How To Look For Growth Stocks That Dominate The Market

[TFC 132]

When we talk about growth stocks, we are not just talking about growing stocks. We are looking for those that will dominate the market so that they can extend their growth phase for as long as possible. Do you know how to look for them? TFC 132 will provide you with some core ideas you should bear in mind when looking for the next growth stock with potential market dominance.

How exactly do growth stocks achieve market dominance? Some sacrifices have to be made so that the business can continue its growth. Also, fellow investors need to understand that growth is not linear. Companies often need to think of new strategies to ensure their growth does not stop. What happens then if they reach maximum growth? Does it mean it’s the end for these growth stocks? Check the health of your growth stocks by following the core ideas in this episode.

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podcast Transcript

Reggie: Hey Coconuts! So yes, last week I talked about some of the interesting stocks that I’m looking at. While I was talking about them, I definitely assumed a lot of ideas and I assumed that you guys know about it already. 

But today, I’m going to wind back a little bit and talk a little bit more about this idea of growth stocks. I think a lot of people when they talk about growth stocks, it’s like very airy fairy like “wow, beautiful… in the future it’s going to be a big thing!” But they don’t really talk about it in a way of what are we going for? What is the company that we’re actually picking? What’s the end goal in mind?

Expand Full Transcript

These are the big ideas that I’m going to talk about today and also by extension, why some of these growth stocks get “punished” as a result of not performing to these expectations. So yes, welcome back.

Okay… So recently, the market has been relatively volatile and I know some of you are saying, “oh, my growth stocks (are) jialat jialat (in a dire situation), not performing as well”. That’s the interesting stuff that I’m going to talk about. Of course, different companies they grow into different growth phases and eventually to become this big value play which is why a lot of people eventually buy it too, right? 

You have dividend play, your value play. All these are very matured companies that are not at the growth stage but once upon a time, all these sectors were growth sectors and all these companies were growth companies. They become dominant then they eventually turn into what we call a value play. 

Is this undervalued at this point in time? There’s very predictable cashflow, it (has) reached a growth rate that is pretty predictable also. That is a different way of looking at stocks. But recently of course, there’s a lot of excitement in the growth space. I just want to say growth has been around for a long, long time. It’s a part of the game.

It’s just that over time, people now talk about it as if it’s like it’s a new thing, like “growth stocks, man! It’s the thing! F*** value.” Can swear a not? But yes, that’s what people are talking about it out there. You hear these kind of big, emotional statements saying “The End of Value, Growth Is The Thing”. 

But let me kind of wind you through some of these things. For a period of time, there was this growth stock in the apparel space called Under Armour. It was a growth stock. For a long period of time, they’re like “oh my God, this is a growth stock. It’s going to compete with Nike. It’s going to take over… following this active wear kind of movement”. For a period of time, GoPro was a growth stock, right? “Oh my God, this action camera is going to change the face of camera. All these Fuji… All these Fuji (cameras) are going to die. GoPro is going to take over”. For a period of time, Boeing was a growth stock. For a period of time, your banks were growth stocks. 

For a period of time, everything was a growth stock. It was just a different period of time. That’s what I want all of us to recognize. Growth stocks do not just exist in the tech space or maybe some will say, “oh yeah. After something become a thing, it’s no longer a tech anymore“. It’s like, “oh”… Eventually, streaming becomes a thing. You no longer put Netflix and Spotify as part of the tech play. “Oh, it’s not a thing.” So it has a new term, it’s called streaming. 

You get the idea. Eventually, a lot of these growth stocks will become value plays and a lot of these value plays were previously growth stocks. They succeeded in this growth stock journey to become a value play. I want to remind all of us about a few years ago, cannabis was the growth stocks that people were talking about.

It is not unique to tech per se, it is just a period of business growth. Usually, there’s a business cycle, right? It starts with this, what we call proof of concept, proof of idea or preliminary business model, trying to bring it together. A lot of these companies, they are called startups or what they call scaleups.

