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3 Top Large-Cap Stocks to Buy in May

By James Brumley - May 6, 2020 at 7:15AM

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A handful of the market's biggest names are poised to shrug off the effects of COVID-19 and continue to power their way forward.

Is the coronavirus contagion finally headed into the rearview mirror, or not? Nobody knows for sure, but here at the beginning of May, there are enough rays of hope starting to shine through to believe the world -- and the global economy -- will eventually work its way past the pandemic. It matters to investors simply because stocks largely reflect their future potential rather than their present reality.

With that as the backdrop, here's a rundown of three large-cap stocks that not only proved resilient when COVID-19 fears were most frenzied, but are well-positioned to thrive no matter what lies ahead.

Finger pressing a buy button on a computer keyboard.

Image source: Getty Images.

1. Johnson & Johnson: Slow and steady progress

Investing in this stock is admittedly a highly defensive move that ultimately limits upside growth. But there's much to be said for the slow and steady forward progress Johnson & Johnson (JNJ -1.10%) usually makes. Besides, the company isn't just healthcare consumables.

You probably know (and buy) more of J&J's products than you realize. Aside from baby shampoo sold under the same brand name, this is the company behind Tylenol, Benadryl, Band-Aid, Neutrogena, and more. All of its consumer products are in competitive arenas, but that's not a bad thing. They're perpetually marketable.

Johnson & Johnson isn't just consumer products, though. In fact, consumer products only accounted for about 17% of last year's top line. Prescription pharmaceutical revenue of $42.2 billion made up more than half of the company's business last year, reflecting a prescription drug portfolio and pipeline many investors might not expect from this old-school name. But, there it is. J&J is responsible for pharmaceutical blockbusters like Stelara, fast-growing oncology treatment Imbruvica, and blood-clot-fighting Xarelto, just to name a few. Medical devices round out the other third of the company's typical top-line revenue.

None of this is to suggest Johnson & Johnson doesn't have its ups and downs. It is to say, however, that it's relatively immune to economic slowdowns simply because it's insurers, rather than consumers, usually footing the bills for what it sells. The diversity of its three business divisions smooths out any remaining rough edges that economic turbulence might leave behind.

Bonus: J&J is working on a coronavirus vaccine.

Johnson & Johnson revenue and per-share earnings, trailing and projected.

Data source: Thomson Reuters/Refinitiv. Chart by author.

2. Adobe: Benefitting from cloud expansion

Adobe (ADBE 2.48%) shares haven't fared much better -- or much worse -- than most other names since the coronavirus contagion started to rattle the stock market in earnest in late February. But this is a company that's actually been preparing for what will likely become the new normal once the COVID-19 outbreak finally abates.

Most people know the name as the mother of PDF (portable document format) files that allowed internet users to view and print digital documents in the early days of the web. It's also the company that came up with the defacto photo editing computer program called Photoshop.

Adobe is so much more than that these days, however. In fact, PDFs and Photoshop are only a minor part of its business today. Now, Adobe offers subscription-based access to a whole suite of tools that businesses can use to develop a website, manage digital ad campaigns, custom-build a web experience for each and every customer, create graphics and photos for ads, and plug in its tools with other business-building software that an organization may already be using.

The company was already doing well selling these cloud-based tools too. Fiscal 2019's top line of $11.2 billion was up 24% from 2018's tally, extending a healthy growth streak. In an environment where in-person commerce is apt to suffer as more consumers and companies look for ways to do more business on the internet, being able to make a good impression online may have never been more important than it is now.

Adobe revenue and per-share earnings, trailing and projected.

Data source: Thomson Reuters/Refinitiv. Chart by author.

3. Visa: Demonstrated ability to recover quickly

Finally, add payments middleman Visa (V 0.12%) to your list of large-caps to consider before we move too deep into May.

It's not immune to the effects of a recession, should coronavirus-related shutdowns cause one. But it's more resistant to economic headwinds than one might suspect. Back in the first calendar quarter of 2009, in the wake of the subprime mortgage meltdown, Visa's worldwide total volume of processed payments only slumped 6.5% year over year. They were only down 2.7% the following quarter, and by the quarter after that, total volume of processed payments was growing again. Job losses and shrinking incomes don't appear to be terribly disruptive.

And to the extent that the fallout from the coronavirus outbreak may differ from 2008's subprime woes, Visa still has an ace in the hole. That is, consumers are now thinking about ways to make payments without handling cash, as cash itself is increasingly being seen as a means of spreading disease. Indeed, consumers are already making the shift. Visa reported during its fiscal second-quarter conference call that by the end of the quarter ending in March, 60% of in-person transactions using its cards were tap-to-pay purchases, indicating 40% year-over-year growth in tap-to-pay usage. Given the company's already-existing contactless payment portfolio of solutions and other financial technologies, it's more than ready to meet the growing need. Analysts may be underestimating this tide for the quarter currently underway.

Visa revenue and per-share earnings, trailing and projected.

Data source: Thomson Reuters/Refinitiv. Chart by author.

James Brumley has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Visa. The Motley Fool recommends Adobe Systems and Johnson & Johnson. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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Stocks Mentioned

Johnson & Johnson Stock Quote
Johnson & Johnson
JNJ
$165.30 (-1.10%) $-1.84
Visa Inc. Stock Quote
Visa Inc.
V
$211.33 (0.12%) $0.25
Adobe Inc. Stock Quote
Adobe Inc.
ADBE
$445.67 (2.48%) $10.78

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