Stocks with smaller market values are outperforming by a wide margin so far this year, and strategists and analysts alike say small caps should continue to lead the way as the economic recovery gains steam.
"The U.S. economy is currently trending toward high-single digit GDP growth in 2021 as COVID-19 vaccine distribution expands and we gradually emerge from the pandemic," says Lule Demmissie, president of Ally Invest. "That environment favors small-cap names, which tend to have a more domestic focus than larger multinational firms."
Small caps tend to outperform in the early parts of the economic cycle, so it should come as no surprise that they are clobbering stocks with larger market values these days.
Indeed, the small-cap benchmark Russell 2000 index is up 13.6% for the year-to-date through April 8, while the blue chip Dow Jones Industrial Average added just 9.5% over the same span.
Keep in mind that small-cap stocks come with heightened volatility and risk. It's also important to note that it can be dangerous to chase performance. But small-cap growth stocks – particularly in this environment – can offer potentially much greater rewards.
Given the increased interest in these securities, we decided to find some of analysts' favorite small caps to buy. To do so, we screened the Russell 2000 for small caps with outsized growth prospects and analysts' highest consensus recommendations, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence.
Here's how the recommendation system works: S&P Global Market Intelligence surveys analysts' stock recommendations and scores them on a five-point scale, where 1.0 equals a Strong Buy and 5.0 is a Strong Sell. Any score below 2.5 means that analysts, on average, rate the stock as being Buy-worthy. The closer a score gets to 1.0, the stronger the Buy recommendation.
We also limited ourselves to names with projected long-term growth (LTG) rates of at least 20%. That means analysts, on average, expect these companies to generate compound annual earnings per share (EPS) growth of 20% or more for the next three to five years.
And lastly, we dug into research, fundamental factors and analysts' estimates on the most promising small caps.
That led us to this list of the 7 best small-cap growth stocks to buy now, by virtue of their high analyst ratings and bullish outlooks. Read on as we analyze what makes each one stand out.
Share prices are as of April 8. Companies are listed by strength of analysts' consensus recommendation, from lowest to highest. Data courtesy of S&P Global Market Intelligence, unless otherwise noted.
- Market value: $5.7 billion
- Long-term growth rate: 150.0%
- Analysts' consensus recommendation: 1.68 (Buy)
Q2 Holdings (QTWO (opens in new tab), $103.06) provides cloud-based virtual banking services to regional and community financial institutions. The idea is to make it so that smaller firms – which are sometimes small caps themselves – can give account holders the same kind of top-flight online tools, services and experiences as the industry's big boys.
To that end, Q2 recently announced the acquisition of ClickSWITCH, which focuses on customer acquisition and retention by making the process of switching digital accounts easier. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Q2's business model and execution has Wall Street drooling over the small cap's growth prospects. Indeed, analysts expect the software company to generate compound annual earnings per share growth of 150% over the next three to five years, according to data from S&P Global Market Intelligence.
"In the last year, the pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation efforts and investments of the financial services industry, and we believe Q2 Holdings is well positioned to support and grow its customer base," writes Stifel equity research analyst Tom Roderick, who rates the stock at Buy.
Of the 19 analysts covering Q2 tracked by S&P Global Market Intelligence, 10 call it a Strong Buy, five say Buy and four rate it at Hold. Their average target price of $152.25 gives QTWO implied upside of almost 50% over the next 12 months or so. Such high expected returns make it easy to understand why the Street sees QTWO as one of the best small-cap growth stocks.
- Market value: $962.8 million
- Long-term growth rate: 21.6%
- Analysts' consensus recommendation: 1.60 (Buy)
BellRing Brands (BRBR (opens in new tab), $24.37), which sells protein shakes and other nutritional beverages, powders and supplements, is forecast to generate unusually healthy EPS growth over the next few years.
Stifel equity research, which specializes in small caps, says BellRing offers a "compelling growth opportunity" thanks to its positioning in the large and fast-growing category known as "convenient nutrition."
U.S. consumers are increasingly turning toward high-protein, low-carbohydrate foods and beverages for snacks and meal replacement, Stifel notes, and BellRing Brands, spun off from Post Holdings (POST (opens in new tab)) in late 2019, is in prime position to thrive from those changing consumer tastes.
After all, the company's portfolio includes such well-known brands as Premier Protein shakes and PowerBar nutrition bars.
