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With Coronavirus Hitting the Markets, These Are My 5 Highest-Conviction Holdings

By Brian Stoffel - Mar 12, 2020 at 7:30AM

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Got the fifth one? The current downturn may give you the opportunity to use it to get the other four at a discount.

In a perfect world, we would follow a strict schedule: We'd reevaluate every stock we held twice per year. That way, when a panic like the current one hit, we could rest assured knowing our money was exactly where we wanted it to be.

We don't live in that world, though. Reading to kids at night, doing chores after work, and just wanting to focus on other things -- they all get in the way. As a result, when a crisis does hit, we're usually a little late to this crucial task.

If that describes you, don't beat yourself up. I count myself in that crowd. Luckily, I found time to go through every one of my holdings. When I did, these were the five I had the most confidence in.

Dice spelling out "corona virus"

Image source: Getty Images

First, a definition: What "high-conviction" means to me

Before covering these five holdings, however, a quick word on what "high conviction" means to me.

It does not mean that I expect the stocks of these companies to buck the trend and go up should we enter a recession. Nor does it mean that I think these companies are immune to a slowdown (should that happen).

Instead, I have my eyes firmly set on 2046. That's the year I'll turn 65, and by then I'll likely have started drawing from my retirement fund. I don't really care what happens to my stocks in between now and then as much as where they are when that time comes. You can insert your own "anchor year" to get the same perspective.

I expect that these companies will not only survive this downturn (sparked by the novel coronavirus pandemic) but grow stronger over the long-run because of it. You can read more about my investing framework, which has tripled the market, to get a better idea of how that's possible.

With all that said, here are the holdings I have the most confidence in at the moment.

1. Shopify

Shopify (SHOP -10.58%) is a software-as-a-service company that helps just about anyone set up an e-commerce operation. The company has experienced extraordinary growth over the past five years as it has become the de-facto choice for small and medium-sized businesses. The business is protected by both network effects and high switching costs.

The business will no doubt suffer if we go into a recession -- a large portion of growth comes from "Merchant Solutions," which is based on the amount of stuff vendors sell using Shopify's platform. Any contraction will lower such spending.

But that doesn't bother me. Shopify has over $2.4 billion in cash on hand and no debt. The company was also free-cash-flow positive last year. If it finds it needs to tap on the reinvestment breaks, that cash flow could even grow during a recession. 

With a heavily invested founder/CEO leading the company in Tobi Lutke, I have full faith the company will be an even greater force 10 years from now.

2. Mercadolibre

Mercadolibre (MELI -6.84%) fell more than the market during the recent correction. That's not without reason: The company does most of its business in Latin America. The company started as a leading e-commerce specialist and has evolved to also have a powerful payment system.

The combination of a slowing global economy and the potential for an overwhelmed medical infrastructure has investors worried. Over the long run, however, don't count me among such bears. Yes, Mercadolibre will suffer -- perhaps dramatically -- in a global slowdown. But with a net cash (cash and investment minus debt) position of $2.3 billion, it will be fine. The company also brought in $314 million in free cash flow last year.

The real key is the fact that Mercadolibre will be able to leverage the position of Mercado Pago against rivals who don't have the same war chests to fall back on. 

3. Alphabet

You probably know Alphabet (GOOG -3.47%) (GOOGL -3.67%) better by its largest subsidiary: Google. You might not know it, but the company makes the vast majority of its money off of advertising. That's because it collects all the data it gathers and uses it to offer targeted ads.

And it has a lot of ways to gather that data. There are nine different tools in its app toolbox with over 1 billion active users: search, maps, Gmail, Android, Chrome, YouTube, Google Play Store, Google Docs, and Google Photos. Its low-cost data and high brand value have reached a scale only Facebook can rival.

I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Alphabet scoop up smaller, faster-growing companies on the cheap -- as it did with FitBit recently -- during a market downturn. That's the flexibility that $128 billion in net cash and free cash flow of $28 billion over the past year gives a company.

4. Amazon

For the past decade, I've held that Amazon (AMZN -1.57%) was my highest-conviction holding on the market. I hedged those bets a little last year when I thought the company was straying from its stated mission

That said, it's impossible to ignore how wide the company's multiple moats are:

  • Brand value: Amazon has the fourth-most valuable brand in the world, according to Forbes.
  • Network effects: As more people shop on the site, more third-party providers flock to the site -- which only draws in more buyers. It's a virtuous cycle.
  • High switching costs: Just try and find a better deal than Amazon Prime (hint: you won't).
  • Low-cost production: Amazon has over 300 fulfillment centers spread across the globe. Those centers allow the company to deliver packages quicker -- and at lower internal costs -- than anyone else can touch. 

As with Alphabet, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Amazon use a market swoon to move more aggressively into newer industries like pharmacies or delivery. 

5. Cash

Finally, there's cash. During a market swoon, there's nothing more valuable than cash. Due to a combination of prudence and dumb luck over the past year, my family's cash position has risen to 12%.

Former Fool Morgan Housel wrote a brilliant piece on the invaluable flexibility that cash gives you. You don't need to panic sell knowing you have cash on hand, and you can buy stocks at discounted prices. If you find yourself with extra cash in your account, start thinking about how you want to deploy it now.

Remember your "date"

In talking with friends who are panicked over falling 401(k) balances, I often urge them to remember: This isn't money they'll need to touch for years -- perhaps decades. Remember, my "date" is 2046. For many of you, that "date" is well into the future as well.

As Motley Fool co-founder David Gardner is fond of saying, "Stocks go down faster than they go up, but up more than they go down."

Stay invested and you'll remain exposed to stocks, the greatest wealth-building machine that's ever existed. Put your money behind these four stocks and your results could trounce those of the market.

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Stocks Mentioned

Alphabet Inc. Stock Quote
Alphabet Inc.
$2,126.75 (-3.67%) $-80.93, Inc. Stock Quote, Inc.
$2,112.61 (-1.57%) $-33.77
Mercadolibre, Inc. Stock Quote
Mercadolibre, Inc.
$746.73 (-6.84%) $-54.84
Alphabet Inc. Stock Quote
Alphabet Inc.
$2,138.15 (-3.47%) $-76.76
Shopify Inc. Stock Quote
Shopify Inc.
$349.94 (-10.58%) $-41.40

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

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