The stock market had a really good start to 2019. To kick things off, the S&P 500 rose nearly 8% in January, its best January performance since 1987. Things didn’t slow much thereafter. The S&P 500 rose 3% in February (tenth February best since 1987), and 2% in March (fifteenth best March since 1987). All in all, the S&P 500 finished the first quarter of 2019 up more than 13%. That’s good enough to be the stock market’s best Q1 performance in over twenty years.
It goes without saying that the market’s best first-quarter performance in more than two decades was accompanied by a handful of S&P 500 stocks that have staged huge year-to-date rallies. Indeed, as I’ve noted before, 2019 has had more breakout stocks than we’ve seen in years prior. That’s mostly a function of two things:
1) Stocks are on fire.
2) Growth is back.
By that reasoning, growth stocks are doubly on fire! Indeed, to make the cut as one of the six best-performing S&P 500 stocks in Q1, a stock had to gain more than 50% in the quarter. No easy feat. That means through the first three months of 2019, there were six S&P 500 stocks that gained more than 50%.
Which stocks belong in that group? Why did they stage such monster rallies? Will they keep rallying?
Let’s answer those questions by taking a closer look at the six best-performing S&P 500 stocks in a record first quarter for the S&P 500.
Best-Performing S&P 500 Stocks of Q1: Coty (COTY)
YTD Gain: 72%
How It Got Here: Global beauty giant Coty (NYSE:COTY) was the beneficiary of two big catalysts in the first quarter of 2019. First, the company reported a robust double-beat earnings report in early February that caused shares to rally in a big way. Second, just a few days thereafter, German conglomerate Jab Holding Co offered to purchases 150 million shares of Coty at a purchase price of $11.65. At the time, COTY stock was changing hands below $10. Consequently, COTY stock has since rallied closer to the proposed $11.65 purchase price.
Where It’s Going Next: COTY stock has more room to run higher in 2019. The stock has fallen flat over the past two months because Coty management has been reviewing the JAB tender offer. But, considering JAB is already a 40% holder of Coty stock, this offer will likely go through. Once it does, COTY stock will move higher for three reasons:
1) The stock is still below the $11.65 tender offer price.
2) New money brings in new confidence.
3) The stock is still pretty cheap at just 17-forward earnings.
YTD Gain: 67%
How It Got Here: The big 2019 rally in document management systems company Xerox (NYSE:XRX) can be attributed to three things. First, there was a big selloff leading into 2019, wherein XRX stock dropped 30% in less than a month.
Second, the company reported strong fourth-quarter earnings in late January 2019, which largely underscored that the 30% selloff in late 2018 was unwarranted. Third, buyout talk has kept shares on a solid uptrend ever since the strong Q4 report.
Where It’s Going Next: After the near 70% year-to-date rally, XRX stock is now trading at levels that are historically normal. The stock is back at a low $30s price tag, which has roughly served as a ceiling for the stock over the past five years.
Meanwhile, the valuation is at 9x forward earnings, which is essentially the norm for where this stock has traded over the past several years. As such, further upside isn’t compelling. It seems XRX stock used all its firepower to get back to normal, and that there isn’t much left in the tank to power further gains in 2019.
YTD Gain: 64%
How It Got Here: The long overdue turnaround in fast-casual Mexican eatery Chipotle (NYSE:CMG) is finally here. New management came in around a year ago, and they have since flawlessly executed on some very important growth initiatives, including expanding the digital business, revamping the menu and rolling out a nationwide advertising campaign.
All of these initiatives have worked. Comparable sales growth and traffic trends have improved meaningfully, and those improvements have allowed for concurrent margin improvements, too. CMG stock has consequently soared over the past year, and the rally hasn’t slowed in 2019.
Where It’s Going Next: At this point in time, CMG stock is the most expensive restaurant stock I have ever seen, and on that basis alone, further gains in the stock seem unlikely in the near future. To be sure, the long-term fundamentals here are healthy. But, this is a very competitive space, and no company in the fast-casual business flawlessly executes for that long. Chipotle has been flawlessly executing for a year. They are due for a hiccup. When that hiccup happens, the stock will drop in a big way.
YTD Gain: 52%
How It Got Here: All semiconductor stocks have been in rally mode in 2019, amid broad improvements across the global semiconductor industry (demand has firmed up thanks to global economic stabilization, supply is dropping due to aggressive Q1 clearing, and trade and FX headwinds have become less severe).
Among the biggest gainers in that group in 2019 has been Xilinx (NASDAQ:XLNX), mostly due to the company’s robust double-beat-and-raise third-quarter earnings report at the end of January, which confirmed the aforementioned semiconductor market improvements.
Where It’s Going Next: It seems like all the good news is already priced into XLNX stock. To be sure, there’s a lot of good news right now for semis, but at such a rich valuation (33x forward earnings), it’s tough to see the stock heading meaningfully higher in the foreseeable future.
Instead, while earnings may grow over the next several quarters, today’s stretched multiple will likely fall back, and that combo will lead to decent but not substantial gains in the stock.
Arista Networks (ANET)
YTD Gain: 52%
How It Got Here: Cloud networking giant Arista Networks (NYSE:ANET) has been on fire in 2019 ever since the company reported a beat-and-raise Q4 earnings report in mid-February.
Broadly speaking, that report largely confirmed that cloud spending trends remain favorable even in a slowing global economy. The implication? The late 2018 selloff in ANET stock was way overdone. Analysts upgraded the stock. Investors bought the stock. ANET soared.
Where It’s Going Next: Arista is a long term winner powered by secular growth trends in cloud service adoption and spend, currently growing revenues at a 30%-plus rate, with gross margins that are healthily north of 60%. Right now, investors get all of that for just 34x forward earnings, which isn’t a bad multiple for a 30%-revenue grower with broad exposure to the cloud. As such, this rally doesn’t seem like it’s over just yet. The multiple is stable here, and earnings will keep growing at a robust rate, so further gains in the stock seem likely through the balance of 2019.
YTD Gain: 52%
How It Got Here: The big 2019 rally in waste removal giant Stericycle (NASDAQ:SRCL) can be chalked up to one thing: the stock simply got way too cheap in late 2018. Amid slowing economic growth concerns and a financial market meltdown, SRCL stock tumbled from $75 early in 2018, to $34 by late 2018, bringing the forward earnings multiple on the stock to 7.5 (versus a five-year average forward multiple of 19). Strong quarterly numbers in early 2019 confirmed that these late 2018 fears were overblown. The valuation has since normalized, and the stock has soared.
Where It’s Going Next: It looks like SRCL stock can head higher from here. This is a stable business with a large moat that is providing solutions of enduring and sustainable value. Growth going forward won’t be big, but it will be stable, much like it has been for the past several years.
During that stretch, SRCL stock traded at 19x forward earnings. Today, the forward multiple is around 15. Consequently, there’s reason to believe the stock isn’t done rallying just yet.
As of this writing, Luke Lango did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.