge growth anticipated.
SWIR got more attractive recently, after running up a bit ridiculously late last year on general “internet of things” enthusiasm (or perhaps on David Gardner’s recommendation — I know he was teasing this one for Stock Advisor back in November of 2013, since that’s the first time I covered it when they were touting it as a play on the “Death of the Internet,” and it has been re-teased and re-touted at least a few times since then (the only other time I’ve written about it was last Summer, when the Fool pitched it as one of three “year the internet disappeared” stocks), but I don’t know specifically when or at what prices Gardner urged his subscribers to buy most recently.
The reason the stock got a bit more attractive, at least in my eyes, was the fourth quarter earnings report that came in as a “beat” of analyst numbers but also came with disappointing guidance for 2015 (the shorthand version of the report is in their latest investor presentation here). When a stock doubles in six months, as SWIR did in the second half of 2014, expectations are always going to be high and it’s likely to react like a momentum stock, going up with each “beat and raise” quarter and collapsing whenever a chink in the armor appears. The chink this time was a forecast that was lower than the market expected, compounded by the fact that the shares had already been coming down off of their late-2014 rocket ride by early February when the results were announced — but really, even though the company was cautious, the analyst estimates for this year didn’t end up coming down by much, and the estimates for next year have continued to rise.
The stock is still expensive, but if you’re convinced of their staying power (or are willing to watch closely for chinks in the armor — particularly, I think, margin pressure in their AirPrime modules business) then this might well be an opportunity with the stock at $33, down from the high-$40s just a few months ago. I expect it will probably continue to be volatile, though — the stock surged back in November on great results, dropped precipitously in February on OK results and a weak forecast, and could easily move sharply again when their first quarter results come out in about three weeks. If you think you have a strong candidate for profiting from a long-term technology trend, it’s often better to buy in small mouthfuls over time as volatile results provide entry points or an opportunity to average out your buy prices — particularly if it’s not on an unstoppable, momentum-driven “beat and raise” run that you’re afraid of missing. SWIR looks pretty appealing, with solid leadership in the connected automobile market likely to help keep their bottom line growing, but it’s not so cheap that I’m sitting up and pressing the “buy” key… still just slouching in my chair and watching.
Of course, that’s pretty much what I was doing a year and a half ago when the Foolies first teased it, too, and the stock has almost doubled since then… so what do I know?
And it is, naturally, your money — so what you know and what you think are the real keys — I’m sure we have at least a few SWIR owners among the mighty Gumshoe readership, so if you’ve got an opinion on this one after the recent decline, or on other Internet of Things plays that you think appeal, please let us know with a comment below.
Luckily for both of us, there’s a company that will be printing money from history’s next huge tech industry (and it’s not GE or even Gates’ Microsoft).
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