CNBC’s Jim Cramer is always on the lookout for the market’s most powerful secular trends, so the rise of electric vehicles wasn’t exactly lost on him.
There’s just one problem.
“When one of these themes gets big enough, when people realize it truly represents a major secular shift, a tectonic shift, in consumer behavior like we’re now seeing with electric cars, the direct beneficiaries of that trend,” like electric automaker Tesla, “often see their stocks trade up to nosebleed levels,” the “Mad Money” host said.
That’s why, rather than herding eager investors into the “cult stock” that is Tesla, Cramer went hunting for the best ancillary plays, the hidden winners of the rapidly evolving trend.
The big picture behind electric vehicles is relatively straightforward: as more and more consumers balk at the idea of pumping fossil fuels into the atmosphere, oil prices tick up and countries lay out plans to eventually ban combustion engines, electric cars present themselves as a greener and cheaper way to get around.
In 2016, over 750,000 plug-in electric vehicles were sold globally, a 40 percent rise from 2015. In the meantime, automakers from A to Z are racing to release all-electric models by the 2020s.
“It seems like the whole industry wants to jump on the electric bandwagon,” Cramer said. “In short, it’s a really powerful secular trend and I’ve got to find some stocks to help you play it … besides Tesla.”
That’s where lithium-producing chemical companies like Albemarle and FMC come in. Lithium is an essential ingredient to the rechargeable batteries in electric cars.
But while the battery in a laptop might use an ounce of lithium, electric car batteries need over 100 pounds of the stuff, making companies with dedicated lithium divisions like Albemarle and FMC highly attractive for those who believe in the trend.
“FMC and Albemarle certainly aren’t as cheap as they used to be,” Cramer said, calling Albemarle’s valuation of 26 times next year’s earnings estimates “nosebleed.”
Cramer said FMC’s valuation was “a little more reasonable” at 18 times next year’s earnings. All in all, while Albemarle has more lithium exposure, FMC’s stock is cheaper and the company has a strong agricultural business to boot, he said.
“I would bet the stock keeps climbing,” Cramer said of FMC. “You can buy it here.”
Separately, Cramer found chemical company PPG to be just as good a play. The company makes specialty coatings that insulate car batteries to keep them from overheating or catching fire, a business that CEO Michael McGarry told Cramer was bigger than people might think.
“Here’s the bottom line: when you find a powerful secular growth trend like electric cars, you stick with it,” the “Mad Money” host said. “That’s why I still FMC up here, Albemarle works on a pullback, and PPG? Let’s just call it a plain buy, buy, buy.”
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