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 (NYSE:EPR), Seritage Growth Properties (NYSE:SRG), and Synchrony Financial (NYSE:SYF). 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.
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.