After startup, (it) becomes a scaleup because got start already, now thinking of how to scale. Eventually they reach a point where it’s right for listing in the market. When they list in the market, they raise a lot of money. People call them growth stocks because these companies are here. When they list, they are trying to grow. They’re trying to expand, they’re trying to develop and they’re trying to grow. 

So they grow, grow, grow… Eventually, they reach a size where they don’t really grow anymore. They are struggling to further expand then people call it (a) matured company and what people call value play, so value stocks.

This is essentially the life cycle of all business. Of course, the last stage is it declines…. no longer competitive, it declines and sells certain parts of itself to different people. You see it with the camera companies, with printer companies, even with a lot of the big automobile or General Electric. Over time, they sell. Even some of the FMCG (Fast-moving consumer goods) today, they’re selling down their businesses, so they are in a decline phase. 

From an investor’s point of view, most people that participate in the proof of concept stage or what they call a startup, scaleup stage, are your private investors. Your angel investors, your private VCs (venture capitalists), your funds, Series A, Series B, Series C, what have you. 

Eventually, the company grows to a certain stage where they feel like “okay, now we can list it in the public market” to raise the last round of money or at least the start of a very big pool of money so that the private investors can exit and the company can go into the stock market to get publicly traded. 

In this situation, a lot of these companies will be called a growth stock. Whether they can really grow, that’s another thing but they usually market themselves as a growth stock like, “oh yeah. Our future is like that. We can grow here, blah, blah, blah”. Of course, because they need to market themselves to fetch a good price to allow the private investors to exit.

As an investor in the next stage, which is the public market, you are picking your growth stocks. You have a set of money it’s like, “okay… Is it this? is it that? Is it this? Who should I buy?” After that, a lot of these growth companies will die. A few will survive and eventually become matured and called value play. 

A new bunch of investors that’re looking for dividend or value investors, they will come in to buy up these companies and hold them as position until eventually, they decline. There’ll be some people that will still buy it and turn around and try to do something with all these other companies, even in decline. So different investors will come in at different stage seeking different things.

This is the part that I think a lot of people are a bit wonky. You mix everything together. When we are looking at growth… when we’re looking at growth stocks, what is commonly called as growth stocks out there, what are we really looking for? To put it very bluntly, we are looking for dominant player with high margins, have a lot of cashflow so that they can continue to acquire and extend their growth phase for as long as possible. So dominant player, good margins, a lot of cashflow so that they can continue to acquire for as long as possible to continue their growth. You get the idea? These are the kind of companies that we’re looking for. 

But of course, out there, with a lot of PR (public relations) campaign, a lot of “feel-good”… some of these words, people don’t really want to use. “Dominant player”, “control the market”, “huge margins”, “… continue to acquire to extend their growth”, all these are not PR lovely words. People don’t like it. People will say “oh, our mission as a company is to empower the mass, support the unbanked”. There’re all these kind of weird PR things. 

Of course, okay… I don’t discount PR. If there’s no PR, there’s no buy in. Eventually the company cannot… caught all these users and investors and what have you to become that big matured company or extend their growth run rate (for) as long as possible. I’m not discounting PR campaigns. I’m just saying as an investor, you must sniff through what is a PR campaign and what are we really looking for? What is this company really trying to do? 

Everyone is trying to get dominant. In other words, you’re trying to seek a company that will eventually, under a very high probability, become a monopoly or an oligopoly. So they dominate the whole market, they pretty much control everything. That is what you are looking for, to push away all the beautiful PR ideas. This is really, as an investor, what you’re looking for: you’re trying to find that one company in that space that will dominate and control. 

With that in mind, I’m going to bring you through some core ideas behind these growth stocks. What do you look out for and why do they get “punished” when they don’t perform up to par? 

The first idea behind growth stocks is sacrificing short-term profitability for market dominance. Important. In other words, they are not trying to make short-term money, they are trying to expand and reach everybody possible within the market. 

Let’s say, you sell bread. We use (a) simple example. You sell bread. You and your friend… You friend go to France and learn from Le Chateau [indiscernible]… whatever French… Okay, Le Cordon Bleu, a French patisserie. They come back to Singapore and they want to start their own pastry shop. 

