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About to Buy Penny Stocks? Look at These 3 Companies First

By Taylor Carmichael - Mar 30, 2020 at 1:27PM

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Here are three stocks that are all down over 60% thanks to COVID-19. Will they bounce back?

High-risk investors should forget about penny stocks, those micro-caps that are perpetually small. In a market that's been crushed by the COVID-19 pandemic, it's a wonderful time to buy major companies that have fallen down into small-cap territory. If you think (as I do) that our society is over-reacting to the coronavirus, there are some amazing opportunities to make money right now.

What companies have been hit the hardest? Well, let's flip that question around. What companies are relatively immune to COVID-19? And the answer is e-commerce retailers and stay-at-home stocks. Think of stocks like ShopifyAmazon, or Netflix. Shopify is up 13% in 2020, Amazon is up 3%, and Netflix is up 9%. That's pretty good in the middle of a stock market meltdown! 

So if the stay-at-home stocks are doing all right, what's getting killed? That's right, the out-of-the-house stocks. For instance, Booking Holdings is down 36% in 2020 (worse than the market). That's because people aren't traveling. The real deep value stocks right now are in hotels, restaurants, cruise lines, and airlines. These stocks have been pounded. But the underlying companies are otherwise sound, and the hit should be temporary. Here are three such stocks that ought to skyrocket once the COVID-19 self-quarantine is over:

Beach resort

Image source: Park Hotels & Resorts

1. Park Hotels & Resorts (down 66% in 2020)

As of March 30, shares of Park Hotels & Resorts (PK 2.29%) are trading around $9 a share and down about 73% from their 52-week highs. And yet the stock is up 78% from lows set just two weeks earlier. So, yes, this high-class spin-off from Hilton Worldwide is a highly volatile stock right now. 

On Feb. 27, the company reported fourth-quarter earnings and CEO Tom Baltimore described the COVID-19 effect on the hotel chain as "minimal." That status rapidly changed, with a wave of cancellations at all the hotels in the following week. On March 9, the company withdrew its guidance for the year. On March 16, the company announced some hotels would be temporarily closed and the dividend would probably be suspended at some point. On the plus side, the company has $1.3 billion of liquidity to get it through this rough patch.   

With all these travel bans and stay-at-home orders around the world, investors should probably assume that the Park hotels will be largely empty over the next few weeks. Indeed, this damage has already been priced into the stock.

If you think COVID-19 is a world-changing event and self-quarantine is the new normal, avoid this stock like the plague. But if you think it is highly likely that the health emergency will end, and we'll all go back to regular activity, then this stock is a fantastic candidate to rebound to previous levels.

2. Ruth's Hospitality Group (down 67.5% in 2020)

Ruth's Hospitality (RUTH 6.12%), the home to the Ruth's Chris steakhouse chain, has had a severe haircut thanks to COVID-19. The stock is down nearly 74% from 52-week highs.

In a normal world, this is a fantastic stock -- the No. 2 restaurant stock of the last decade, behind only Domino's Pizza. It's been a better stock than Starbucks, McDonald's, and Chipotle Mexican Grill.

It's a high-end steakhouse, the sort of restaurant that gets killed in bad economic times, like the real estate crash back in 2007-09. So that's how this restaurant chain made a 10-bagger for its investors over a decade -- it was working off a low base. 

How will it do in the current crisis? There are reasons to be optimistic. The company has $71 million in cash to weather this storm. While the chain has had to temporarily close 23 of its restaurants, the rest of its steak houses (over 130) will transition into delivery and take-out. The company has also suspended its dividend and has cut capital expenditures this year by $35 million.      

Investors now have the opportunity to buy into a premier steakhouse chain at a very low price. Ruth's was trading at over $23 a share a month ago. Today shares change hands at $6.50. (It was a little over $4 a share on March 20.)  

3. Royal Caribbean (down 68% in 2020)

Like these other two stocks, Royal Caribbean (RCL 10.52%) has been highly volatile. Back in January, the stock was trading at $135 a share. It dropped all the way to $19.25 last week. Now it's trading around $29 a share.  

Of course, cruise lines have been hit particularly hard by COVID-19. If a passenger carries the disease onto a ship, a large number of people can become infected, and the cruise can turn into a nightmare experience. That's what happened on the Diamond Princess, a ship belonging to Carnival, and just one of a few examples of this occurring in the past few months.  

The stock price dramatically increased last week --  along with the rest of the market -- because of optimism over the $2 trillion stimulus package. However, on Friday the stock crashed again as the cruise industry found out that it will be shut out of any bailout relief.

Why no money for the cruise lines? Royal Caribbean is not actually an American company. While it's based in Miami, the company is incorporated in Liberia, in part to avoid paying U.S. income taxes. So it's unlikely that Washington D.C. will be sending the corporation a check any time soon. Investors who want to buy shares should probably wait and see if the stock continues to sink. Royal Caribbean has canceled all cruises until May 12.

The company now has $3.6 billion in cash and credit lines to weather this storm. Is that enough? It really depends on how serious a threat COVID-19 is. All three of these stocks are being killed because of this fear. If the fear is justified, the stocks have a lot further to drop. If, however, our culture is overestimating the danger of COVID-19, all three of these stocks will quickly recover.

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Taylor Carmichael owns shares of Amazon and Shopify. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon, Booking Holdings, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Netflix, Shopify, and Starbucks. The Motley Fool recommends Carnival and recommends the following options: short January 2022 $1940 calls on Amazon and long January 2022 $1920 calls on Amazon. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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Stocks Mentioned

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. Stock Quote
Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.
$41.97 (10.52%) $4.00
Ruth's Hospitality Group, Inc. Stock Quote
Ruth's Hospitality Group, Inc.
$19.58 (6.12%) $1.13
Park Hotels & Resorts Inc. Stock Quote
Park Hotels & Resorts Inc.
$15.62 (2.29%) $0.35

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

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