The day after the election I tried to process it. Donald Trump? President? Of the United States? By the end of the day, I came to a conclusion. After the UK "Brexit" vote, I should've seen this coming. How could I have missed it? This was the "Uber moment" for American politics.
Taxi cabs are swiftly being replaced by entrepreneurial Uber drivers thanks to the handy smartphone app. The competitive rise of Airbnb has turned hundreds of thousands of private property owners into would-be hoteliers, turning the traditional lodging industry on its head. And Donald J. Trump has defied conventional American political wisdom by winning a presidential election by relying on earned media (news coverage) and social media rather than the traditional, big-campaign infrastructure.
As the Chinese expression goes, "May you live in interesting times."
So how do we profit from Uber moments as investors? We start by looking for obvious signs. In the mid 1990s, pundits always said the internet was the death knell for the newspaper. Yet newspapers continued to thrive. Then 2008 happened. Historically reliant on debt financing, second- and third-tier papers began folding as their parent companies lost access to the capital markets during the financial crisis. Now most of us read the news on our iPads.
So, as Uber moments continue to occur in the technology sector, what should investors focus on? If the next disruptive companies were crops, we'd invest in the farmers. If they were gold deposits, we'd look for the guys who sell picks and shovels to the gold rush prospectors. In other words, we go for the people who stand to profit no matter which companies end up being successful.
It's hard for individual investors to get in on the ground floor of an Uber or an Airbnb. Or is it?
One of the best ways to get exposure to the next tech Uber moment is to own shares of business development companies (BDC's) that invest in the tech space. These companies are the "farmers" that plant the seeds and nurture the next crop of Uber moments. My favorite pick in this area is Hercules Capital, Inc. (NYSE: HTGC).
With a combination of debt and equity positions, HTGC owns major stakes in visible, emerging tech names such as Trulia, Box (NYSE: BOX), and Ancestry.com, along with other app, digital media, and cloud-related businesses. Shares trade close to $13.50 with a fat 9.15% dividend yield.
During the California Gold Rush of 1849, the guys who got rich were the merchants selling the implements the prospectors needed, like picks, shovels, pans, and even blue jeans (think Levi Strauss).
As the as the amount of data moving down fiber optic lines or through the air to all sorts of devices increases exponentially, the companies who make the stuff, the hardware that helps move that data from screen to screen, will continue to play a constant major role. These are the modern-day picks and shovels.
The name that always seems to show up in a lot of my writing is the company that is making the "Internet of things" happen: Cisco Systems (Nasdaq: CSCO). In the data/telecom transmission world, Cisco is the 9,000-pound gorilla. Enterprise Ethernet switching and routers? The company runs the table with 60% of the global market share. Enterprise switching? 62% of global market share. Basically, you can't move data without them. CSCO shares are priced at $31.70 with a forward P/E of just 13 and a growing 3.28% dividend yield.
To continue with the "Internet of things" theme, Qualcomm (Nasdaq: QCOM) is a natural choice. Known mainly for its global dominance in the mobile telecom device chip space, the company most recently made news announcing it was acquiring NXP Semiconductors (Nasdaq: NXPI), a leading manufacturer of semiconductor technology in automotive infotainment, secure identification, payment systems, and telecom networking.
So, going forward, Qualcomm will not only be in your smart phones and tablet, they'll be in your car and your vending machine as well. QCOM shares trade at $66.77 with a forward P/E of 14 and a 3.17% dividend yield.
Risks To consider: The biggest risk to investing in an Uber moment is that you may be too early, too late, or completely wrong. These companies have solid franchises, proven business models, and solid operating histories. These factors combined with the above average income stream from common dividends can help provide investors with some means of protection.
Action To Take: Uber moments happen all the time and have been happening for centuries. Think the printing press or the internal combustion engine. Or the recording industry being wiped out in 17 years by an upstart called "Napster". We just haven't calling them Uber moments until now.
Combined, these three stocks offer conservative investors exposure to the next Uber moment in the tech sector with the comfort of a blended income stream of 5.2%. They also provide organic sector allocation in an equity portfolio. Upside potential is possible, as these companies will help generate and ride the wave of the next big thing.
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