So the COVID-19 crisis has got the economy in shutdown mode. And investors are wondering: Now what?

Unless you have an immediate need for cash, there is no reason to panic and sell your stocks.

Since 1857, there have been 33 recessions, and we will have many more over the next century. The good news is that these economic slowdowns haven't lasted very long. In fact, recessions in the last half-century have been shorter on average compared to recessions prior to 1945. Over the last 75 years, the average duration of an economic downturn is 11 months. 

The economy always bounces back, which provides long-term investors with a chance to buy great companies at prices well below what they would sell for in a growing economy.

With that in mind, here are three great stocks you can buy today at discounted prices and hold for decades.

Hand drawing a red line pointing up and to the right on a graph.

Image source: Getty Images.

Essential technology for everyday life

Alphabet (GOOG -4.50%) (GOOGL -4.44%) has all the qualities of a business that will be around for decades. It is the second most valuable brand in the world, according to Brand Finance. It has services and apps that more than 1 billion people use every day, including Gmail, Maps, and YouTube. Plus, the company is extremely profitable, generating $31 billion in free cash flow last year, and it has $119 billion of cash sitting on the balance sheet. 

The stock looks like a good deal relative to most other blue chip stocks. The S&P 500 index currently trades at an operating price-to-earnings ratio of 19.5, whereas Alphabet trades at a ratio of 19 times operating earnings. Adjusting for Alphabet's huge cash hoard, the stock is even more attractive, trading at an operating P/E of just 15.9. 

You're basically getting Alphabet's faster rate of growth at a better valuation. Alphabet saw its revenue per share grow 19% in 2019, while the average weighted growth in sales per share for the S&P 500 was just 5.4%. I would much rather put my money in Alphabet stock than buy shares of an index fund right now.

There has been talk about more regulation of the tech giants, including Alphabet, but this is still a great stock to own. Google offers tremendous value to users, and the COVID-19 outbreak proves how important the company's talent and capabilities are to benefiting society.

Alphabet's "other bet" in life sciences, Verily, just launched Project Baseline, which is working to deliver COVID-19 testing in the San Francisco Bay area. Additionally, Google is partnering with the U.S. government to develop a website to help educate people about the virus. Google Maps and Search will also highlight which schools or local businesses are closed. 

There is a lot more Google is doing to help inform people about the COVID-19 crisis, which just highlights the company's staying power. Alphabet would be a great stock to add to your investments during the current market sell-off.

A growing entertainment juggernaut

Netflix (NFLX 0.70%) has had a phenomenal run over the last 10 years. The stock has returned about 3,000% for investors over that time, but there are still plenty of reasons to buy and hold the stock for decades. 

Netflix is the poster child of the digital streaming era. It finished 2019 with 167 million subscribers. That number might seem to indicate it is reaching saturation, but paid memberships were up 20% year over year in the fourth quarter, and most of its subscribers are now coming from international regions. There is really no reason to think Netflix can't hit 1 billion subscribers someday.

People love the service because of management's investments to build out an impressive collection of original movies and shows across every genre.

That spending has burned a hole in its pocket, with free cash flow at negative $3.3 billion in 2019. But management's plan is to "continually improve free cash flow each year" until it gets back to positive territory. 

With HBO, ViacomCBS, and NBCUniversal launching their own streaming services this year, investors will need to watch the competition's effect on Netflix, but the growing number of paying members and a content library that continuously gets refreshed with hits like The Crown and The Irishman indicates that Netflix will be a winner for a long time. Netflix can survive the coronavirus scare and continue growing for decades.

The world's top footwear brand is on sale

The temporary pause in consumer spending is creating a real bargain in Nike (NKE -1.03%) stock. The company has a fast-growing digital business, but it is still very dependent on selling lots of sneakers and apparel at brick-and-mortar stores. Once the virus fades away, this top consumer brand will be a rewarding investment from current levels for decades to come.

The stock was selling at a forward P/E ratio of about 36 times analysts' earnings estimates before the market downturn. Now, it sells for 23 times earnings estimates. Of course, those estimates are going to change due to the shutdown of stores across the country, but it still gives us a barometer of how cheap the shares are compared to where they would trade in a normal consumer-spending environment.

This is a top sneaker brand that was delivering solid revenue and earnings growth in recent quarters. In the fiscal second quarter, earnings surged 35% year over year, thanks to ongoing work by the management team to improve margins. 

Of course, the most important thing you want a company to have in order to survive a recession is a strong balance sheet. Nike can weather the storm, with $3.5 billion in cash, which is enough to offset its debt. Revenue and earnings will take a hit in the short term, but this iconic brand will recover and continue growing, as it's done for the last 50 years. 

I bought some shares of Nike recently and believe this is one of the best deals in the retail industry right now.