Did watching the bottom fall out from under the stock market leave you extremely cautious about which stocks belong in your portfolio? The healthcare sector's one corner of the economy that's been relatively insulated from the coronavirus crash and a good place to find stocks that you can confidently hold during just about any crisis.
Shares of the following three companies have been pressured by COVID-19, but it's going to take more than a pandemic to stop them from delivering profit growth for at least another decade. Here's why these are three of the best stocks to buy now and hold for the long run.
|Company (Symbol)||Cash and Equivalents||Trailing Free Cash Flow|
|Intuitive Surgical (ISRG -0.42%)||$5.9 billion||$1.2 billion|
|Medtronic (MDT 0.38%)||$11.6 billion||$6.7 billion|
|Veeva Systems (VEEV -0.31%)||$1.1 billion||
1. Intuitive Surgical: Robotic-assisted surgery
The extent to which the COVID-19 pandemic might impact Intuitive Surgical's bottom line in the year ahead is uncertain, but it's going to sting. In March, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services called for a temporary suspension of all non-essential surgeries to help hospitals maintain limited resources before they're overwhelmed by waves of new coronavirus patients.
During the first 2 1/2 months of 2020, the number of procedures performed with Intuitive's da Vinci surgical systems had exceeded expectations. Despite the disruption at the end of the first quarter, the number of procedures performed grew 10% year over year.
Revenue from instruments and accessories used to complete procedures increased 12%, to $618 million, during the first three months of 2020, but the next several quarters are going to be downright nerve-wracking. A majority of da Vinci procedures are performed to remedy relatively benign conditions that can usually be rescheduled without seriously endangering patients. As a result, Intuitive Surgical will not meet the earnings expectations for 2020 that management laid out in January.
While 2020 will be full of disappointments, it's important to remember Intuitive's robots perform surgeries that can't remain sidelined forever. People around the world will still need hernia repairs, and hospitals will probably begin performing these surgeries again before Intuitive has to dip into the enormous pile of cash on its balance sheet.
Stretched budgets have always been a key driver behind the purchase of cost-effective surgical systems, and hospitals battling COVID-19 around the globe will seek help cutting costs wherever possible. As restrictions steadily relax, Intuitive's business could bounce back along with its stock price and keep providing market-thumping returns for at least another decade.
2. Medtronic: Size advantage
Medtronic is the world's largest manufacturer of medical devices and uses its size to its advantage to keep growing earnings and its legendary dividend at a steady pace. The company holds leading market positions in several device categories and has viable product offerings in most others, so purchasing managers often spend more time with Medtronic's sales reps than any other device manufacturer. The enormous scale of Medtronic's diverse business also allows the company to maintain healthy profit margins while selling products at low prices that the competition can't match.
Increasing demand for ventilators and other intensive-care-unit necessities will probably offset a temporary lack of demand for Medtronic's joint-replacement devices. With huge positive cash flows that aren't about to turn negative and plenty of cash on its balance sheet, the company can safely snap up potential rivals at fire-sale prices before the coronavirus dust even finishes settling.
Medtronic hasn't gone an entire year without raising its dividend payout since 1978, and since then, the distribution's grown at an astounding 17% annual growth rate. It's going to take more than a global pandemic to derail this train, which means the 2.1% yield the shares offer at recent prices can probably grow at an impressive pace through 2030 and beyond.
3. Veeva Systems: A new necessity
This company's a lonely pioneer developing subscription-based cloud services geared toward biopharma and other highly regulated industries. Veeva's sales and profits have grown rapidly, along with demand for its suite of cloud-based tools that life-science businesses and academics are quickly realizing they can't live without.
The stock has taken a hit because COVID-19 precautions are severely limiting sales meetings and clinical-trial activity for Veeva's clients at the moment. Luckily for shareholders, the subscription revenue that Veeva's customer relationship management (CRM) and data tracking services generate isn't likely to take a major hit unless the world's drugmakers permanently limit sales of drugs and their development.
Veeva's customers aren't simply keeping the services they subscribe to, they're also upgrading at an impressive rate. During the fiscal year ended January 31, 2020, subscription revenue from retained customers was 121% higher than a year earlier. While there might not be as many upgrades this year, existing subscription revenue should remain stable through fiscal 2021.
Without any significant competition for cloud-based services geared toward biopharma and other highly regulated industries, Veeva's business still has a lot of room to grow, and so does the stock.
Chicken soup for your stock portfolio
If fear of another coronavirus market crash has left you feeling anxious about buying any stocks at the moment, some shares of these well-positioned healthcare businesses will go a long way to soothe frayed nerves. Just remember not to cut and run the next time the market panics.