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5 Stocks to Buy in the Mighty Middle

Aaron Levitt

This is now the second time in roughly a year that actress Elizabeth Banks — and the marketing team at State Street — has told us to pay attention to the “middle.” And yet, most of us continue to ignore her siren call about mid-cap stocks, which is a huge shame because she happens to be right. Mid-cap stocks and ETFs like the SPDR S&P MidCap 400 ETF (NYSEArca:MDY) are darn good for your portfolio.

It turns out that mid-cap stocks fall right in the sweet spot for long-term growth. They aren’t too big that their best days are behind them. At the same time, they are just big enough to survive economic duress and downturns. Many of the brands and services we use day-to-day are actually performed by mid-cap companies. Add in their higher rates of dividend growth and you have a recipe for long-term success.

Just how much success? Mid-cap stocks, roughly defined as companies between $2 billion and $10 billion in market capitalization, have managed to produce an extra 753% cumulative return over small-caps since the 1990s. And they’ve done so with less overall volatility. Meanwhile, mid-caps have managed to outperform their larger rivals as well over that time period.

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The reality is, mid-cap stocks offer the perfect blend of growth and stability that many investors need. We should listen to Banks’ advice and head towards the middle. Mid-caps really are that great for our portfolio’s health. With that, here are five mid-cap stocks that could be great additions to your investments.


Mighty Mid-Cap Stocks to Buy: Zebra Technologies (ZBRA)

There’s a good chance that you’ve never heard of Zebra Technologies (NASDAQ:ZBRA). But I can guarantee if you’ve ever been shopping at some point in your life — either online or in-store — your purchase has interacted with their products.

Mighty Mid-Cap Stocks to Buy: Zebra Technologies (ZBRA)

Source: The DEMO Conference via Flickr

ZBRA makes all sorts of barcode scanners, printers, RFID labels, software, and other inventory tracking gear. All of their products are a must-have for retailers looking to ship and stock their shelves. And even more so in the world of omnichannel retailing.

With consumers wanting their goods when and how they want them, inventory tracking has become even more important. For Zebra, that’s meant a surge in sales. Year-over-year, ZBRA managed to see an 8.9% jump in revenues for its latest quarter. This continues a long trend of higher sales. Even better is a shift towards more high-margin software that has helped boost profits by 75% year-over-year.

But e-commerce and omnichannel retail sales aren’t the only way Zebra is winning. The firm’s products are quickly being demanded by hospitals, food producers and other industries as regulations and safety concerns require intense tracking of goods. The addition of IoT products to its mix is also helping. With that, ZBRA has plenty of room to grow over the long haul.

With plenty of cash flows, a new $1 billion buyback program and growth on the horizon, ZBRA is a wonderful mid-cap stock to buy today.


Paycom (PAYC)

Cloud computing, software as a service (SaaS) and other off-site applications have taken the world by storm. And while there are plenty of larger firms dominating the space, there are many mid-cap stocks winning in the cloud. Case in point: Paycom (NASDAQ:PAYC).

PAYC is a perfect example of what the cloud is really good for: automating and performing boring tasks for customers. In this case, it’s a variety of human resources functions. Through its suite of applications, Paycom allows HR departments to hire, develop, pay and manage benefits for employees. On the flip side, employees can use PAYC’s apps to request time off, enroll in retirement plans, fill in timesheets, etc. Often these tasks can be done via smartphone.

The key for PAYC, unlike rival Workday (NASDAQ:WDAY), is that the firm has moved down the ladder in terms of client size. We’re talking mom-and-pop businesses to medium-sized firms with a couple hundred employees. This focus has allowed Paycom some great retention rates and growth.

Last quarter, PAYC realized a big 31% jump in revenues as it continues to hook more customers and move existing ones into other products. And unlike many smaller cloud stocks, Paycom is profitable — realizing a 37% jump in EPS year-over-year.

With plenty of ways to add growth and additional customers, PAYC is a prime example of how mid-cap stocks can be used to fuel growth in a portfolio.


National Retail Properties (NNN)

Sure, many malls across the country are dying a slow death. But not all retail real estate is suffering. Just take a look at your local Taco Bell, bank branch, or Jiffy Lube. These free-standing buildings offer a huge opportunity for mid-cap stock investors — especially when they are owned by National Retail Properties (NYSE:NNN).

NNN owns a huge portfolio of these free-standing buildings and centers — nearly 3045 to be exact. The win for NNN and its shareholders is that these properties fall under the guise of triple-net leased properties. Here, the tenant is responsible for the payment of taxes, maintenance and other fees associated with renting the property. For landlords, the removal of these extra costs results in a much bigger rent check and profit margin per property. And with its size, National Retail has been able to feast on this fact throughout its history. With its better cash flows, the firm has one of the longest streaks of dividend growth — 29 years straight — among all REITs. Currently, NNN yields a healthy 3.6%.

The future looks bright for NNN. The vast bulk of its tenants include LA Fitness gyms, 7-Eleven, and Wendy’s (NYSE:WEN) franchises. We’re talking about internet-proof retail operations. This will continue to boost NNN’s occupancy rates and keep the cash flowing towards investors.


Bio-Rad Laboratories (BIO)

During the gold rush, the people who made the most money weren’t the miners themselves, but the stores that provided all the picks and shovels. Today’s gold rush could be biotech and healthcare researchers. One of the best mid-cap stocks providing the “picks and shovels” happens to be Bio-Rad Laboratories (NYSE:BIO).

BIO may not be as well known to investors as rivals Thermo-Fisher (NYSE:TMO) or Illumina (NASDAQ:ILMN), but its products do find their way into a variety of both public and private research labs. This includes everything from instruments costing tens of thousands of dollars to one-time use consumables and reagents. The combination of products, both advanced and basic, has continued to benefit BIO over its history. Last year, sales at the firm rose 5% as more drug and universities plowed some hefty dollars into research.

And that fact doesn’t show any signs of slowing. Continued life sciences spending is expected to surge over the next few years by an annual rate of 6% as scientists tackle hard to treat illnesses and diseases.

This will only help boost BIO’s strong pace of growth further. Add in recent wins on the margins front and product additions to its digital life sciences/software segments, and you’re looking a great mid-cap stock to own for the long haul.


Domino’s Pizza (DPZ)

Is it a pizza joint or the latest tech start-up full of innovation? For Domino’s Pizza (NYSE:DPZ), its looking more like the latter than the former. DPZ has transformed itself over the last few years as it has taken tech spending to a whole new level. The restaurant was one of the first in the sector to offer online ordering. Since that day in 2007, DPZ hasn’t looked back.

These days, Domino’s offers a whole suite of digital tools to make ordering its food easier. This builds on its AnyWare technology. AnyWare allows customers to order a pizza from 15 different methods, including their phone, from their car via Ford (NYSE:F) Sync, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG, NASDAQ:GOOGL) Home devices and even Slack (NASDAQ:WORK) while at the office. And it continues to add more capabilities to the platform. Moreover, it has rolled out new apps including a one-click system that purchases a customer’s normal pizza order in 10 seconds.

As a result, DPZ has seen sales surge with digital ordering now making up roughly two-thirds of its sales.

Now rivals are starting to move into DPZ’s territory with new online ordering and applications. However, DPZ continues to innovate and first-mover status still has it coming out ahead in the pizza wars.

For investors seeking mid-cap stocks, Domino’s could be a great “tech” play.

At the time of writing, Aaron Levitt did not hold a position in any stock mentioned.

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