It's been more than two months since the start of the bear market that ravaged good and bad stocks alike, yet in recent weeks, the bulls have been running again as investors begin to believe that things will eventually return to normal in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
Numerous overarching trends that began long before the pandemic have found the spotlight in the face of the stay-at-home orders, giving the industry leaders an edge and even accelerating these already emerging or dominant shifts in technology and consumer behavior. This gives investors an opportunity to tap into these changes and even profit from them.
Assuming you have an emergency fund to fall back on and $3,000 (or less) that you don't need for three to five years, here are three companies riding powerful trends that will help them flourish for years to come.
1. PayPal: Digital payments are thriving
Even before the outbreak, PayPal (PYPL 2.01%) was the undisputed leader in digital payments, and as sheltering at home became the new normal, the company has experienced what CEO Dan Schulman called "a tremendous increase in the use of digital payments."
In the past few weeks alone, the number of new customers has exploded, and Schulman said users signing into Venmo or PayPal have jumped dramatically, "in some cases doubling." He cited increases across a wide range of shopping verticals, including groceries, electronics, homewares, and gardening. Schulman also said, "Gaming is exploding."
PayPal was already generating strong growth before the surge. Revenue grew 15% in 2019, while profits increased by 28%. The company added more than 37 million new accounts last year, bringing the total to 305 million, while payment transactions per active account climbed 10%. PayPal also processed more than 12 billion payment transactions worth $712 billion in total payment volume (TPV) in 2019, with more than $100 billion of that attributable to Venmo.
The shift toward digital payments is ongoing and has gotten a sizable boost from consumers on lockdown -- and PayPal stands to benefit the most from the trend.
2. Activision Blizzard: Playing separately together
The increasing popularity of video games over the past decade is well documented, though, in recent years, investors feared free-to-play and battle-royale games would siphon off revenue from the major players (pun intended).
Activision Blizzard (ATVI 0.35%) is one of the leaders in the space and delivered better-than-expected results last year, even in the face of record comps in 2018.
Since the onset of the pandemic, however, video game sales around the world have seen a resurgence. Spending on digital titles climbed 11% year over year, reaching a record $10 billion in March -- the highest monthly total ever, according to Nielsen-owned SuperData. Premium console revenue rocketed even higher, up 64% between February and March, while premium PC revenue jumped 56%.
Activision Blizzard is well-positioned to benefit as consumers sheltering at home seek refuge in their favorite video games, with many of the company's fan-favorite titles represented in the top 10, including World of Warcraft, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, and even free-to-play titles like Candy Crush. The company also released Call of Duty: Warzone -- the answer to its free-to-play and battle-royale rivals -- which attracted more than 50 million players within one month after its March 10 launch. This illustrates the wisdom behind the old cliche, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."
That's not all. CEO Bobby Kotick said, "Most of our games are seeing record levels of engagement ... [and] a lot of new players are coming for the first time."
Video games were already a popular pastime, and shelter-in-place orders are providing more fuel for the fire.
3. Zoom Video Communications: The next best thing to being there
Videoconferencing was already experiencing increasing adoption before the need for remote work changed it from convenience to necessity. No company is better positioned to benefit from this shift than Zoom Video Communications (ZM 1.35%).
The transition to remote meetings was already well underway before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, as evidenced by Zoom's blockbuster results over the past year. Revenue grew 88% in 2019, and the company generated a profit for the first time, which is unusual for a newly minted company; Zoom only went public this time last year.
Customer metrics were even more impressive, as Zoom ended the year with 81,900 customers, up 61% year over year, while those spending more than $100,000 over the trailing-12-month period grew 86%. Once onboard, customers tend to spend more, as illustrated by the company's net dollar expansion rate, which topped 130% for the seventh consecutive quarter.
Schools and businesses around the world were forced to implement remote gatherings, resulting in a growth surge from 10 million to more than 200 million users in less than three months.
That's not to say there haven't been challenges as the number of users ballooned. Hackers gained unauthorized access to meetings -- a practice that's been labeled "Zoombombing" -- disrupting the proceedings with obscenities, racism, and pornography. Zoom responded by redirecting all its research and development efforts, placing a temporary moratorium on new features, and focusing on increased platform security. The company has since rolled out significant upgrades to address the platform's shortcomings.
Even in the face of these challenges, Zoom's astronomical growth has continued, with users soaring from 200 million in March to 300 million in April.
As a result of the pandemic, video meetings have likely become the rule rather than the exception, which bodes well for the future of Zoom.
Winners keep winning
The megatrends identified in this missive -- digital payments, video games, and videoconferencing -- predated the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, and each has gotten a boost from the stay-at-home orders that have blanketed much of the world.
As a result of their industry-leading positions, each of these companies has fared better than the overall market since the decline that kicked off in mid-February, as illustrated by the stock price chart shown above.
The underlying shifts that powered these market-beating results for PayPal, Activision Blizzard, and Zoom will only continue, making these stocks buys right now.