Five High-Growth Tech Stocks that Won’t Stay Cheap for Long

Call it the winner’s curse. When companies grow at fast clip for a long time, investors come to assume they’ll never slow. Of course, all companies eventually grow too large to keep posting explosive growth. Some settle into a more moderate — but still respectable — plane of growth, while others truly hit a wall.

We went trolling for these high growers, focusing on the technology field, to see if there is any life left in these former highflyers. We specifically screened for companies that have boosted sales at an average annual pace of +25% or more during the past five years, eliminating any companies valued less than $200 million.

We culled the list further to focus solely on companies that have seen their stocks fall to a point lower than they were a year ago. This tells us that high-growth investors no longer love these names. But do they appeal to investors seeking moderate growth and reasonable valuations? Let’s find out.

Company (Ticker) 5-Year Revenue Growth July 30, 2010 Price Market Cap
52-Week Price Change 2010 Sales Growth 2010 P/E 2011 P/E
Canadian Solar (Nasdaq: CSIQ) +133% $12.28 $508 -9% +90% 12.0 8.0
Research In Motion
(Nasdaq: RIMM)
+62% $56.08 $30,950 -27% +25% 10.0 9.0
(Nasdaq: SOHU)
+40% $47.22 $1,780 -34% +15% 14.0 11.0
+29% $31.18 $1,060 -11% +11% 13.0 12.0
VASCO Data Security
(Nasdaq: VDSI)
+28% $6.34 $237 -21% +5% 16.0 23.5

Research in Motion gets no respect
No major tech stock has gone more quickly from hero to goat than Research in Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM), maker of the Blackberry smartphone. This was possibly one of the great growth stories of the last six years (when sales grew anywhere from +35% to +127% in any given year), but Apple’s (Nasdaq: AAPL) stunning success with the iPhone and the iPad have led investors to think RIM’s days of growth are over. And they ran as fast as they could, pushing shares down from above $80 last September to below $50 in early July (before a recent rebound to $56).

Concerns of a massive slowdown in sales appear to be overblown. In the most recent quarter, sales rose +24% from a year ago, while profits rose +23%. The company added 4.9 million net new subscribers to its service, and now has a hefty 46 million customers. Admittedly, the customer base for the iPhone and Google’s (Nasdaq: GOOG) Android phones are growing even faster, so market share is slipping. Apple is now nipping at RIMM’s heels with 16.1% market share, while RIM’s share fell to 19.4% in the first quarter from 20.9% a year ago, according to IDC, an industry research group.

But management has just announced plans to fight back, unveiling a smartphone that has many iPhone like features and also plans to release a tablet computer to rival the iPad. And to defend its stock, RIM recently announced another share buyback, which in conjunction with a just-completed buyback, would cut the share count by -10%.

Most analysts are taking a dim view of RIM right now, but analysts at Needham & Co. remain supporters, noting that this is “a stock that investors now love to hate.” They add that “RIMM has several things going for it. A new operating system and browser due by September, and the most efficient network, which should play well as usage-based pricing takes over the market.”

Action to Take –> RIM is still posting solid growth. The fact that shares now trade for around 10 times fiscal 2011 earnings says that investors expect growth to sharply slow or stop completely. That’s an overly bearish view. Apple and Google are surely very tough rivals, but RIM should also remain very relevant — and increasingly profitable, for some time to come.

#-ad_banner-#Fast, loose and out of control
Fast-growing companies can occasionally become so obsessed with the top-line that they lose sight of fundamental operational controls. That appears to be the case for Canadian Solar (Nasdaq: CSIQ), which was one of the hottest stocks in the clean energy space — until the wheels fell off.

Sales at this solar panel maker had zoomed from $20 million in 2005 to $700 million by 2008. And although sales flattened last year, they are expected to surge anew this year to more than $1 billion. At the start of the year, shares briefly moved up above the $30 mark. And then the perfect storm hit. Shares drifted back into the $20s on concerns that demand for new solar power equipment would slump in 2010. Then weak first quarter results pushed shares into the teens. Finally, the company admitted in early June that an SEC investigation would likely lead to a re-statement of fourth quarter results. These days, shares can be had for around $12, roughly -60% off those January trading levels.

Despite all those issues, this still looks to be a solid long-term growth story — once the dust settles. After all, Canadian Solar is back in high-growth mode thanks to recent capacity expansions and an upturn in solar panel pricing. And by some accounts the SEC investigation and expected fourth quarter restatement is expected to be a one-time event and will not impact revenue projections. Management recently raised full-year sales guidance.

Equally important, the bottom-line should rebound in 2011, with EPS bumping back up to $1.50. (Profits are being constrained this year while industry demand catches up with supply — a situation which is expected to reverse in coming quarters).

Action to Take –> Analysts at Wells Fargo are virtually alone in their support for Canadian Solar right now. In mid-July, they raised their rating to Outperform, expecting that recent accounting and margin concerns will soon be resolved. They also boosted their 2011 EPS forecast to $1.99 — well above the $1.50 consensus.

It’s unclear what kind of multiple this stock deserves with its litany of missteps. But if per share profits can indeed rebound to $1.50 or $2.00 in 2011 and you slap a target P/E ratio of 10 times projected profits, then shares would trade up to $15 to $20 — well above the current $12 price.