With Growth Stocks Seeing Multiples Compress, Investors Should Make a Shopping List

Even though the market has done well this year, It has been interesting to see so many former high flying growth stocks come back down to earth. Over the last few years there was always a group of great companies that were growing like weeds and their share prices reflected those prospects. If I think about the premier growth companies of the last five years, names such as Starbucks (SBUX), Whole Foods Markets (WFMI), Genentech (DNA), and eBay (EBAY) come to mind but there are dozens of others as well. These stocks had traded at 40 times earnings for a long time. Momentum growth managers scooped them up, but others were wary of the high P/E multiples, and that caution proved to be correct.

Not surprisingly, these stocks have underperformed as multiple compression has taken place. I even wrote about Starbucks back in late 2004, in a post entitled Sleepless in Seattle, warning investors that even if the company continued to grow, the stock might not. The coffee giant, along with the other companies mentioned above have in fact treaded water or are hitting new lows lately. At some point, though, the stocks will look attractive. Starbucks isn’t worth 40 times earnings, but maybe it is worth 20 times. Same with the other names. As former growth stars come down, investors should decide if they would like to own any of these companies, and if so, at what price. If things keep going in this direction, there might be entry points over the next year or so.

Do any of the four aforementioned companies grab my attention at current prices? After all, they now trade at between 20 and 24 times 2008 earnings projections. One jumps out at me in particular, Genentech. A 21 forward P/E seems very reasonable for a leading biotech company that can likely grow earnings 15 to 20 percent annually for the next five years. As you can see from the chart below, the stock has treaded water for two years now as the multiple compressed by more than 50%. Growth investors might want to take a look.

In general, it appears many growth stocks that were once wildly overpriced are getting more reasonable. I would suggest investors who once passed on a name or two due to valuation reexamine those companies again. Decide whether you still would like to own them or not. If so, make a shopping list complete with purchase targets and monitor them. You might find some bargains.

Full Disclosure: No positions in the companies mentioned