There are few things that the market hates more than uncertainty, and the coronavirus pandemic has dumped a ton of it on investors.
Lockdown-style conditions have been in effect across much of the country for about a month now, and we still don't know how long they will last or how they will be lifted. We don't know what the chance of a second wave of infections is, and we won't have clear data on how businesses are experiencing the effects until first-quarter earnings reports come in.
There's no question that the "stay-at-home" economy has driven a shift in demand, helping to propel stocks like Zoom Video Communications and Peloton Interactive, but the best stocks to buy today are those that can succeed both during the pandemic and in the aftermath as consumers return to their normal daily lives. Keep reading to see why Amazon (AMZN 2.07%), Okta (OKTA 1.62%), and JD.com (JD 0.19%) have what it takes to do just that.
The e-commerce giant needs little introduction, but the COVID-19 outbreak has made an already dominant company even more necessary. With stores closed and Americans afraid to venture outside, consumers have flooded the site to stock up on essentials like food, medicine, and cleaning supplies. Demand has been so strong that Amazon said it would temporarily delay shipments of non-essential goods, and the company hired 100,000 additional workers in March. This week, the company said it would seek to add another 75,000 employees.
Amazon already controlled about half of online sales in the U.S., as the company has leveraged advantages like its Prime loyalty program that promises one-day delivery for millions of items, and its network of giant warehouses that both enables speedy shipping and allows it to carry much more merchandise than any of its rivals.
Those advantages will only grow in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, as many of its brick-and-mortar rivals are suffering and will likely be forced to close stores, or even declare bankruptcy. That will drive e-commerce's share of retail sales even higher, benefiting Amazon more than any other company. The pandemic may have also drawn in new Prime members, further strengthening its ecosystem and adding to profits that it can invest in growth areas like logistics, healthcare, and voice-activated technology .
You may not be familiar with Okta, but chances are a lot of companies you know are. Enterprises like JetBlue, Major League Baseball, and NVIDIA all rely on Okta for its identity management capabilities. The company is a leader in identity protection through tools like multi-factor authorization, to help secure access, and single sign-on, which grants seamless access to users no matter what device they're using.
Based in the cloud, Okta provides the kind of mission-critical cybersecurity software that companies can't simply dispense with just because times are tough. Even during the coronavirus pandemic, Okta is unlikely to see users scale back with its services.
In its update on its first quarter, which ends at the end of April, the company saw no change in its revenue guidance, though it acknowledged some headwinds in near-term billings, and actually improved its bottom-line forecast due to lower costs for employee-related items, sales and marketing, and moving its annual conference to a virtual format.
With corporate employees working remotely for the foreseeable future, demand for security tools like Okta's should only grow in the future as well. Remote work is not only a necessity for companies in a pandemic, but also a cost-saving tool in a recession, meaning companies should continue to turn to Okta even in a rough economy.
Investors looking to avoid the risks of the domestic coronavirus outbreak may want to look overseas. In China, which experienced a shutdown for several weeks starting at the end of January, daily life has begun to return to normal, and one of the long-term winners there looks to be JD.com, an e-commerce company with a number of parallels to Amazon and China's leader in direct online sales. Like Amazon in the U.S., JD was a crucial provider of food delivery and other essentials during the shutdown.
In its recent earnings report, which came out on March 2 when the worst of the outbreak had passed in China, the company forecast revenue growth of at least 10% in the first quarter. Though that is down significantly from the 25% growth it saw last year, it nonetheless shows the company's resilience during the pandemic and a time when it was focused on things outside its usual business, like delivering essential supplies to hospitals.
JD also has appeal in a post-coronavirus world because of its initiatives outside of e-commerce. JD Health, for example, provides telemedicine and offered free online consultations during the pandemic. COVID-19 is accelerating telemedicine in China, as such technology grows more valuable during a time when it's difficult to see a doctor in person.
Additionally, JD's prowess in automation gives the stock significant growth potential at a time when manufacturing plants and warehouses are being affected by the virus. The company opened a fully automated warehouse in Shanghai with just four human employees, and is developing delivery drones and automated delivery robots to further automate the e-commerce process, which now have the added benefit of avoiding the spread of infection.
All three of these stocks recently hit 52-week highs, showing that investors are returning to them as the coronavirus outbreak plays out. Though they may look expensive according to conventional metrics, their competitive advantages should only get stronger during the current crisis, which will help drive their long-term growth.