The 4 Best Tech Stocks to Buy Instead of Facebook or Amazon for 2017
The weeks before Thanksgiving brought a cornucopia of good news to tech investor Paul Wick. Five companies he owned in the Columbia Seligman Communications and Information Fund were acquired in rapid succession as an M&A wave swept the semiconductor industry—a slice of the technology sector to which Wick has dedicated nearly half of his $4.4 billion fund. Meanwhile, shares in the Silicon Valley–based portfolio manager’s biggest holding, LAM Research, hit an all-time high. “Yet there’s still considerable upside,” says Wick. “We’re more bullish about the semiconductor industry than we are about software or the Internet sector.”
Technology, though one of the most profitable and fastest-growing S&P 500 sectors, also tends to be relatively expensive. And investors are jittery about how President Trump’s policies might affect some of the largest players: After Facebook (FB), Amazon (AMZN), Netflix (NFLX), and Google (GOOGL) sold off in the wake of the election, DoubleLine CEO Jeffrey Gundlach advised investors “to stay away from these things in a big way.” But investors like Wick are finding exceptions to that sentiment—particularly in less glamorous but no less important corners of the industry.
Though it might seem imprudent to recommend a stock that’s already risen 35% this year, LAM Research (LRCX) still trades at 13 times its 2017 estimated earnings. That means the stock trades at a 21% discount to the S&P 500 and is 18% cheaper than the technology sector. (For what it’s worth, LAM’s run pales beside that of the S&P 500’s best-performing stock in the first 11 months of 2016, the chipmaker Nvidia (NVDA), whose stock has almost tripled.)
LAM doesn’t make the chips themselves, but rather equipment that companies like Samsung (one of its largest customers) use to put “flash” memory into semiconductors that are used in everything from iPhones to fitness trackers to Tesla (TSLA) cars. Flash memory—so called because it processes data faster and with less heat than traditional hard disk drives—has become essential in enabling companies like Apple (AAPL) to make its MacBooks more powerful and smaller at the same time, while allowing companies like Amazon and Spotify to retrieve music from their massive cloud libraries instantaneously.
Historically, LAM’s stock has traded at a discount because its earnings “tend to have a lot of wiggle,” fluctuating depending on electronics’ product cycles, says USAA’s head of equities John Toohey, who is also a fan of the stock. But for the past three years LAM has grown consistently, increasing sales at a rate of 18% annually and averaging earnings growth of 56%. Wick expects that robust growth to continue in 2017, as the accelerating pace of innovation keeps semiconductor foundries buzzing: “There is no such thing as a semiconductor cycle anymore,” he says. Plus, LAM pays a dividend yielding nearly 2%—and with almost two-thirds of its cash offshore, it could benefit from a potential tax-repatriation holiday in the U.S.
As the number of devices connected to the Internet has expanded, so has concern over how to keep that data safe. Spending on cybersecurity equipment, including firewalls, was on pace to grow about 13% in 2016, to $10.6 billion, Gartner says, but that rate is expected to slow to 8% over the next few years. Still, Palo Alto Networks (PANW), which makes state-of-the-art security systems known as next-generation firewalls, is growing its sales about four times as fast. “They’re really on the cutting edge to help people protect their infrastructure,” says Margaret Vitrano, portfolio manager of the $4 billion ClearBridge Large Cap Growth Fund. Although ups and downs in businesses’ cybersecurity spending can mean volatility for Palo Alto’s earnings and its stock, the company expects to grow revenue 31% next fiscal year, making its 2017 estimated P/E of 49 look fairly reasonable.
Elsewhere in cybersecurity, Wick likes Check Point Software Technologies (CHKP), a cheaper option (a P/E of 17). Founded in Israel in the pre-dotcom-boom 1990s, Check Point has proved to be “much more shareholder-friendly” than some of its younger peers and social media companies, Wick says; the company has bought back stock from shareholders for 13 straight years through 2016.
Other investors are rethinking what it means to be a tech stock—finding opportunities in other industries where companies are using technology to make over their business models. Henry Ellenbogen, who manages the $16.3 billion T. Rowe Price New Horizons Fund, points to Vail Resorts (MTN). Once just an elite place to ski in Colorado, Vail has adopted a subscription model for lift tickets the way Salesforce (CRM) has done for software and startup ClassPass has done for yoga and spinning classes: Think of it as a season’s pass with unlimited access to 13 different mountains in six states, Canada, and Australia. The company offers an app and harnesses its data to make chairlift lines more efficient—one reliable way to keep customers coming back. And Vail has been regularly acquiring new property and tucking it into its network, giving the company a scale that has helped Vail generate returns on capital unprecedented for its industry. The stock trades at a 2017 P/E ratio of 31, but Ellenbogen expects Vail to grow earnings organically 10% to 13% next year.
LAM Research (LRCX)
Palo Alto Networks (PANW)
Check Point Software Technologies (CHKP)
Vail Resorts (MTN)
This is part of Fortune’s 2017 Investor’s Guide feature, “The 21 Best Stocks to Buy Before Donald Trump Becomes President.” For the rest of the picks (including two funds) in other sectors, click on the links below:
- The 5 Best Gold and Energy Stocks for 2017
- The 3 Best Health Care Stocks for 2017
- The 4 Best Brexit-Proof Stocks for 2017
- The 3 Best Emerging Market Picks for 2017
- The 4 Best Financial and Industrial Stocks for 2017
A version of this article appears in the December 15, 2016 issue of Fortune with the headline “Stocks to Keep a Nest Egg Growing.”