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Which of these growth stocks is best?

Image: Vodafone. Fair use.

Shares in Marshalls (LSE: MSLH) strode to their most expensive since May this morning after the release of positive full-year numbers. The stock was last 5% higher in Wednesday trade.

Marshalls announced that revenues ticked 3% higher in 2016 to £396.9m, a result that powered pre-tax profit 31% higher to £46m. And the landscaping products provider also benefitted from a healthy improvement in operating margins, these creeping to 12% from 9.7% a year earlier.

And recent evidence suggests that the market remains supportive for further growth.

Chief executive Martyn Coffey spoke of “underlying indicators remaining supportive in Marshalls’ main end markets” and that “sales and order intake have been strong in the first couple of months of 2017.”

Coffey added: “Marshalls has a strong balance sheet and the group’s innovative product range and strong market positions mean it is well placed to deliver continued growth and operational profit improvements as it implements its 2020 Strategy.” 

Marshalls has a long record of generating double-digit earnings growth, although the City expects the bottom line to grow at a more subdued rate in the medium term. Expansion of 3% and 9% is predicted for 2017 and 2018 respectively.

The business generates the lion’s share of revenues in here in Britain, and therefore is expected to endure some profits slowdown as the broader economy likely experiences rising turbulence in the months ahead.

Long-term investors may be encouraged by its ongoing resilience, as well as the potential of its 2020 Strategy that could keep earnings chugging higher through a variety of measures from increased product investment through to bolt-on acquisitions.

Having said that, today’s share price jolt leaves Marshalls dealing on a forward P/E rating of 17.1 times, a figure some could consider not cheap enough given the prospect of bottom-line pressure escalating quickly.

While there is certainly no need to press the panic button yet, I reckon investors should be prepared for increasingly-difficult trading conditions as we move through 2017.

Mobile master

Although sales at Vodafone (LSE: VOD) have been less impressive of late, I believe the telecoms giant has the necessary firepower to keep throwing out excellent earnings growth.

Vodafone saw organic service sales growth in Europe cool to 0.7% during October-December, while revenues rose just 3.9% in the Africa, Middle East and Asia Pacific (AMAP) region, due in no small part to rising competition in India.

But the business is addressing these issues through further investment in its global network, and remains active on the M&A front to maximise sales growth across all of its regions.

The Square Mile certainly expects profits at Vodafone to gather pace in the coming years, regardless of these near-term speed bumps. Indeed, a predicted 9% earnings rise during the year to March 2017 with advances of 18% and 33% in 2018 and 2019 respectively.

So while Vodafone deals on an elevated P/E rating of 31.4 times for the upcoming financial year, I consider this to be fair value given the huge growth opportunities created by its vast global presence, and in particular those of lucrative emerging markets.

The perfect growth stock

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Royston Wild has no position in any shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK has recommended Marshalls. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.