The most expensive stocks often receive a disproportionate share of the coverage in the financial news industry. Since those stocks often emerge from cutting-edge industries, they tend to win investor attention as they often represent the future.
Assuming the company earns a profit, they usually get classified as the most expensive stock through their price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio. The average P/E ratio for an S&P 500 company comes in at about 21.4. However, these stocks command much higher P/E ratios, often into the triple digits. Due to their usually phenomenal growth, these stocks can maintain triple-digit multiples for years.
However, high growth rarely lasts forever. While slowing growth rarely makes these equities cheap stocks, it becomes a time when many of the most expensive stocks go on sale. These six equities, which have often become the most expensive stocks in the recent past, appear poised to trade at sale prices:
Fast-food stocks rarely make it on a list of most expensive stocks, but the success of the healthy fast food trend Chipotle (NYSE:CMG) pioneered has taken that equity to record highs. Not even outbreaks of E. coli or other cases of food poisoning have not permanently derailed its move higher.
Today, CMG stock trades at a P/E of 98. Profit growth takes the forward P/E to just under 40. However, I think Chipotle’s days of trading at an elevated multiple may end soon. Other fast-food eateries have latched on to the healthy food trend. Restaurants such as Zoë’s Kitchen, Modern Market and many others have emerged. Moreover, established brands such as McDonald’s (NYSE:MCD) now offer healthier options.
Most remain private for now, but as more of these firms launch IPO’s, investors will have several healthy fast-food restaurants from which to choose. Wall Street expects Chipotle to increase profits by an average of 24% per year for the next five years. For this reason, I expect a more gradual drop in the P/E ratio. However, over time I think CMG stock will eventually fall to a P/E ratio comparable to that of McDonald’s. Since that trend has already begun, I would recommend avoiding CMG stock at these levels.
The public may know GoDaddy (NYSE:GDDY) best for Super Bowl commercials. However, it earns revenue as a domain registrar and web hosting service. Despite its thin-moat business, it has managed to acquire 18 million customers and hold 77 million domain names under management. This strategy has helped GDDY stock grow to a P/E ratio of 164 and will bring a 73.3% profit increase this year if Wall Street’s forecasts come to fruition.
However, I think the weak moat makes profit forecasts untrustworthy. The problem for GDDY is that consumers who want to register a domain or find web hosting have numerous companies from which to choose. Hence, the Super Bowl commercials and the GoDaddy name constitute its entire moat. Moreover, Danica Patrick’s retirement from racing has reduced the exposure she brought to the company. If people start to remember that other hosting companies exist, it could lead to a lower market share and reduced profit growth.
Despite the problems, I think highly of GoDaddy as a company. Achieving this level of earnings growth in a business with almost no moat stands as an impressive feat. However, I think that weak moat means GDDY stock will not stay on the most expensive stocks list for much longer.
Ionis Pharmaceuticals (IONS)
Ionis (NASDAQ:IONS) specializes in antisense technology. This allows for the manipulation of genes to treat diseases. The company is best known for the drug Spinraza, a therapy which it developed with Biogen (NASDAQ:BIIB) for spinal muscular atrophy. Ionis also leads the way in RNA therapies.
Where it cannot seem to lead the way is in stock price growth. IONS stock trades at around $70 per share. This takes it to a record high, but it also means it could form a double-top as it slightly exceeds the record levels in 2015. Moreover, the spike in profits in 2018 occurred from a one-time, $292 million tax event in the fourth quarter. Without such events, the forward P/E ratio rises to just above 201.
Analysts predict an average profit growth rate of 40% per year for the next five years. However, with drops in earnings coming for both this year and next, one has to wonder whether that forecast will hold. Even if IONS stock makes or exceeds that profit growth, whether it justifies its high multiple remains in question. While I expect Ionis to develop innovative therapies, measuring how much they succeed remains difficult. Between the possible double top in the charts, a 201 forward P/E and an uncertain future, I find it difficult to stay optimistic about the near-term prospects of IONS stock.
As the pioneer in streaming video, Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) stock has remained a growth powerhouse for many years. Triple-digit P/E ratios and threats from competing streaming services have failed to stop the growth in NFLX stock. Over the last few years, Netflix has maintained this growth by developing award-winning, popular content and partnering with the likes of Disney (NYSE:DIS) to offer a wide variety of viewing choices.
However, Disney now plans to offer its own streaming service. With that, much of its popular content switches from a company asset to a competitive threat. Moreover, the high costs of in-house content development have increased the debt load on Netflix’s balance sheet. Netflix has increased fees to mitigate that cost. However, with Disney charging only $4.95 for its ESPN+ streaming services, they could choose to undercut Netflix and diminish the company’s ability to increase fees.
Granted, streaming services are a bargain compared to the traditional pay TV services. For this reason, rising prices may not lead to revenue declines. Still, in a world with many peers, maintaining the high multiple of NFLX stock could become difficult. Moreover, the forward P/E ratio, which now stands at just under 55, has fallen in recent years. This could trigger further stock dilution as Netflix needs options to pay down its debt. I expect Netflix to remain a content powerhouse for years to come, but with rising debts and increased competition, NFLX will probably not stay on the list of most expensive stocks.
I have often referred to Shopify (NYSE:SHOP) stock as the “anti-Amazon,” the company that allows one to set up shop without the help of online giant Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN). Shopify’s platform allows any entrepreneur to build and operate an online store with minimal development skills. Given that reality, one can see why it earned its place on many most expensive stocks lists.
Since it trades at over 18 times sales and almost ten times book value, most would call SHOP stock pricey. Moreover, factors have emerged that would call these multiples as well as its 216.9 forward P/E ratio into question. Competitors such as WooCommerce and Magento, a product owned by Adobe (NASDAQ:ADBE) offer credible alternative platforms to online entrepreneurs. Amazon and Square (NYSE:SQ) have also targeted its customer base.
Wall Street expects average earnings increases of 56.3% per year over the next five years. Also, all e-commerce platform developers should benefit from the massive growth the industry will enjoy for the foreseeable future. However, Shopify has yet to turn an annual profit. With all of the available alternatives, more investors will probably question the current valuation of SHOP stock.
Twilio (NYSE:TWLO) has earned its designation among the most expensive stocks with its forward P/E ratio of almost 430. TWLO dominates the platform-as-a-service (PaaS) for cloud-based APIs. In layman’s terms, this is the technology that enables firms such as Uber to operate their services.
Although analysts foresee profits falling this year, they believe earnings will grow by an average 36.5% per year over the next five years. I think this rate of increase deserves a higher-than-average multiple. However, this growth rate still cannot possibly justify a 430 forward P/E multiple.
Moreover, competition has become an increasing threat as smaller competitors have emerged. TWLO stock fell recently when news came out that Uber was looking to reduce its dependence on Twilio. The stock could also drop precipitously if companies such as Amazon (who serves as Twilio’s hosting company) or Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOG, NASDAQ:GOOGL) decide to enter this market.
No matter the size of Twilio’s direct peers, competition will pose an increasing threat. I expect this industry to see massive growth over the next few years. However, even exponential growth has its limits. With its 400-plus forward P/E and new competitors emerging, I think TWLO stock has nowhere to go but down.
As of this writing, Will Healy did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned stocks. You can follow Will on Twitter at @HealyWriting.