The U.S. industrial production index for April slumped the most in the index's 101-year history. Does that mean you shouldn't touch industrial stocks?
Not quite, because although the COVID-19 pandemic has hit nearly every industry hard, parts of the economy will start moving eventually, and there are some industrial stocks that have the potential to ride out the storm and grow as the economy recovers. Here are three such interesting industrial stocks you might want to consider buying now.
A unique stock with a futuristic bent
ABB (NYSE:ABB) is one of the most intriguing industrial stocks given its portfolio of five broad businesses: electrification, industrial automation, motion, robotics and discrete automation, and power grids. That pretty much covers the wide spectrum of industrial automation and robotics, a field that industry experts now tout to grow by leaps and bounds in coming years, partly because the coronavirus could make social distancing in factories, coupled with a shortage of skilled labor, a new normal.
ABB is divesting its low-margin power grids business to focus on the other four segments. Right now, the company is feeling the COVID-19 heat like any other industrial stock, but its diversity and financial fortitude are strengths that are hard to ignore. For instance, ABB serves more than 30 end markets with at least 30% exposure in each of the Americas, Europe, and Asia-Pacific/Middle East/Africa regions.
Despite a challenging business environment that hurt the company's first-quarter revenue by 7% year over year, ABB's orders rose 1% with backlog value as of March, hitting $13.7 billion, up 8% from Q1 2019. Industrial automation and motion led the pack with some big orders coming in.
Robotics has incredible potential, and ABB a solid foothold in the industry. With the stock also offering a generous dividend yield of 4.7% currently, this one's a top industrials stock to own for the long haul.
Forget Caterpillar, check out this stock instead
Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT) recently reported 21% and 39% declines in sales and earnings per share, respectively, for its first quarter and withdrew its 2020 guidance in the wake of global COVID-19 uncertainty. Caterpillar's dealers added inventories worth about only $100 million in Q1 versus $1.3 billion in Q1 2019.
With the world's largest manufacturer of construction and mining equipment setting alarm bells ringing, you'd want to steer clear of heavy-machinery companies. But with construction activity resuming in parts of the country and President Trump actively pursuing his $2 trillion infrastructure bill, there's one company that could benefit more than equipment manufacturers like Caterpillar: United Rentals (NYSE:URI), the world's largest equipment rental company.
The pandemic has left even established companies in a lurch, with many desperately cutting costs to preserve cash. Given the backdrop, heavy-machinery users are more likely to postpone or even cancel new purchases, and instead rent or lease equipment as business activity picks up. United Rentals could be a big beneficiary: Nearly 48% of its customers are nonresidential and 47% cover the industrials sector.
United Rentals recently suspended its share repurchase program to preserve capital and withdrew 2020 guidance, but has ample liquidity and says it expects to remain "substantially" free-cash-flow positive even in the worst-case scenarios. With the stock trading substantially below its five-year price-to-earnings and price-to-book ratios, it's a good time to give United Rentals a serious look.
Last-mile delivery could lift this logistics stock
XPO Logistics (NYSE:XPO) dropped a bomb in March when it aborted plans to sell large chunks of its business given the uncertainty in global markets. Its earlier announcement to divest had won the market's approval since investors expected the move to unlock greater value.
I won't rule out the possibility of XPO exploring the option yet again when things start to look up, even as it continues to look for opportunistic acquisitions. In fact, in a recent interview with Transport Topics Radio, CEO Brad Jacobs revealed he would even consider sealing a deal over a videoconference in present conditions if he finds a good fit! XPO has traditionally been an aggressively acquisitive company, having bought 17 companies between 2011 and 2015, with a $3 billion buyout of Con-way being its last big purchase.
Earlier this month, XPO reported declines in revenue and net income for its first quarter because of the pandemic, but it also generated $180 million in cash from operations in Q1 2020 while burning cash worth $96 million in Q1 2019. Management also said it had $1.3 billion in cash and borrowing capacity with no significant debt maturing in two years.
XPO Logistics has an edge over rival freight and logistics companies in last-mile delivery, a crucial part of e-commerce that brings goods (particularly heavy goods such as home appliances and furniture) to a customer's doorstep. As the economy recovers, last-mile delivery and a focus on automated processes should help XPO lead from the front. With the stock trading at less than half its five-year average P/E, long-term investors should see an opportunity here.