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3 High-Risk Stocks That Could Make Patient Investors a Fortune

By Matthew Frankel, CFP® - May 20, 2020 at 6:47AM

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There's still tremendous uncertainty in these three companies, but they could be home runs for patient investors.

Many stocks have rebounded nicely since the stock market reached its March lows, but there are some that are still down 50% or more from pre-pandemic levels. Some businesses simply have too many unanswered questions at this point but could end up being excellent investments if they can make it through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Three high-risk, but high-potential stocks on my radar right now are EPR Properties (EPR -5.90%), Seritage Growth Properties (SRG -1.47%), and Synchrony Financial (SYF -2.88%). Here's why each one has been beaten down so badly, and why I'd still be interested in owning shares for the long run.

Skier going down a slope, passing snow-covered trees

Image source: Getty Images.

The worst types of properties to own -- for now

Real estate investment trust (REIT) EPR Properties owns some of the worst possible commercial real estate assets that you could possibly have during the COVID-19 pandemic. About 45% of the company's revenue comes from movie theaters. Not only is the movie theater business not very conducive to social distancing, but also major theater operators (like top tenant AMC) aren't exactly in good financial shape. Other major property types -- such as waterparks, golf attractions (TopGolf is a major tenant), and ski resorts -- remain shut down in most parts of the U.S. In fact, EPR only collected 15% of its April rent from tenants.

There are some good reasons to like EPR long-term. For one thing, even if the 15% rent collection rate lasted for years (not likely), the company isn't in danger. EPR has enough cash available to sustain itself for 65 months at its current cash burn rate. Management has even spoken about the "extreme dislocation" in the stock price as compared to the business' intrinsic value, and EPR actually started to repurchase shares when the stock was near the bottom -- a rarity in the REIT world.

In a nutshell, while the movie theater industry and some of the company's other property types may take a long time to fully recover, EPR can wait. With the stock down more than 60% from its pre-pandemic level, the wait could be worthwhile for patient investors.

Major funding issues have dragged this REIT's stock price down

Seritage Growth Properties is a REIT that was created for one specific purpose -- to buy a portfolio of buildings occupied by Sears. Now, nobody wants to own a Sears right now, especially Seritage. The company's goal is to gradually redevelop these properties into modern, mixed-use centers that create value and generate lots of income.

Before the pandemic, Seritage's plan was progressing quite well. Just to name a small example, a 29,100-square-foot Sears Auto Center in Pennsylvania was redeveloped into two restaurant spaces and an Escape Room entertainment venue. Since being created in 2015, Seritage has released about 10 million square feet of the roughly 32 million square feet of space in its portfolio.

The biggest challenge for Seritage right now -- and the one that has resulted in its stock price falling by more than 80% year to date -- is financing. Seritage's financing comes from Berkshire Hathaway and came in the form of a $1.6 billion term loan in 2018 and a $400 million credit line. The company is under contract to sell $135 million of assets right now, which should help, but it's nearly enough to allow the company to complete its current redevelopment projects. And, Seritage has not yet met the criteria to access its $400 million credit line.

In simple terms, the funding issue is a major concern for Seritage. But if the company can figure out a way to tap into its credit line or otherwise get enough capital to continue pursuing its vision, Seritage could be a big winner for long-term investors.

A high-profit credit card business with a high level of uncertainty

Synchrony Financial is a banking institution that specializes in store-branded credit cards. Just to name a few out of the dozens of partners, Synchrony is the financial institution behind PayPal (NASDAQ: PYPL) credit, as well as the Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) and Lowe's (NYSE: LOW) store credit cards.

In strong economic times, the store credit card business can be highly profitable. While store credit cards tend to have relatively high charge-off rates relative to traditional credit cards, they also generally have much higher interest rates. As a result, Synchrony's net interest margin of more than 15% is one of the highest spreads anywhere in the financial industry. For example, Discover (NYSE: DFS) has a net interest margin of just over 10%, and even that is on the high end for a credit card business.

The problem is that during tough times, risky types of lending become very risky. If the economic effects of the pandemic end up being worse than expected, it could produce a massive spike in credit card defaults. Synchrony's charge-off rate in 2019 was 6%, but this could easily jump to the double digits in a prolonged or severe recession.

That said, Synchrony is now trading for less than half of its pre-pandemic high (and now has a 5% dividend yield), so the risk-reward profile could make a lot of sense for patient investors.

Don't invest in these with money you need

As a final thought, it's important to emphasize that all three of these stocks are highly speculative investments at this point. They are all cheap for good reasons, so don't invest with any money you couldn't afford to lose. Having said that, if these businesses are able to make it through the tough times, they could end up being excellent bargains for long-term investors willing to deal with the short-term roller-coaster ride.

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Matthew Frankel, CFP owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway (B shares), EPR Properties, and Seritage Growth Properties (Class A). The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway (B shares), EPR Properties, PayPal Holdings, and Seritage Growth Properties (Class A). The Motley Fool recommends Lowe's and recommends the following options: long January 2021 $200 calls on Berkshire Hathaway (B shares), short January 2021 $200 puts on Berkshire Hathaway (B shares), short June 2020 $205 calls on Berkshire Hathaway (B shares), short January 2022 $1940 calls on Amazon, long January 2022 $1920 calls on Amazon, and long January 2022 $75 calls on PayPal Holdings. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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Stocks Mentioned

EPR Properties Stock Quote
EPR Properties
$48.68 (-5.90%) $-3.05
Synchrony Financial Stock Quote
Synchrony Financial
$34.35 (-2.88%) $-1.02
Seritage Growth Properties Stock Quote
Seritage Growth Properties
$13.40 (-1.47%) $0.20

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

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