Household names that we all interact with every day dominate the list of America's largest companies. Businesses like Microsoft, Amazon, and Johnson & Johnson have embedded themselves in society, and shareholders benefit from that stability and growth.
However, not all businesses we rely on are that easily recognizable. Though many users have never heard of them, their services are nonetheless commonplace, and their stocks could be worth a look. Three such companies are Twilio (NYSE: TWLO), Kinder Morgan (NYSE: KMI), and Criteo (NASDAQ: CRTO). Here's what they do, and why they should be on investors' radar.
The communications service you've never heard of
Nicholas Rossolillo (Twilio): Twilio isn't a mobile-phone company or an internet service provider, nor is it a social media site. Though the average person has never heard of it and its communications services don't fall into the "traditional" category, Twilio has helped a multitude of businesses better interact with customers. Here's how it works: Twilio runs an extensive library of communications APIs (procedures that tell an app how to work) for software developers. In that virtual toolkit are are functions for everything from voice and text to email and video, to help businesses upgrade how they stay in touch with clients and potential customers.
Twilio's users are diverse. Airbnb uses the toolkit to operate automated text messages for accommodation bookings; Hulu used the service to create a flexible call center for customers; and Intuit (the company behind TurboTax and QuickBooks) uses Twilio to secure online account access. The list goes on, so chances are you've been a frequent user of Twilio when interacting with companies.
Besides enabling new forms of communication, Twilio's business model also makes it an intriguing investment. As a cloud-based software service, its revenue is recurring, making for a stable and highly profitable operation. Full-year 2018 sales grew 63%, including a 77% increase in the fourth quarter. Dollar-based net expansion (which measures business with existing customers) was up 147% -- implying that Twilio's customers are using the service a lot more than a year ago.
As a high-growth and not-yet-profitable concern, Twilio isn't for everyone. However, for those looking at the long term, it might be a worthy purchase as the company makes more inroads into everyday communications.
A tollbooth operator on the energy superhighway
Chuck Saletta (Kinder Morgan): Do you drive a typical vehicle or take a bus powered by natural gas or gasoline? Do you use natural gas to cook, heat your home, or heat your water? Does your electric utility use natural gas as part of its energy mix? As if that weren't ubiquitous enough: Do you use anything plastic -- which is often made from oil or natural gas?
If the answer to any of those questions is "Yes", and you're in America, then chances are remarkably good that you've used something that has passed through Kinder Morgan's hands at some point. Kinder Morgan is one of the largest energy infrastructure companies in North America. It moves oil, refined oil products, natural gas, carbon dioxide, and more through its 84,000 miles of pipelines and more than 150 terminals.
Image source: Getty Images.
That large footprint in such a critical industry makes Kinder Morgan a company you probably use every day, without even realizing it. From an investment perspective, what also makes it potentially attractive is that it largely operates as an energy tollbooth: It extracts fees from virtually everything that passes through its infrastructure, regardless of the current market price of any particular energy commodity. In fact, around 90% of its earnings comes from fee-based or "take or pay" activities.
While Kinder Morgan did over-leverage itself in 2015, forcing it to slash its dividend, the company used the freed-up cash flow from that cut to strengthen its balance sheet. It has since begun restoring its dividend, and expects to deliver 25% dividend increases in both 2019 and 2020. All told, despite that mid-decade stumble, Kinder Morgan remains a strong business that likely touches your life every day, whether you realize it or not.
The unseen digital advertiser
Daniel Miller (Criteo): Unless you've been living under a rock, you've likely been surfing the internet on your smartphone or computer -- and that means the chances that you've interacted with Criteo are high. If you haven't heard of the company, Criteo is a leading advertising technology company in the digital marketplace.
Essentially, its engine allows advertising companies to launch multichannel and cross-device marketing campaigns. In other words, Criteo lets advertisers retarget users who have interacted with their websites and then left before making a purchase. Do you recall advertisements of products that you've recently researched popping up as you surf the internet a week later? Criteo, and companies like it, are how and why that happens.
2018 was a rough year for companies relying on user data to generate revenue, and Criteo has shed roughly 12% of its value over the past twelve months. However, the rough year forced the company to transform from relying on pay-per-click targeted ads into other forms of payment, and product solutions such as in-app advertisements. Another example of its transformation was Criteo's acquisition of Storetail, which enables the company to deliver data-driven ads for client websites, in addition to, or in place of, ads on the open internet.
The good news is that Criteo's transformation is gaining traction. Shares jumped earlier this month after the company reported better-than-expected fourth-quarter results, with revenue excluding traffic acquisition costs (ex-TAC) well above guidance. The company also increased its number of clients by 7% compared to the prior year, to roughly 19,500, and it boasts a healthy retention rate of 90%. If you're looking for more proof that Criteo has expanded beyond its pay-per-click model, the company noted that 13% of its clients are using at least two of its advertising solutions, up from the prior year's 4% level.
You may not notice your interactions with Criteo, but more and more companies are using its services to reconnect with you. If it continues to cross-sell its clients, and develop more advertising solutions, it could be poised for a rebound.
More From The Motley Fool
- 10 Best Stocks to Buy Today
- 3 Stocks That Are Absurdly Cheap Right Now
- 5 Warren Buffett Principles to Remember in a Volatile Stock Market
- The $16,728 Social Security Bonus You Cannot Afford to Miss
- The Must-Read Trump Quote on Social Security
- 10 Reasons Why I'm Selling All of My Apple Stock
John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. Teresa Kersten, an employee of LinkedIn, a Microsoft subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors.
Chuck Saletta owns shares of Kinder Morgan and MSFT and has the following options: long January 2020 $20 calls on Kinder Morgan, short January 2020 $20 puts on Kinder Morgan, and short June 2019 $17 puts on Kinder Morgan. Daniel Miller has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Nicholas Rossolillo owns shares of JNJ and MSFT. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends AMZN, INTU, Kinder Morgan, and Twilio. The Motley Fool owns shares of MSFT. The Motley Fool recommends Criteo. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.