These are tough times for investors. Most understand stocks are technically stretched thin and vulnerable to a pullback. And now that we're in the thick of earnings season, uncertainty comes with the territory. This time around, though, we're dealing with presidential election primaries against the backdrop of a coronavirus outbreak that may worsen before it's contained. China has been hit hard but has also injected some fiscal stimulus into its economy.
Given all the risks and the corresponding lack of clarity, this may be a time for investors to keep things simple and lean on big, familiar names that can weather almost any storm. THere are three top stocks for February, following a modest but not back-breaking lull from each.
Concerns about a global economic slowdown have been circulating for some time now, reaching a climax in September of last year when the interest rate yield curve was most inverted after moving in that direction for several months beforehand. That shift put pressure on financial names like JPMorgan Chase (JPM 2.98%), which would have suffered a proverbial double whammy. Not only would a recession crimp the underwriting, trading, and lending activity that drives the big banks' top and bottom lines, low interest rates make lending a less profitable business.
A funny thing happened on the road to destruction, though: nothing. The global economy has shrugged off the impact of the tariff war being fought between China and the United States, driving the initial fourth-quarter gross domestic product growth outlook to 2.1% versus expectations of only 1.8%.
JPMorgan shares have rallied well since early 2019, reflecting that strength. But, even so, the trailing P/E of 12.4 and its dividend yield of 2.7% say the market is still undervaluing this blue chip name.
In retrospect, Apple (AAPL 2.45%) shares were likely due for some profit-taking pressure anyway. While they snapped back from a short-term lull the day after it announced a nice Q4 revenue and earnings beat, they've since peeled back again -- one of the consequences of an unfettered 60% gain since early August. The 6% slide from its January peak, however, may well be enough to say this reliable winner is once again bargain-priced.
That's certainly no guarantee Apple shares have hit their absolute near-term bottom. The company still depends on China for technology components and for buyers, both of which have been disrupted by the coronavirus. Interest in its Apple TV+ service has also been disappointing, deflating optimism the company could continue to grow its digital services business at a strong double-digit pace.
Plenty of analysts remain unswayed though, including Wedbush's Matt Bryson. He wrote in response to newly raised concerns, "While China is a major part of our bull thesis and growth story of Apple for the coming 12 to 18 months, we do not view the impact of this virus epidemic as changing the numbers/merits behind the renaissance of growth in China for FY20/FY21."
Procter & Gamble
Finally, there's no denying Procter & Gamble (PG 1.44%) looked past the web's potential to disrupt every part of its consumer goods business. Once-iconic brand Gillette was easily stymied by the likes of smaller Dollar Shave Club, which simply packaged better value with a more charming story, and shoppers also fell out of love with Mom's preferred cleaning supplies, like P&G's Comet, opting for seemingly more eco-friendly cottage brands like Seventh Generation.
The internet also helped reshape the way (especially younger) consumers buy and learn about niche products, so much so that in 2015 P&G sold off several beauty product lines to focus on rebuilding its core product base for a brand-new kind of consumer. Many investors didn't think it could happen, however, chalking up Procter & Gamble as a has-been that's simply too far gone.
Now those investors have another thing coming. Although it's taken a while, CEO David Taylor seems to have steered the behemoth of a company back on track. Results have been buoyed by reworked packaging and smarter deals with retailers -- among other initiatives -- leading to last quarter's 15% growth in core earnings.
P&G shares haven't really gone anywhere since a huge rally stalled out in September of last year, when buyers finally stopped for a breather and to let the company's quarterly results catch up with the stock's price. After more than a four-month hiatus against a backdrop of steady 4% sales growth this year, though, a little market turbulence could actually make a safe-haven consumer goods play like Procter & Gamble all the more worthy.