Historically speaking, the best times to invest are when the market has crashed. That's certainly been the case this year, as the spread of COVID-19 has caused tens of thousands of deaths and ground the global economy to a halt in an effort to arrest the spread and prevent what would likely be a much bigger death toll.
In addition to the huge physical toll for people who have become ill and died from this deadly virus, the financial repercussions have been severe. Millions of people are out of work, and it's likely that it will take many months before the economy fully opens back up.
A lot of people will struggle to make ends meet during this period. And for those of us with the means to help, there has never been a better time to offer that help.
At the same time, taking steps to protect your own financial future is also important. We'll see more recessions, market crises, natural disasters, and infectious disease pandemics in the future. Part of how we can help do our part is by taking steps now to prepare. And that means investing in the best companies when they're trading at fire-sale prices.
If you're fortunate to have some spare cash you can invest today to help build up your nest egg for the future, three stocks worth considering are Bank of N.T. Butterfield & Son (NTB -1.79%), CenturyLink Inc (LUMN -2.28%), and NV5 Global (NVEE -4.98%). These are not risk-free investments but are quite strong, provide important services that people and businesses rely on, and are likely to emerge from the coronavirus recession in great shape.
An under-the-radar bank with well-to-do clients
The banking sector has taken it on the nose so far, with even some of the biggest, strongest banks in the world seeing their stocks down more than 30%. Part of this is worry that banks will fail en masse, again, like we saw in the last recession.
This is an unlikely outcome because banks are in much stronger shape this time around and without the major debt bubble -- like residential mortgages -- we experienced a decade ago. But it's also based on the likelihood that banks will struggle under the weight of near-zero interest rates cutting into their profits on loans, a sharp decline in lending activity as people and companies put off spending, and the weight of defaults on existing loans.
Those are reasonable expectations in the short term, though the CARES act will result in some federally backed lending to small businesses, but the best banks should prove capable of riding out the downturn just fine.
I think investor worry has many overlooking Butterfield. It's not a familiar name to many, but it's an established banking brand for well-to-do people and businesses in Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, and the Channel Islands off the coast of Europe.
It also has what could prove to be a big advantage in the current environment: Fee-based income. On a recent earnings call, management pointed out that fee-based earnings are outpacing net interest income growth following the Channel Islands banking acquisition last year. In a near-zero-rate environment, having a strong and growing fee-based income stream could prove invaluable.
With shares still down more than 50% (at this writing) from the 2020 high, Butterfield looks like an excellent business at a bargain price.
This former loser is turning around
For years, CenturyLink has been a terrible investment, struggling under the weight of an old, declining business with little path forward. Even after the company merged with Level 3 Communications a couple of years ago, investors saw revenues continue to fall as the company pared back some unprofitable business, while the legacy copper-line telecom segment continued to decline.
But more recently, revenues are starting to stabilize as the legacy business becomes less important and the enterprise business takes a bigger role. The company has also cut its debt, refinanced other debt to lower interest expenses, and cut more than $1 billion in operating expenses since the Level 3 merger.
Going forward, CenturyLink's long-term prospects look solid. It has a massive fiber network, a much-improved balance sheet and operating structure, and is built to profit from the shift to 5G in wireless communications. Fiber is critical to 5G, which requires more cells to build a network and will need large-scale fiber to connect those cells to one another.
CenturyLink will continue to deal with a legacy land-line business in decline, but the recent 36% decline in its share price is based almost entirely on fears that should prove short term. CenturyLink may not be the best business in telecom, but it's a solid business at a deep discount, considering the actual risks.
Enormous prospects to help meet a global need
Shares of NV5 Global are down almost 40% from their 2020 high, and down more than half from the all-time high they hit late last summer. The company, which consults and provides engineering and project management for infrastructure construction and development, could certainly see business decline in 2020 as businesses and governments cut back on capital spending on big projects and focus their resources on helping combat -- and even just survive -- the COVID-19 crisis.
But even the COVID-19 pandemic has presented NV5 with some ways it can put its expertise to good work. The company has made many acquisitions over the past several years and built an internal infrastructure to support remote work, and its capabilities include being able to consult with companies to help them respond to the COVID-19 crisis.
But the real potential for NV5 is the need for massive global investment in infrastructure in the years ahead. Between aging infrastructure in developed countries and the growth of the global middle class in emerging economies, it's going to take trillions of dollars in spending to build and rebuild enough infrastructure to support the modern world in the future, and this tiny company is built to be a big winner from that spending.
2020 could prove a bit painful, but instead of holding out to try and catch it at some potential future "bottom," NV5 is worth buying now, while shares are half-off their all-time high.
Doing your part includes securing your financial future
The weeks and months ahead are likely to bring much uncertainty. The COVID-19 pandemic is killing tens of thousands of people and affecting the lives of billions more. The bigger concern for many people in the interim will be living day to day, not how their portfolios will do over the next decade.
Nonetheless, it's still our individual responsibility to be balanced in our actions and make sure we're doing what we can to have financial security down the road, as well as taking care of ourselves, our families, and our communities in this moment.
If you're fortunate to have the resources to invest today, part of doing your part is to make sure you're financial future is secure.