Labor Day is in the rearview mirror, and summer will officially end a little later this month. And after swooning for the first half of the year, the stock market really heated up over the summer. Since July 1, the S&P 500 has gained 7% in total returns, a sharp recovery for a market that was on track to lose value as late as early May.
But even with all the market's recent gains, there are still great stocks worth buying right now. These Motley Fool contributors have identified five stocks to consider right now: CenturyLink Inc. (NYSE:CTL), Brookfield Property Partners LP (NASDAQ:BPY), Axon Enterprise Inc. (NASDAQ:AAXN), Kinder Morgan Inc. (NYSE:KMI), and Control4 Corp. (NASDAQ:CTRL).
Whether you're looking for value, income, growth, or just the best stock you can find, one or more of these picks might be perfect for your portfolio.
From turnaround to value
Jason Hall (CenturyLink): I'm not going to argue that telecom giant CenturyLink is without risk. Its stock still trades low enough that the dividend yield is very close to 10% at recent prices.
But over the past couple of quarters, the company has started to prove that its acquisition of Level 3 Communications really will work out well, and deliver big per-share cash flows growth as the company drives down expenses. On the most recent earnings call, management claimed it has already reached $675 million in annualized cost reductions, and still expects to reach a total of $850 million in cost savings as it combines its operations.
And it's not just cost-cutting. There's growth potential, too. CenturyLink is now the biggest enterprise-focused telecom in the U.S., and this business should grow while its consumer offerings become more focused on higher-speed, higher-profit broadband services.
While things have certainly improved and it appears CenturyLink's dividend is safe, there is some risk to consider. The company's debt is at about $37 billion, and if the Level 3 integration doesn't fully pay off with both lower expenses and steadily improving cash flows, management may have to make some hard capital allocation decisions.
But I think the market has priced in that risk, with shares trading at 8.2 times free cash flow and 3.5 times cash from operations, far cheaper than telecom dividend stalwarts Verizon and AT&T.
With so much progress already, CenturyLink is quickly moving from turnaround to deep value.
A low-risk way to earn a big-time total return
Matt DiLallo (Brookfield Property Partners): Real estate giant Brookfield Property Partners is a compelling investment option to consider this month because it offers a high-yield dividend and visible growth for a cheap price. Those three factors give the real estate partnership the potential to generate lucrative total returns over the next several years.
In Brookfield's estimation, it can grow its cash flow per share at an 8% to 11% annual pace through 2021. Driving that forecast are rising rents on its existing properties, incremental income from the nearly $6 billion of development projects it has underway around the world, and its continued ability to trade up into higher-value properties. That outlook has led Brookfield to forecast that it can increase its 6.2%-yielding distribution to investors at a 5% to 8% annual pace through 2021. Those two factors alone have the potential to generate total annual returns of as much as 20% over that time frame.
However, on top of that, Brookfield currently trades well below the market value of its real estate. The company estimates that its portfolio is worth around $29 per unit, which is above its current $20 per unit price. Add the upside as that value disconnect narrows over time, and Brookfield could potentially generate total annual returns of more than 25% over the next several years. That upside potential from such a low-risk investment makes Brookfield a top stock to consider buying this month.
Profit from the future of law enforcement
Brian Stoffel (Axon Enterprises): Axon Enterprises is better known by its former name: TASER International. While the eponymous stun guns are still an important part of the business, the name change highlights the growing significance of body cameras and the Evidence.com software-as-a-service tool.
The company has three traits that should make any growth investor salivate. First and foremost, it has monopolies in the industries it's in. That has long been the case in the stun gun business, but with the acquisition of Vievu, its only major body camera competitor, it has an additional sandbox all to itself.
Second, even if competition does arrive, Axon has two powerful moats. The first comes from high switching costs. If a police department were to transfer its footage away from Evidence.com, it would not only cost a bundle, but it would force the entire department to retrain with a new interface and risk losing vital footage.
Increasingly, Axon is also benefiting from the network effect. Footage can be shared across agencies and jurisdictions easily -- so long as both are using Evidence.com. This further incentivizes departments not using the platform to join.
Furthermore, perhaps most exciting are the opportunities to expand Axon's total addressable market. The company will be rolling out a records management systems in 2019 that aims to cut police paperwork dramatically. The opportunity is huge -- management believes it's the biggest slice of what could be a $6.5 billion pie.
The company already accounts for 6% of my real-life holdings. With a market capitalization of just $3.9 billion, there's still lots of room for this stock to grow.
A giant asset sale that will free up capital and drive focus
Chuck Saletta (Kinder Morgan): The toughest pill to swallow is sometimes what's best for long-term health. In the case of energy pipeline giant Kinder Morgan, the company's Canadian subsidiary just approved the sale of its Trans Mountain pipeline and its related expansion project to the Canadian government. While much of its Canadian growth had been tied to that particular pipeline, the reality is that escalating costs and court challenges had made it more of a hassle than it was worth.
Although it's painful to lose that pipeline and its expansion capacity, Kinder Morgan still has pockets of growth domestically that it can now better focus on. These include some unique synergies that only an infrastructure titan like Kinder Morgan could pull off.
For instance, one of those projects, the Elba liquefaction project, will allow it to move and export 350 million cubic feet per day of natural gas. Another is the Bakken Missouri River Crossing project, which will enable it to capture 130 million cubic feet per day of natural gas that would otherwise be flared. In other words, in one project, it can bring on line what is effectively enough new domestic natural gas capacity to recover more than a third of what it'll be exporting through another project.
The loss of revenue from the existing Trans Mountain pipeline will certainly sting. On the flip side, reducing the money spent on a project with high uncertainty and escalating costs will let Kinder Morgan put more of its efforts toward projects with higher likelihood of success. With that overhang of uncertainty now gone, investors may finally warm up to the strong operating business the company still has going for it.
A "smart" investment
Daniel Miller (Control4): Over the past decade, there's been incredible growth in the number of connected smart devices in homes across the world. The products and solutions vary from energy efficiency, home safety, entertainment, among many other categories, but despite a plethora of devices, the market is a long way away from seamlessly connected home solutions. That's where Control4 comes in: a leader in solutions for the connected home with professionally installed systems that can unify hundreds of devices. For investors, September looks like a good time to look at the company for two reasons: Business is already booming, and it's exploring ways to expand its brand image and awareness.
Despite being a young company -- Control4 went public in 2013 -- it's already profitable and boasts a balance sheet with no debt. And business is good: It set record revenue and net income during the second quarter. As the number of connected devices in homes continue to increase, the company is positioned to accelerate its top-line growth. As of now, Control4 estimates that it has only 1.5% market penetration of U.S. households, and the international opportunity remains a large future catalyst.
Another reason for a deeper dive into the company was its announcement earlier this summer to open 140 Control4 certified showrooms at authorized dealer locations across the U.S., China, Australia, U.K., and Canada. This is an incredible opportunity for dealers to showcase how Control4 products can streamline devices in a home, impress consumers, and generate more effective sales leads -- not to mention expand its brand awareness.
It's difficult to predict long-term trends, but it's a solid bet that the number of connected devices and smart homes will only go up. As a young and profitable company with no debt and a long-term vision to capitalize on the growth of smart homes, Control4 deserves a closer look.