What is their goal? If their goal is to start a small little pastry shop, that is what we call a “lifestyle business”. It is just trying to run a cozy little business, make money and that’s it. If it is trying to be a growth stock, its goal is to make sure that amongst all these 5 million population, every body eats my pastry. It clearly has a very different goal, a very different business outlook and very different strategy.

The first business person will be very interested in trying to profit. (In the) shortest period of time, let’s make this cashflow positive, profit from this store, and be very happy. Hire two part-timers and then just hang out with your friends, open drinks, eat some pastries on the weekend. 

But the person that is trying to dominate this space, trying to be the biggest person and be the growth stock of the century selling pastries… I don’t know how. But anyway, if they’re going to do that, then their goal is different. How do we systemize this thing? How do we franchise it? How do we make sure we get into every single corner of the island so that every single person has easy access to my pastry without sacrificing my own store? Same-store sales. That is a sector specific matrix, we’ll talk about that another time. 

But you see the difference. The idea is, we are sacrificing short-term profitability for market dominance. Every single dollar goes in. We care about financing the business. We care about growth. We want to dominate, not be one of the provider or not be just a boutique shop or what they call a lifestyle business. 

Which is why a lot of these growth companies will raise capital through financing and dilution. They’ll issue more and more stocks. You hear this thing on shareholder dilution. They issue more and more stocks so you become diluted because if there’s net more stocks in this whole company, you become a smaller pie of this whole company. People do that to continue to finance their growth and grow capital. 

Also because usually, when a company is in this situation, their debt financing, not very swee (nice-looking) because they are not in the healthiest of financial situation. Usually, they get very jialat financing term from a debt. 8, 10, 12% corporate debt is not good for the company. It’s very heavy. So yeah, (they) just sell equity, keep diluting, diluting, diluting. It’s a reality of growth stocks and you must be clear that you are investing in a growth stock and this is essentially what they are trying to do.

In this process, they will issue new stocks and they’ll dilute you which is also why it’s a problem. As a lot of these growth stocks come down, their prices come down, they cannot issue at that kind of valuation. Their financing become a little problematic. In this down cycle where a lot of these growth stocks… their prices come down, there’s lesser liquidity in the market, you will see consolidation. You will see a lot of companies toh (collapse). You will see a lot of these so-called “not best-in-class product”, one of the options, they will all perish. I’m very sure. 

So yes, this is one of the core idea behind growth stocks: sacrificing short-term profitability for market dominance. Which is also why when the growth stocks struggle to grow… they struggle to grow, they reach a point where, it’s like “hey, not so easy to grow already”, it’s like… 

To be fair, if you’re trying to sell bread to 5 million people, you sell to 1 million people, it’s like… Maybe the first 1 million quite easy, they (are) very concentrated, they live in the CBD (Central Business District) area, they take the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) everyday. Okay, maybe a bit more, 2 million people. Easy to get to. You open your shop at all the CBD, all the MRT stations. You open already, all the shops are there and you’re already servicing a net 2 million population. 

The remaining population, some of them go to school, they never come to the MRT station. Some of them, they don’t even come out. They just stay in their neighbourhood area like Tampines. All these Tampines people, they don’t come out of Tampines.

But anyway, they stay in those areas and they’re not coming to the concentrated travel area so it makes it a bit hard to reach these people. As the bread entrepreneur that’s trying to reach this 5 million population, what do you do? Instead of opening storefront, which is very expensive to maintain for a small population that’s not very dense, “oh, maybe I can do bread van. I send to their place”. But this is even better. Delivery, right? Ghost kitchen, deliver to their place, different strategies. 

You’ll realize that growth is not linear. Eventually, the company will face some problems and they will need to use a new strategy to continue to grow. What if after that, they really (managed to) service 5 million people already? They want to continue to grow, they have to invade… let’s say, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia. They have to go to different places to continue to grow. At different places, they will need to use different strategy, different celebrities, different distribution outlets, different, different, different… Growth is not linear.

You need to see what is considered good execution. Good execution means the executor or the CEO and their team can continue to keep growing and solve all these problems. At any one point, if you are seeing growth stagnate or slow down, or given unforeseen circumstances, something happened, it tends to be that these growth stocks will get punished very massively. 

