Strategy Lab will hit its three-year anniversary in September. In that time, I've managed to turn a fictitious $50,000 starting value into more than $175,000 as of this writing. I don't expect to achieve returns like this consistently. The technology sector, where I focus most of my attention, was seemingly undervalued at the time we started, so perhaps I was lucky with the timing.
But I also don't feel that my results required any special skills. I may have much more experience than the average investor, but I got that experience by starting to invest when I was 21 years old. Although I spent nearly 11 years as a professional stock analyst on Bay Street, that time was a partial distraction to my core philosophy of long-term investing. I believe anyone can achieve great investing results by focusing on owning high-quality companies that consistently execute well in a growing market.
With long-term investing, especially in the growth sector, comes a very wide spectrum of returns. Netflix Inc. has returned well over 1,000 per cent so far, and I have six stocks posting over 100-per-cent returns. And I also have DragonWave Inc., with a 76-per-cent decline. It was a small bet, and I hoped the wireless-equipment company would post much stronger financial results. I invested in DragonWave because they have what I consider to be the best portfolio of products within their niche. But I acknowledged that the stock could easily slip to zero. That hasn't happened, but the management team has consistently missed estimates on growth and a return to positive cash flow.
Today, I'm eliminating DragonWave from my holdings so I can focus on stocks with a better track record for delivering growth and profitability. The cash from this trade, along with another partial sale of Netflix, will be used to add Starbucks Corp. to my portfolio. I wrote about Starbucks last December when the stock was about $40. I predicted that it should double within five years, and it has already climbed more than 25 per cent in less than six months. As many readers know, a higher stock price doesn't scare me off. Starbucks has seen its share price rise because it's posting solid results and executing on the business plan it outlined last December.
I'm particularly interested in how Starbucks now has 650 of its U.S. stores giving customers a differentiated experience by allowing them to order items from the mobile app. This lets customers order before arriving at the store and shortens their waiting time while boosting store sales. I'm sure many observers think this is silly, but I don't care about opinions. I care about actual consumer behaviours. The company says the mobile ordering program is performing better than expected, and it expects a U.S.-wide rollout by year-end.
Chief executive officer Howard Schultz also explained that it is opening new stores right next to its busiest locations. In some cases these new, smaller, express stores are performing incredibly well and not robbing any sales from pre-existing stores only 30 yards away. At a recent institutional investor conference, Mr. Schultz suggested that Starbucks underestimated how much unsatisfied demand there still is, even in dense urban markets that seem to have no shortage of Starbucks stores.
In my mind, Mr. Schultz and Starbucks have excellent credibility. If the CEO is willing to stand up and tell Wall Street that he expects at least another five years of minimum 10-per-cent revenue growth and 15-per-cent to 20-per-cent earnings-per-share growth, I'm inclined to believe him. At the low end of this estimate, Starbucks will double earnings in the next five years. Given the breadth of growth initiatives in place, I wouldn't be surprised if they exceed this target. Considering the stock trades at 33 times this year's consensus earnings estimate, I'm happy to invest at today's prices. Starbucks is probably not going to surprise me with 100-plus-per-cent returns any time soon, as I've seen with Netflix, Tesla Motors Inc., Sierra Wireless Inc. and other fast-growing technology stocks, but Starbucks should offer nice growth with less risk.
Disclosure: I own Starbucks shares in my personal portfolio.