This article was first published January 23, 2017, it has not been updated or revised.
This ad caught my eye over the weekend, and it had enough clues that the Thinkolator started chugging along almost before I turned the switch this morning — so let’s dig in, and maybe we can even make it a little quicker than usual.
The spiel is for the Motley Fool’s flagship Stock Advisor newsletter, and it’s hinting at a pick by David Gardner, who is the “Growth” half of the founding Fool brothers. His brother, Tom, tends to focus more on valuation — David is the one who likes buying “Rule Breaker” companies that are changing the world… and that Wall Street thinks are “too expensive.” I’m often a bit of a fuddy duddy on valuation, so I tend to find more that is comfortable to me among Tom’s recommendations that I’ve seen, but David’s have done far better over time (largely because of the outsize impact of the multi-thousand-percent returns from picks like Priceline and Amazon and Netflix early on).
So what is it that Dave Gardner is pitching to try to lure in new Stock Advisor subscribers? Let’s take a look at the details of the ad.
It starts out with some broader hints:
“David Gardner’s newest stock is the leader in what our analysts believe is the one breakthrough you can’t afford to miss in 2017.
“Wall Street Insiders are calling it ‘bigger than the Internet.’
“One Legendary Google Engineer is saying this technology will be as transformative as the discovery of electricity.”
OK, so plenty to get you daydreaming about riches there — what might get the Thinkolator pointed at the right answer? Some more specific clues:
“Here’s what world famous tech investor Marc Andreesen had to say:
‘For fun, our firm has an internal game of what public companies we’d invest in if we were a hedge fund. We’d put all our money into [this same company].’
“This incredible company’s platform is so dominant… that they are being compared to Microsoft in the early days or Apple before the iPhone.
“Here’s Andreesen again:
‘We’ve been investing in a lot of startups applying this technology to many areas, and every single one effectively comes in building on the [same company’s] platform. It’s like when people were all building on Windows in the ’90s or all building on the iPhone in the late 2000s.'”
And apparently this is a threepeat recommendation from David Gardner:
“It first caught his attention back in 2005 when it traded for a paltry split-adjusted $6.62 per share. He issued a buy recommendation that’s gone on to incredible 1,496% gains!
“David went back to the table to recommend the stock in December, 2009. Investors who bought then are already up 575%!
“And now David is issuing a brand-new recommendation on the company for a simple reason…
“The field this company dominates recently experienced breakthroughs that led researcher Tractica to estimate jaw-dropping 5,395% growth across the next decade!”
So who is it?
This is, once again, our old friend NVIDIA (NVDA), which has been the hottest large cap stock in the market over the past year or so on the back of strong revenue growth, accelerating earnings growth, and a great “story” thanks to the company’s important role in several large investing and tech trends, including virtual reality, artificial intelligence and deep learning, data center acceleration, and, in what is being pitched mostly here, autonomous driving.
I’ve written about NVIDIA a bunch of times — it has indeed been teased and recommended by David Gardner before, he pitched it as “Warren Buffett’s nightmare” stock starting almost three years ago because of the role that autonomous driving might have in cutting auto insurance rates (or, someone hold their hands over the poor GEICO Gecko’s ears, doing away with auto insurance altogether)… and it has been a phenomenal performer since then, up more than 400%. It was also pitched heavily a few times by Michael Robinson starting a little over a year ago as a play on “neural imprinting” … which was a dumb pitch about the healing powers of virtual reality, which will remain a pretty small part of NVDA’s business, but was well-timed (it’s up 250% since then).
I personally speculated on some NVDA calls a year or so ago, thanks in part to what was a bit of virtual reality mania in the marketplace, and took profits several months back — so I’m hobbled with something of a bias on this one, it seemed expensive when I took profits when the stock was in the high $40s but it has since doubled since then. It is really hard to reset your personal “value” assessment for a company, so I’m likely to be too pessimistic about this one since I sold at a much lower price — you, thankfully, do not have to live with my particular biases.