In another point favoring the bulls, BellRing's "asset-light business model requires limited capital expenditures and generates very strong free cash flow," notes Stifel analyst Christopher Growe, who rates the stock at Buy.
Most of the Street also puts BRBR in the small-caps-to-buy camp. Of the 15 analysts covering BRBR, eight call it a Strong Buy, five say Buy and two have it at Hold. Their average price target of $28.33 gives the stock implied upside of about 16% over the next year or so.
With shares trading at just a bit more than 25 times estimated earnings for 2022, BRBR appears to offer a compelling valuation.
- Market value: $5.3 billion
- Long-term growth rate: 21.8%
- Analysts' consensus recommendation: 1.50 (Strong Buy)
Rackspace Technology (RXT (opens in new tab), $25.61) partners with cloud services providers such as Google parent Alphabet (GOOGL (opens in new tab)), Amazon.com (AMZN (opens in new tab)) and Microsoft (MSFT (opens in new tab)) to manage its enterprise customers' cloud-based services.
And make no mistake, this sort of expertise is much in demand.
The pandemic accelerated many industries' migration to cloud technology. As such, plenty of firms have discovered they need all the help they can get when it comes to transitioning and managing their operations – often with more than one cloud service provider.
"The prevalence of a multicloud approach has created integration and operational complexity that require expertise and resources most companies lack," writes William Blair analyst Jim Breen, who rates RXT at Outperform (the equivalent of Buy). "This creates an opportunity for a multicloud services partner to enable businesses to fully realize the benefits of cloud transformation."
Breen adds that research firm IDC forecasts the managed cloud services market to grow 15% a year to more than $100 billion by 2024.
As the leading company in the field of multicloud services, bulls argue that Rackspace stands to benefit disproportionately from all this burgeoning demand.
Speaking of bulls, of the 10 analysts covering the stock tracked by S&P Global Market Intelligence, five rate RXT at Strong Buy and five call it a Buy. The bottom line is that Rackspace easily makes the Street's list of small-cap growth stocks to buy.
- Market value: $5.3 billion
- Long-term growth rate: 34.2%
- Analysts' consensus recommendation: 1.50 (Strong Buy)
Shares in Chart Industries (GTLS (opens in new tab), $146.76), which manufactures cryogenic equipment for industrial gasses such as liquefied natural gas (LNG), are riding the global secular trend toward sustainable energy.
The market certainly likes GTLS' commitment to greener energy. The small-cap stock is up more than 410% over the past 52 weeks – analysts expect a torrid pace of profit growth over the next few years to keep the gains coming. Indeed, the Street forecasts compound annual EPS growth of more than 34% over the next three to five years.
Analysts say the company's unique portfolio of technologies gives it an edge in a growing industry. To that end, they applauded its $20 million acquisition of Sustainable Energy Solutions in December because it bolsters the company's carbon capture capabilities.
"In the context of the decarbonization megatrend, Chart is a one-of-a-kind play on the global shift to more gas-centric economies," writes Raymond James analyst Pavel Molchanov in a note to clients. "There is upside potential from large liquefied natural gas projects. Notwithstanding the lingering headwinds from the North American energy sector, we reiterate our Outperform [Buy] rating."
Stifel, which chimes in with a Buy rating, says GTLS deserves a premium valuation given its outsized growth prospects.
"With potentially a decade or more of high single-digit to low double-digit revenue growth, more recurring revenue, accelerating hydrogen opportunities, and the potential big LNG surprise bounces, we expect shares could trade north of 30 times normalized earnings," writes analyst Benjamin Nolan.
The stock currently trades at nearly 30 times estimated earnings for 2022, per S&P Global Market Intelligence. Small caps to buy often sport lofty valuations, but with a projected long-term growth rate of more than 34%, one could argue GTLS is actually a bargain.
Raymond James and Stifel are very much in the majority on the Street, where 12 analysts rate GTLS at Strong Buy, four say Buy, one has it at Hold and one says Sell.
- Market value: $5.5 billion
- Long-term growth rate: 43.0%
- Analysts' consensus recommendation: 1.33 (Strong Buy)
NeoGenomics (NEO (opens in new tab), $47.87), an oncology testing and research laboratory, is still coming out from under the pressure of the pandemic, which led to the cancellation of legions of procedures.
But there's been quite a lot of activity at the company, nevertheless, and analysts still see it as one of the better small-cap growth stocks to buy.