Because it is suggesting that maybe this bunch of executors, they’re not able to break through or maybe it’s hitting a pothole or maybe it’s limited already. This market (is) already saturated. They cannot go any further so they struggle. Eventually, if they struggle and they cannot grow any further, they become what we call the value stock because they (have) matured already. They cannot grow.

Get the idea? Which is why whenever a company there is supposedly marketed as a growth stock stop growing or face issues growing or have growth slow down, the market tends to punish it very, very badly. 

But I will say, the recent dip is a little bit different. The recent dip is a situation of a reduction in liquidity, increase in debt costs because central banks increased their interest rate. That means debt is going to be more expensive. Share price (has) come down, it’s harder for these growth stocks of finance, so a lot of them will mati (die). A lot of them will consolidate, will sell down, will mati, will move on which is why I get it, why a lot of these “growth stocks” come down 40, 50, 60% because a lot of them will eventually become a zero or get sold off to another person, consolidate into a bigger company. 

But yeah, that’s the first idea behind growth stock: sacrificing short-term profitability for market dominance. It’s not trying to be a one-store, it’s trying to dominate. Which brings me to point number two (of) core idea behind growth stocks and that is business optionality with a growing total addressable market, TAM. People like to call it TAM. Anyway, I will talk to you a little bit more after a word from our sponsor. 

So by extension to the earlier example of trying to sell bread to 5 million people, eventually you reach a point where we call terminal growth rate. That means this market already… you take the whole market already or you’ve really gone so far, you cannot crack your brain to go any further with the current strategy. Eventually, this business sector or this business model that you have reaches what we call a terminal growth rate: 2, 3, 5% usually aligned with the overall economy.

If GDP grows at 2 to 3%… because GDP is a net of all the transactions in this market, your business will grow about 2 to 3% on average. Maybe your business is a bit different, then it’s still (in the) growth (stage). But if you reach terminal growth stage, then it’s about 2, 3, 5%, usually aligned with inflation numbers or aligned with the economic growth numbers.

With this idea of terminal growth rate in your head, you need to recognize that whichever company, whatever they call themselves, whatever new term they come up for themselves to measure their growth, eventually that same product will reach a level of terminal growth. I mean, it cannot grow any more, it’s already maxed out, it’s matured.

So what happens? If a lot of these companies or most companies, if they want to keep growing, they have to sell new products or they have to expand into new markets which is what people say business optionality. Can you create more businesses as a result of this first business? Can you sell more products to the same bunch of people or can you sell these set of products to another bunch of people in a place that you didn’t operate prior? 

Which is why a lot of people talk about international expansion plan, talk about expanding margin by providing new products, upselling, all these things are really about business optionality, whether you can sell more and underlying this is the growing total addressable market.

In other words, when your original business reached terminal growth, can you expand into a peripheral business or sell more so that your total market now becomes bigger? To bring it back to our amazing French [indiscernible] patisserie person that is trying to sell pastry and bread to all of you in Singapore, after they are done selling, let’s say they’re very successful. They sell to all the people that they can sell readily and easily already in Singapore. What can they do? 

Oh, maybe now they want to sell to Malaysians or they want to sell to Indonesians or they want to sell to Thai people. They’ll go to these different markets and try to figure out what is the local flavor palate. What’s the kind of pricing mechanism? What’s the supply chain here? So you see, all these are different problems but if they want to address this, they want to continue to grow, they have to go to these places. That is one way. 

The other way is to sell something else on top of their product. The very famous fresh soy milk. We have a very famous bread seller in Singapore. (It is a) very, very big one. There was a period of time, there was a bread saga. They sell fresh soy milk , then (it) turns out it’s from a carton.

If you don’t know, it’s okay. It doesn’t matter. This is essentially trying to grow the TAM, right? Trying to sell the same customer a little bit more things… instead of just buying bread, now you want to sell soy milk so that your customer can buy soy milk and add a $1, $2, $3 on top of their ticket.