Right now, NVDA is subject to the kind of debate in Wall Street circles that I’m always having in my head — can it keep going up like this? What kind of earnings growth would justify making the company $40 billion more valuable in just the last twelve months? Will autonomous cars and virtual reality and their other rapid-growth businesses grow fast enough to stave off what might be some relative softness in the high-end GeForce gaming chips that are (still) the core of their business?
NVIDIA has really been the company that can do no wrong over the past six months, and investor NVDA-lust took hold even more aggressively when they reported a huge beat on their last earnings report (their last quarter ended 10/30, they reported 83 cents in profit versus 57 cents forecast by analysts, which is a huge beat for a large company with $8 billion in sales — the numbers were quite fantastic, 54% revenue growth and 104% non-GAAP earnings growth, for more proof that what really gets investors going is real earnings growth, no matter what else is going on).
There is certainly concern in the market about a resurgent AMD, which has been riding NVDA’s coattails higher and is really the only competitor in the high end graphics processing chip market, but forecasts are still climbing for NVDA. The estimates have not been bumped up in the last month, which might help to explain why the shares have hit a bit of a ceiling since they hit a peak of almost $120 at the end of December following all the post-earnings upgrades and estimate increases, and leading in to the Consumer Electronics Show and its big focus on self-driving cars (CEO Jen-Hsun Huang gave the opening keynote address at CES as well, generating still more attention).
So right now, NVDA is just shy of being a $50 billion company, and it is trading at about 35 times expected 2017 earnings (or 62X trailing non-GAAP earnings, if you want real numbers). Analysts see the earnings growing to $3.96 per share by 2019, so at the current price you’re paying about 26X 2019 earnings for the shares.
The company has plenty of cash ($6 billion or so), strong leadership and insider ownership (the CEO and founder owns about 5% of the company), and is positioned well for high-end processing chips that can do the rapid “thinking” required for self-driving cars and “learning” in artificial intelligence. The only concern, for me at least, is the valuation. And it’s not a completely outlandish valuation, to be sure, but it is very steep — if analysts are correct, you’re paying almost 40 times earnings for a company whose earnings, analysts persist in estimating, will only rise by 15% or so per year over the next year or two. It might be that those analysts are too pessimistic, or that future growth is stronger than immediate growth prospects (those analysts do expect 29% earnings growth on average for the next five years, and analysts have been very light on near-term expectations for NVDA and have had to raise forecasts many times over the past year or so), but you work with what you have, and the estimates make the stock look very expensive but not necessarily prohibitively expensive if you have an optimistic slant.
For me, personally, the hardest thing to do psychologically is to buy a stock at a price much higher than I had sold it for in the past — so that has probably kept me from giving NVDA a fair shot as it has surged higher in the past six months, but I do like the company and its prospects quite a bit. It might be that the cure for this psychological hurdle is what I’d call a growth-stock vaccination — just buy a couple shares, a very tiny position, which is enough to let me re-set my thinking about the stock and consider it afresh, then I’ll be able to consider it more rationally when I see the stock dip or surge in the months ahead, and if the valuation gets more compelling or my expectations of NVDA’s future get reset positively, I’d then be able to buy more. That’s what I did recently with Amazon (AMZN) shares, and it’s how I initially opened my position in Facebook (FB) despite some valuation misgivings on both of those stocks at the time, so perhaps that’s what I’ll end up doing with NVDA too. I haven’t bought shares, to be clear, and I won’t trade in any stock I write about for at least three days — but that’s the vaccination procedure that sometimes works for me with high-growth stocks where I like the prospects but feel a little queasy about the valuation.
It’s your money at stake, though, so what do you think? Have the same biases as me? Are you already sitting pretty in NVDA shares and enjoying that 500% gain? Feeling optimistic or pessimistic about NVDA or its autonomous driving and artificial intelligence and gaming businesses? Let us know with a comment below.
P.S. that quote from Marc Andreesen got a fair amount of attention — as has NVDA stock in general, thanks to the huge surge… it made the December issue of Forbes in this article and was ranked the top chip company in their new “Just” rankings of good corporate citizenship.
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