Rather than look for low-cost deals, growth investors want investments that offer strong upside potential when it comes to the future earnings of stocks. It could be said that a growth investor is often looking for the “next big thing.” Growth investing, however, is not a reckless embrace of speculative investing. Rather, it involves evaluating a stock’s current health as well as its potential to grow.
A growth investor considers the prospects of the industry in which the stock thrives. You may ask, for example, if there’s a future for electric vehicles before investing in Tesla. Or, you may wonder if A.I. will become a fixture of everyday living before investing in a technology company. There must be evidence of a widespread and robust appetite for the company's services or products if it’s going to grow. Investors can answer this question by looking at a company's recent history. Simply put: A growth stock should be growing. The company should have a consistent trend of strong earnings and revenue signifying a capacity to deliver on growth expectations.
A drawback to growth investing is a lack of dividends. If a company is in growth mode, it often needs capital to sustain its expansion. This doesn’t leave much (or any) cash left for dividend payments. Moreover, with faster earnings growth comes higher valuations which are, for most investors, a higher risk proposition.
Does Growth Investing Work?
As the research above indicates, value investing tends to outperform growth investing over the long-term. These findings don’t mean a growth investor can't profit from the strategy, it merely means a growth strategy doesn’t usually generate the level of returns seen with value investing. But according to a study from New York University’s Stern School of Business, “While growth investing underperforms value investing, especially over long time periods, it is also true that there are sub-periods, where growth investing dominates.”5 The challenge, of course, is determining when these “sub-periods” will occur.
Some growth investing style detractors warn that “growth at any price” is a dangerous approach. Such a drive gave rise to the tech bubble which vaporized millions of portfolios. “Over the past decade, the average growth stock has returned 159% vs. just 89% for value,” according to Money magazine’s Investor’s Guide 2018.6
Growth Investing Variables
While there is no definitive list of hard metrics to guide a growth strategy, there are a few factors an investor should consider. Research from Merrill Lynch, for example, found that growth stocks outperform during periods of falling interest rates. It's important to keep in mind that at the first sign of a downturn in the economy, growth stocks are often the first to get hit
Growth investors also need to carefully consider the management prowess of a business’s executive team. Achieving growth is among the most difficult challenges for a firm. Therefore, a stellar leadership team is required. Investors must watch how the team performs and the means by which it achieves growth. Growth is of little value if it’s achieved with heavy borrowing. At the same time, investors should evaluate the competition. A company may enjoy stellar growth, but if its primary product is easily replicated, the long-term prospects are dim.
GoPro is a prime example of this phenomenon. The once high-flying stock has seen regular annual revenue declines since 2015. “In the months following its debut, shares more than tripled the IPO price of $24 to as much as $87,” the Wall Street Journal reported.7 The stock has traded well below its IPO price. Much of this demise is attributed to the easily replicated design. After all, GoPro is, at its core, a small camera in a box. The rising popularity and quality of smartphone cameras offer a cheap alternative to paying $400 to $600 for what is essentially a one-function piece of equipment. Moreover, the company has been unsuccessful at designing and releasing new products which is a necessary step to sustaining growth—something growth investors must consider.