Which is why when people look at growth stocks, when investors look at growth stocks, they want to see what we call increased margins and increased average revenue per user. If you can sell more things to the same bunch of people, naturally your margins will increase. Of course, you want to sell higher margin businesses, you value add, you move up. 

Average revenue per user is also indicative that your business has options. You can keep selling more things to the same bunch of people or you can keep expanding using different strategies. Which is why business optionality is so important, which is also why whenever some of these growth stocks are seeing margin shrinkage… Oh, the margins are shrinking, then (it) becomes a little bit of a problem. 

It’s like “hey, why is it shrinking?” Is it shrinking because it’s trying to get more market share so it (is) mak(ing) their product cheaper so that they can dominate the market and then after that sell something else or is it shrinking because competition is making it shrink? It’s not a good sign when margins are shrinking. It is also not a good sign if they prolong… cannot increase the average revenue per user. They cannot sell more things to the same bunch of people. 

You want to see behind growth stocks, their ability to keep opening into new markets and keep selling new things to the same bunch of people. Business optionality aka growing TAM, total addressable market. 

Which brings me to the third point behind the core ideas of growth stocks and that is a superior product with sticky customer base. A lot of people, when they talk to me about growth stocks, they’ll (be) like “have you looked at this stock? Have you looked at the other stock?” I will say like “what is this product? Oh, it’s one of these products… or another CRM (customer relationship management)? Or another like calendar app or another cannabis stock and another fashion brand?” 

It’s like excuse me, I think by now, we (have) established that a growth stock is not a growing stock. Everything can grow. Every new business will find their own niche market. They can grow. Eventually, they get listed. All these things, they grow. If they never grow, how do they eventually get listed and come into the public realm where you get easy access? 

Everything can grow but growth stocks is one that’s trying to seek dominance, dominance… High margin, a lot of cashflow to acquire so that they can continue to extend their growth trajectory.

That is essentially the whole part about buying a growth stock or trying to find the next growth stock. This is the situation: dominant player, high margin, a lot of cashflow to acquire. That is the… what we call the “best case” of a growth stock. 

When you look at that, one underlying assumption is the product must be superior. The product must be superior and it has a very sticky, loyal customer base. The product cannot be one of the same… cannot just be another CRM, another app, another enterprise software. It cannot just be another (product). If it’s another (product), then it’s quite hard. It will be hard for it to become a dominant player.

But of course, hey, you’ll be surprised. Eventually, some people may integrate new features and have very loyal customer, very sticky. Everybody switch to them. So yeah, it may be possible. It’s not impossible but generally, it doesn’t happen unless the product is superior. 

Of course, I want to point out that usually what happens with a lot of these growth companies is in the early days, they have found some sort of pocket where the big guys… they are not interested enough. There’s no market to be made. There’s nothing going on so they don’t really care. 

Like podcasting. Podcasting is the corner of the entertainment space. Nobody really cares for a long period of time. When we started doing about two years plus ago, nobody really… There were no big players. It was just a few of us doing crazy things and just talking, talking, talking. When you’re in a space where there’s not a lot of money to be made, the big boys don’t really care. You have a good time to try to acquire and make into something. 

Which is why… You see, almost everybody is like that. Shopify, it built internet websites, right? In the early days, people don’t really care about these kind of templates. Square started with a dongle, (a) very small dongle. Roku started with a streaming player. 

Of course, there’s Fitbit, which is the watch. Of course, there’s GoPro and those two are the failed examples which is why I want to bring them up. Fitbit and GoPro are a classic example where a growth stock essentially becomes so big that the big guys start to come in. It’s like “oh, yeah. There’s a lot of business here to be made. Why not we do our own?” They start to enter the space and it becomes very competitive because these big boys, they have a lot of cashflow behind them. 

Apple (who) wants (to) enter the game, Amazon wants to enter the game, Google wants to enter the game. You think you can fight? (It is) not so easy because (it’s) a little bit harder. Eventually, some of these companies, they fail to compete. They fail to compete like Fitbit, like GoPro. They shrink. They die. They will become a smaller business and some of them will exit. They will sell out to another person, another party, which is usually the big guys.

