The COVID-19 outbreak is already having a significant impact on the economy. As most U.S. states have implemented social distancing measures to curb the spread of the disease, many businesses are struggling to stay afloat. As a result, unemployment has soared, and many experts are already saying we've reached a full-blown recession.

For investors looking to navigate the current uncertainty -- and buy shares of companies that will help them get through these tough times -- it may be helpful to look back at which industries and which companies performed well during the last recession, which happened between December 2007 and June 2009. One such company is biotech giant Amgen (AMGN -0.21%)

Amgen's stock performance in 2008

During the heart of the last recession in 2008 -- as the stock market was sliding -- Amgen's stock was moving in the opposite direction.

AMGN Chart

AMGN data by YCharts

How did Amgen manage to post significantly higher gains than the stock market that year? We can find the answer by looking at the pharma giant's financial performance in 2008. For fiscal year 2008, Amgen reported total product sales of $14.7 billion, representing a 3% year-over-year increase. For context, Amgen's product sales growth from 2006 to 2007 was also 3%. And while the company's total revenue of $15 billion in 2008 increased by only 1.6% year over year -- compared to a 3.5% increase from 2006 to 2007 -- Amgen's net income of $4.2 billion for fiscal year 2008 increased by 32.5%. This compares favorably to the 7.3% net income increase the company recorded between 2006 and 2007.

Commenting on Amgen's stock performance in 2008, then CEO, Kevin Sharer, said in a letter to shareholders, "We feel fortunate to have a strong and vital business that is performing well, with a meaningful mission and good prospects for the future." In short, Amgen's business was not hit hard during the last recession, hence the company's strong performance on the stock market throughout this period.

Is Amgen recession-proof?

Could Amgen similarly outperform the market if the U.S. economy doesn't rebound soon, causing a lasting recession? On the one hand, the company has barely outpaced the broader market since the beginning of the year. While Amgen's stock is down by 13.4% year to date, the S&P 500 index is down by 17.8% over the same period. Also, some of the company's best-selling products have been losing steam of late. For instance, for the fourth quarter of 2019, sales of Neulasta -- a bone-marrow stimulant and one of Amgen's former blockbuster drugs -- decreased by 43% to $665 million. Also, sales of Aranesp, which is used to treat anemia, were $427 million, representing a 10% year-over-year decrease. 

Hand drawing upward-pointing graph.

Image Source: Getty Images.

With that said, Amgen boasts several products that should help the company's sales grow. For instance, there is Prolia -- a treatment for several bone-related disorders -- which recorded sales of $752 million during the fourth quarter, representing a 15% increase compared to the year-ago period. Also, Amgen recently acquired Otezla, which is used to treat the symptoms of psoriatic arthritis, from Celgene (which is now owned by Bristol Myers Squibb (BMY -0.72%)). This drug should boost the company's sales: Otezla racked up sales of $1.6 billion in 2018. Lastly, there's Enbrel, which treats several conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. Enbrel's sales for the fourth quarter increased by 2% year over year to $1.3 billion. 

Amgen's total revenue for the fourth quarter was $6.2 billion and decreased by 1% year over year. But thanks to the addition of Otezla, and several other products that are performing well, Amgen's revenue growth should pick up once again.

Amgen is attractively valued

Amgen currently boasts more than three dozen products in its pipeline, and the company should be able to strengthen its lineup -- and keep its revenue and earnings afloat -- moving forward.

Amgen's stock is currently attractively valued. The company is trading at 13 times future earnings, and its price-to-earnings-growth (PEG) ratio is just 0.6. If current recessionary conditions are prolonged, Amgen may not perform as well as it did during the last recession. However, like other drugmakers, the biotech company provides essential products to its customers, most of whom probably won't stop taking their medicines, even in a recession. In short, Amgen should be able to come out of a recession -- perhaps battered and bruised -- but in one piece. For that reason, I think it is worth considering purchasing shares of the pharma company right now.