What we're witnessing right now is truly unprecedented, both in mitigation response terms to the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and the roiling of financial markets around the globe.
As of March 15, this lung-focused illness had claimed the lives of nearly 5,800 people worldwide. Mitigation measures that would have seemed unimaginable even weeks ago to curb its spread are now commonplace in a number of developed countries. Italy, Spain, France, and Belgium are on a near-total lockdown, with select U.S. states having followed with mandated closures of restaurants and bars.
Coronavirus has also led to record-breaking volatility in financial markets. The 123-year-old Dow Jones Industrial Average screamed into bear market territory faster than any previous bear market, with the iconic index also recording seven of its nine largest single-session point declines in history (as well as its four largest single-session gains), through this past weekend.
Investors are clearly worried about the short-term impact coronavirus will have on the economy, but it's also opened the door to some very attractive valuations for high-quality companies. If you have a long-term mindset, then the following three stocks are absolutely no-brainer bear market buys.
First up is Alphabet (GOOG 2.93%) (GOOGL 2.80%), the company behind core brands such as Google, YouTube, and Google Cloud. There's no doubt that there could be some minor pullback in advertising dollars spent in the very short term, which is meaningful considering that advertising dollars (for all of Alphabet's assets) accounted for $134.8 billion of the $161.9 billion in revenue last year.
Nonetheless, Alphabet remains the kingpin when it comes to search engine and mobile ad-revenue dollars. Businesses know how important it is to rank highly on Google's search platform, which held close to 92% of all worldwide search market share at the beginning of 2020. Whether it's business as usual or consumers being stuck at home utilizing the internet and streaming their favorite shows, Alphabet's advertising platforms will continue to play a key role.
Also, don't overlook the importance of Alphabet's faster-growing operating segments. Google Cloud revenue more than doubled to $8.9 billion between 2017 and 2019, with YouTube ad revenue up 86% over the past two years. Cloud revenue is particularly meaningful given increased enterprise demand for data storage growth and the high margins associated with cloud operations.
Alphabet, which has been valued at an average price-to-cash-flow ratio of almost 18 over the past five years, is currently valued at a mere nine times Wall Street's estimated cash flow for the company in 2023. That's one heck of bargain, and a no-brainer buy in a coronavirus bear market.
Duke's business model is as boring as they come, and that's typically great news for investors during a bear market. Duke provides energy services to approximately 7.4 million customers, and natural gas to another 1.5 million people, with its generating capacity totaling more than 50,000 megawatts from its traditional and renewable energy sources. The thing about energy consumption is that it doesn't change a whole lot during a recession or bear market. This is what makes cash flow predictability so easy for utilities like Duke Energy.
Additionally, the vast majority of Duke's electricity-generating operations are regulated. This means Duke Energy can't just raise prices anytime it wants, but rather has to request rate hikes from state-level energy commissions. This might seem like a growth hindrance, but it's actually great news, because it means Duke isn't exposed to potentially wild fluctuations in the wholesale pricing market.
Investors also shouldn't discount the Fed pushing its federal funds target rate back to historic lows this past weekend. Utilities typically lean on debt to finance green energy projects. With borrowing costs cheapening, Duke is going to have the ability to make investments in clean energy that'll have a tangibly positive long-term impact on its energy-generating costs. As a basic-need service provider with a delectable 4.4% yield, Duke Energy fits the mold of a no-brainer buy right now.
Another solid investment to consider as coronavirus panic builds is rare-disease drug developer Alexion Pharmaceuticals (ALXN).
Even before COVID-19 was spreading, Alexion's investment thesis was rock-solid. Now it remains even more so. That's because many of the indications that the company's therapies target have such a small or specialized patient pool that competition is virtually nonexistent. About the only real threat for Alexion would be losing the patent exclusivity on its leading therapies. But even then there's a solution.
For years, Soliris has been Alexion's top-selling therapy. However, there had been concerns about possible generic entrants when Soliris lost its exclusivity. That's no longer a concern given that the company has introduced Ultomiris, a next-generation therapy that allows for injections to be administered to patients every eight weeks instead of every two weeks with Soliris. In time, it's likely that Ultomiris will replace many of these indications currently dominated by Soliris, and in the process secure Alexion's cash flow for a long time to come.
Just how cheap has the coronavirus bear market made Alexion? As of this past weekend, you could purchase Alexion for a little more than seven times this year's estimated profit per share, with sales and earnings growth likely expected to come in at the mid-to-high single digits through at least 2023. Not to sound like a broken record, but these figures make Alexion a no-brainer buy.