This is the part that you need to recognize. A business may at some point in time, have superior product. They are doing well. They have a sticky customer base because there’s not a lot of competition and they have grown to become something which is why it’s in your purview anyway. 

But as they develop, as they evolve, their product needs to be evolving and more competition will come in because there’s money to be made now… which is why, (in the) last episode I talked about Roku. I think Roku is very amazing. It started as a streaming player and it became (an) operation system. Now, they have their own channel. They’re distributing. They’re doing ads. Ads is like 80% growth. It’s a very, very big business for them. 

These are the companies that you see, as their product keep(s) growing, the company keeps growing, keeps evolving and keeps trying to push to be a superior product. Over time, it becomes an ecosystem and it finally becomes a superior product. It just makes it too hard for even the big players to come in with a lot of money to play. 

So yes, this is the reality of growth stocks you need to recognize. They definitely had a superior product at some point in time or they had a product that coalesce a big bunch of people. Let’s say Digital Ocean. Digital ocean is one of the recent listings. They are very big in the whole developer space but what’s stopping Amazon from coming in to compete, which they are. Can they continue to evolve and grow their product, to continue to stay superior and continue to stay relevant such that eventually, they become the dominant player with high margins, with lot of cashflow to acquire. Can they do that? That is the question. 

So no more telling me “oh, this is another CRM”, or you know, “they do this…” You must be very sure. Who are they? What are they doing? Who is their competitor and, what’s happening in the market? Can they keep innovating and continuously have a very superior product so that their customer is sticky and stays with them? 

With that, I think there are a lot of other ideas behind growth stocks but I hope I gave you a broad picture so that you can understand the business cycles, what happens, why growth stocks even exist in the first place. Eventually why they lose, consolidate, become mature, and some of the core ideas behind observing the growth stocks and picking the one that eventually will become dominant player with high margins, a lot of cashflow to acquire.

Pretty much, that is the end goal of picking whichever stocks. In this process of picking these stocks, I have laid out these three ideas. Number one is sacrificing short-term profitability for market dominance. You want to see them to continue to grow, continue to grow, continue to grow. It’s not so much about profitability but they need to be able to finance themselves. In an environment like what is happening today, financing is going to be a little bit difficult. A lot of these companies will shrink and suffer. 

Number two is business optionality with a growing TAM. Eventually, every business reaches a terminal growth rate, 2, 3, 5%, depending on economic growth. If the growth company wants to stay relevant and keep growing, they have to sell more… to sell more to the same audience or they have to continue to expand further internationally to get a different audience. This is something that is a must, which is why every time you see that “oh, the company… the margin’s not really growing, average revenue per user not really growing”, it’s not a good sign for the company. Usually, the market will punish it. 

Point number three is they must have a superior product with sticky customer base and recognize that product evolution is a thing. They may have started out in a corner of the market, nobody really cares. But once it looks like “hey, maybe (this business) can do”, the big guys will come in, they’ll put more cash flow, they’ll put more resources to it. Can these guys compete? 

They have to keep evolving. You must recognize that their products are continuously superior. How do you do that? Sticky customer base. You must see loyal customers, good reviews, low churn. All these are classic examples of a sticky customer base. 

So yes, with these three ideas, I hope it inches you closer to understanding what a lot of people are picking when they say growth stocks. In other words, eventual dominant player with high margins (and) a lot of cashflow to acquire. I hope you learnt something useful today. See ya.

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With that, have a great day ahead. Stay tuned next week, and always remember: personal finance can be chill, clear and sustainable for all.

Okay, so with these three ideas established, next week I’m still going to talk about some companies that previously, I hated. I hated them because they were marketed as growth stocks so they were very expensive. $60, $80 billion in time of listing. My goodness, these guys are crazy. 

But now, they (have) all come down. All (on) discount. All in the $20 billion range, sub-$10 billion range, so it becomes very interesting. Of course, there’s one that… not so cheap, but I think it’s very interesting to consider. Next week I’m going to share with you three companies that I hated for a very long time but I am starting to get interested. I’m taking a turn on them and I may open my positions on some of these companies.

So yes, I will see you next week.

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