In February, the company said longtime Chairman and CEO Doug VanOort would step aside to become executive chairman in April. He was succeeded by Mark Mallon, former CEO of Ironwood Pharmaceuticals (IRWD (opens in new tab)). The following month, NeoGenomics announced a $65 million cash-and-stock deal for Trapelo Health, an IT firm focused on precision oncology.
All the while, shares have been lagging in 2021, falling more than 11% for the year-to-date vs. a gain of 13.5% for the small-cap benchmark Russell 2000.
Although COVID-19 has been squeezing clinical volumes – and bad winter weather is always a concern – analysts by and large remain fans of this small cap's industry position.
"We continue to find the company’s leading market share in clinical oncology testing and expanding presence in pharma services for oncology-based clients to be a very attractive combination," writes William Blair equity analyst Brian Weinstein, who rates NEO at Outperform.
Of the 12 analysts covering NEO tracked by S&P Global Market Intelligence, nine call it a Strong Buy, two say Buy and one says Hold. With an average target price of $63.20, analysts give NEO implied upside of about 32% in the next year or so. That's good enough to make almost any list of small caps to buy.
- Market value: $917.3 million
- Long-term growth rate: 32.5%
- Analysts' consensus recommendation: 1.14 (Strong Buy)
The Lovesac Co. (LOVE (opens in new tab), $62.47) is a niche consumer discretionary company that designs "foam-filled furniture," which mostly includes bean bag chairs.
Although it operates about 90 showrooms at malls around the country, revenue – thankfully – is largely driven by online sales. That's led to a boom in business as folks, stuck at home, shop online for ways to spruce up their living spaces.
Shares have followed, rising about 45% for the year-to-date and more than 1,000% over the past 52 weeks. And analysts expect even more upside ahead, driven by a long-term growth rate forecast of 32.5% for the next three to five years, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence.
Stifel, which says LOVE is among its small caps to Buy, expects the consumer shift to buying furnishing online to persist, and even accelerate, once the pandemic subsides.
"Lovesac is well positioned for continued share gains in the furniture category with its strong product, omni-channel capabilities and enhancements to the platform, many of which were initiated during the pandemic," writes Stifel's Lamont Williams in a note to clients.
The analyst adds that LOVE has a long ramp-up opportunity thanks to a new generation of home buyers.
"As the housing market remains healthy there is the opportunity to capture new buyers as more middle- to upper-income millennials become homeowners and increase spending on [the company's] category," Williams writes.
Of the seven analysts covering the stock tracked by S&P Global Market Intelligence, six rate it at Strong Buy and one says Buy. That's a small sample size, but the bull case for LOVE as one of the better small-cap growth stocks to buy still stands.
- Market value: $4.3 billion
- Long-term growth rate: 43.0%
- Analysts' consensus recommendation: 1.11 (Strong Buy)
AdaptHealth (AHCO (opens in new tab), $37.61) comes in at No. 1 on our list of small caps to buy thanks to their outsized growth prospects. The bull case rests partly on demographics and the aging of baby boomers.
AdaptHealth provides home healthcare equipment and medical supplies. Most notably, it provides sleep therapy equipment such as CPAP machines for sleep apnea – a condition that tends to increase with age and weight.
With the majority of the boomer cohort of roughly 70 million Americans hitting their 60s and 70s, home medical equipment for sleep apnea and other conditions is increasingly in demand.
Mergers and acquisitions are also a part of the company's growth story, notes UBS Global Research, which rates AHCO at Buy. Most recently, in February, the company closed a $2 billion cash-and-stock deal for AeroCare, a respiratory and home medical equipment distributor.
"AdaptHealth exits 2020 with material themes of accelerating growth," writes UBS analyst Whit Mayo. "In each quarter of 2022, we assume that AHCO acquires $35 million in annual revenues, closing these deals at the middle of the quarter. This drives estimated acquired revs from yet to be announced deals of $70 million."
Small caps have been rallying in 2021, but not AHCO, which is essentially flat for the year-to-date. Happily, the Street expects that to change sooner rather than later. With an average target price of $47.22, analysts give the stock implied upside of about 25% over the next 12 months or so.
Of the nine analysts covering AHCO tracked by S&P Global Market Intelligence, eight rate it at Strong Buy and one says Buy. As noted above, they expect the company to generate compound annual EPS growth of 43% over the next three to five years.
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