In This Pandemic, These 5 Stocks Are My Highest-Conviction Holdings

Laveta Brigham

The coronavirus pandemic may have been somewhat brought under control this summer, but this winter it’s back and bigger than ever. The number of new daily cases diagnosed within the U.S. just hit yet another record, spurring chatter of another round of shutdowns. In fact, some new mandated restrictions are […]

The coronavirus pandemic may have been somewhat brought under control this summer, but this winter it’s back and bigger than ever. The number of new daily cases diagnosed within the U.S. just hit yet another record, spurring chatter of another round of shutdowns. In fact, some new mandated restrictions are already in place across much of the country. It remains to be seen how much — or even if — these measures will crimp the economy.

Given the uncertainty ahead, investors may want to consider stocking up on names that are unlikely to be impacted by this headwind. In fact, a handful of companies may be able to benefit from the pandemic’s fallout. Here are my top five picks that fit that description.

Woman's hand placing 5 gold stars on a board.

Image source: Getty Images.

1. Walmart

Although its roots aren’t in the grocery business, more than half of Walmart‘s (NYSE:WMT) revenue comes from sales of food. That technically makes the retailer the country’s biggest grocer. It’s also a grocery powerhouse outside of the U.S.

This revenue mix matters. Consumers may skip a vacation or postpone the purchase of a new car. But they always need to buy food.

And Walmart has certainly taken measures to make itself the easy choice when shopping online. TABS Analytics reported in August that Walmart had surpassed Amazon in online grocery shopping market share, largely reflecting numbers from research outfit Escalant published in May, indicating the retailer had served more online grocery shoppers within the prior two months than any other name.

In other words, offering curbside pickup at the majority of its 5,300+ U.S. stores has proven to be a very big deal. Underscoring the idea is the fact that last quarter’s e-commerce sales for Walmart grew 79% year over year.

Being big has its clear benefits.

2. PayPal

It’s not the only way to make a payment for an online purchase, but PayPal (NASDAQ:PYPL) is certainly one of the world’s most preferred ways to do so. Within the U.S., PayPal has historically been not too far behind cash, checks, and credit/debit cards as a means of buying goods and services, and well ahead of comparable options like Apple Pay. It’s also the single most trusted name within the digital wallet arena, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence, scoring nearly three times as well as its next-nearest competitor, Chase. It even outranked well-established brands Visa and MasterCard in the survey.

This bears out in the numbers. Visa’s revenue fell 17% during the quarter ending in September, while MasterCard’s slumped 14%. Conversely, PayPal’s top line grew 25% year over year on a 38% increase in the total volume of payments it processed during the three-month stretch ending in September.

3. Comcast

Yep, cable giant Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) lost a bunch more cable subscribers last quarter. A total of 273,000 Comcast customers cut the cord during this latest three-month stretch, bringing the two-year attrition tally to nearly 2 million households. Meanwhile, its Universal film arm has been stymied by theater closures and filming shutdowns, while the cancellation of most professional sports earlier this year has taken a toll on its various NBC networks.

But too often missing from the conversation about Comcast, the impact of cord-cutting, and this year’s pandemic is the fact that these media operations aren’t the only thing this company does. Broadband service alone accounts for nearly one-fifth of Comcast’s revenue, and the company picked up another 633,000 of these high-speed internet customers during the third quarter. Meanwhile, Europe’s cable TV and streaming brand Sky supplies another fifth of Comcast’s top line, and its revenue improved 5% last quarter. NBCUniversal’s new streaming service Peacock also now boasts nearly 22 million subscribers, opening up another revenue alternative to Comcast’s shrinking cable business and temporarily crimped film business.

The point being, this company has lots of ways to do well, even in this challenging environment.

4. Microsoft

All of the companies highlighted so far have been consumer-oriented, offering solutions that either work around the pandemic’s problems or thrive because of them. Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) is a clear exception to this bigger theme. It’s aimed at enterprise customers, whether that means office productivity software or cloud computing solutions.

The underlying idea is the exact same, however. Your average corporation may forego an acquisition or postpone the purchase of an asset until the economy is on a firmer footing. But it needs to create spreadsheets and maintain its data centers, regardless of the cost.

To this end, Office 365 Commercial revenue grew 21% year over year for the quarter ending in September, while server products and cloud services sales improved 22%. Microsoft’s Xbox video gaming content and services business saw a 30% boost in sales this past quarter. Companies and consumers alike are clearly unwilling to do without what the software giant brings to the table.

5. Big Lots

Finally, discount retailer Big Lots (NYSE:BIG) has earned a spot on my high-conviction list for as long as the pandemic persists — and perhaps even after it’s over.

In terms of size, it’s at the opposite end of the spectrum as Walmart. Indeed, with a market cap of only $2 billion and a little over 1,400 stores in operation, Big Lots is markedly smaller than rivals like Dollar General or Ollie’s Bargain Outlet.

This smaller size, however, may be working to its advantage.

Case in point: Big Lots was one of the first names to respond to the coronavirus when it made landfall in the U.S. back in February, rolling out curbside pickup at most of its stores before the end of March. In the meantime, Big Lots added nationwide same-day delivery of goods ordered online from a local Big Lots store. Dollar General still doesn’t offer curbside pickup, and Ollie’s doesn’t even offer online shopping.

Though it’s not a big company, Big Lots is thinking and acting like one. That may be part of the reason sales skyrocketed 31% year over year for the quarter ending in early August, more than quintupling net income.

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