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3 Top Stocks You're Missing the Boat On

The investing world is littered with stocks that barely get any attention on a daily basis. That's a shame because some of the best stocks for your portfolio are the ones that aren't scrutinized as much. Whether because they are a high-end product that few actually can buy, a boring industry that doesn't change much, or an obscure industry that flies under the radar, great companies in these businesses can make for great investments over the long haul.

In the spirit of these often-overlooked stocks, we asked three of The Motley Fool's investors to highlight stocks that don't get much attention but should. Here's why they picked Ferrari (NYSE: RACE), CSX (NASDAQ: CSX), and Enviva Partners (NYSE: EVA)

Image source: Getty Images.

This profit powerhouse has been racing higher

John Rosevear (Ferrari): Unless you're a lover of high-end sports cars or a big racing fan, the idea of investing in Ferrari probably never crossed your mind. The iconic Italian supercar maker has only been public since the fall of 2015, after all. And a lot of investors avoid investing in automakers, as they're complex businesses with mostly thin margins. 

But those investors have been missing a great story. It took Wall Street a little time to catch on to that story, but Ferrari's stock began taking off just a few months after its IPO. It's up almost 120% in the last year. 

RACE data by YCharts.

What's the story? Ferrari is hugely profitable by auto standards, it's largely immune from the concerns about disruption that are holding back other automaker stocks, and -- despite the fact that Ferrari strictly limits its annual production to preserve the exclusivity of its brand -- the company has a clear path to profit growth. Consider:

  • Ferrari's EBIT margin was 21.5% in the first quarter, and that wasn't a fluke result. Contrast that with just 8.2% at General Motors, or 9% at BMW -- or, for that matter, 15.2% at luxury powerhouse Coach. Ferrari's profit margin puts it squarely in luxury-goods territory but without the brick-and-mortar concerns affecting most luxury stocks.
  • With just one factory, Ferrari doesn't have the huge fixed-cost overhang that hurts most big automakers when the economic cycle swings down. (And with its super-wealthy clientele, Ferrari is insulated from everyday economic concerns to some extent.)
  • Self-driving cars? Ridesharing? If anything, those near-future trends might boost demand for Ferraris among wealthy enthusiasts who still want to do their own driving. Ferraris will never become commodities. 
  • Ferrari CEO Sergio Marchionne has outlined a solid plan to increase profits, with a modest jump in annual production (from around 8,000 vehicles a year to 10,000 or so), more super-high-priced special-edition models for enthusiasts, more high-profit options on its regular models, and expanded service and restoration offerings for older Ferraris. 

For investors, that big run-up over the last year means that like everything else to do with Ferrari, its stock isn't cheap. Right now, it's trading at about 29 times its expected 2017 earnings -- a rich valuation even if we consider Ferrari a luxury company (as Marchionne has argued that we should). You might have to wait a bit to see big gains from here. But I think as Marchionne's growth plan unfolds -- and as more investors catch on to the Ferrari story -- there's still a lot of potential here.

Don't fall asleep on this train

Brian Stoffel (CSX): Most of us think of investing in train companies to be a safe, unexciting, slow-wealth-building type of process. That's why many would be surprised to find out that they may have missed the boat on CSX -- which has seen its stock more than double over the past year alone.

Some of this has to do with the promise of infrastructure improvements across the United States. Indeed, President Trump called for $1 trillion in investments on the country's roads, bridges, and buildings over the next four years. Those projects require tons of raw materials, the bulk of which are transported via train. Clearly, such an uptick would be a significant boon to CSX, which has over 21,000 miles of tracks and access to 70 ports -- all east of the Mississippi River.

But there's more to the story than that. In January, the stock jumped 29% on news that activist investor Paul Hilal wanted to put Hunter Harrison, the highly respected former CEO of Canadian National Railway (NYSE: CNI) and Canadian Pacific Railway (NYSE: CP) in the company's top spot. In March, that move came to fruition, with Harrison becoming the CEO at CSX.

While CSX stock currently trades for a market-average 23 times forward earnings, Harrison's track record of efficient operation of another major rail line means that you might still have time to invest in CSX before missing the boat entirely.

A market leader in a market you barely knew existed

Tyler Crowe (Enviva Partners LP): I'm assuming that just about every investor out there would be interested in a company that has a dominant global market share, a contracted revenue stream for the next decade, and a massive dividend that yields 8% today. All of these things apply to wood pellet producer Enviva Partners, yet few investors have ever heard of the company. Based on its business model and recent performance, though, this looks like a company worth researching. 

Enviva is the world's largest manufacturer of wood pellets. Many people all too familiar with cold winters will recognize this as a major home heating product, but the big market for wood pellets is as a replacement for coal in power plants across Northern Europe and Japan. In certain parts of the world where renewable energy such as solar and wind aren't as economically feasible, biomass such as wood pellets makes for a viable alternative as it's an easy drop-in fuel that is more or less carbon neutral -- carbon absorbed by the trees farmed for pellets mostly offsets carbon burned.  

Enviva has captured this market rather well. Today, it is the world's largest supplier of wood pellets, and it is close to double the size of its largest U.S. competitor. Its supply contracts in place are for 100% or more of its production capacity over the next decade, giving it an incredibly reliable revenue stream that should translate to steady cash flows that will be returned to investors because of Enviva's master limited partnership structure. 

Granted, this is still a young company, and one thing that should make any investor nervous is a young company with plans to grow fast and pay generous dividends to investors. Very rarely can those two things happen at the same time, but the company seems to be managing the balance rather well with a modest debt profile. Enviva isn't getting much attention today, but with a business model like this, it might not take long before investors catch on.

10 stocks we like better than CSX
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Brian Stoffel has no position in any stocks mentioned. John Rosevear has no position in any stocks mentioned. Tyler Crowe has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Canadian National Railway. The Motley Fool recommends CSX. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.