Since roughly the midpoint of February, Wall Street and investors have been taken on a roller-coaster ride they're never going to forget. The uncertainty and nonessential business shutdowns associated with the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic caused the benchmark S&P 500 to lose more than 20% of its value in a mere 17 trading days, and it ultimately pushed the widely followed index lower by as much as 34% in 33 calendar days. Both of these moves represent the fastest retracements from a recent high in the stock market's storied history.
However, panic-based selling has always -- and I really do mean always -- opened the door for opportunistic long-term investors looking to snatch up great companies at an attractive valuation.
The best part is that you don't need to be rich to invest in the stock market and create wealth. If, say, you have $2,000 that you won't need to pay bills or for emergencies, you have more than enough capital to build wealth over the long run. Here are three top stocks you can invest in right now that, many years down the road, will look like smart choices.
Within the financial sector, there may not be a more attractive, high-growth company for the next 10-plus years than Square (NYSE:SQ). Although it's far from being a value stock, at least on a fundamental basis, the company's inroads in the financial technology space look to be creating a juggernaut.
First, there's Square's seller ecosystem, which has for years catered to small and medium-sized businesses. What's interesting, though, is that we're beginning to see a shift in the gross payment volume (GPV) crossing Square's point-of-sale platforms. Whereas 53% of GPV in the first quarter of 2018 came from small businesses with annualized GPV of under $125,000, we're now seeing 52% of GPV coming from larger sellers with annualized GPV above $125,000, as of the first quarter of 2020. If bigger retailers are beginning to lean on Square's point-of-sale ecosystem in a consumption-driven economy, the sky could be the limit.
What's more, Square's Cash App could wind up being far more important than its seller ecosystem over the long run. In roughly two years, Cash App's membership more than tripled, with its gross profit soaring 115% during the first quarter -- a quarter, mind you, that had people stuck at home for a week or two. With Square pushing Cash Card (essentially a debit card for an individual's Cash App balance) and allowing for investments directly from Cash App accounts, we're looking at a company that could reasonably double its revenue and cash flow every three or four years.
Elanco Animal Health
If there's an industry Wall Street should never consider betting against, it's the U.S. companion pet industry. According to statistics from the American Pet Products Association, there hasn't been a decline in pet expenditures in this country in at least 25 years, with Americans set to spend an estimated $99 billion on their four-legged family members in 2020. That's why a beaten-down Elanco Animal Health (NYSE:ELAN) looks like a fantastic long-term buy.
In the first quarter, Elanco delivered a bit of a stinker, but it had a good reason. Aside from the COVID-19 pandemic hindering demand from third-party buyers for companion pet pharmaceuticals, Elanco has chosen to rework its distribution channels to make them more conducive to long-term growth and improved margins. Narrowing the company's distribution partners is a short-term pain that'll provide long-term improvement in the company's bottom-line results. In fact, Elanco is currently valued at just 13 times Wall Street's projected profit per share in 2023, despite having high single-digit to low double-digit growth potential.
Elanco Animal Health is also likely to bask in positive tailwinds from the pending $7.6 billion acquisition of Bayer Animal Health from Bayer, which was announced last August. This deal is going to create the second-largest animal healthcare company and lead to between $275 million to $300 million in annual cost synergies, along with $1 billion in operating cash flow by the third year following its closing. Ultimately, we're talking about a more efficient animal health company that'll generate around half of its revenue from the continually growing companion animal segment.
Within the tech space, one of the smartest stocks you can buy is data storage device and solutions company Western Digital (NASDAQ:WDC). Even though Western Digital suspended its dividend during the most recent quarter, it'll be able to use the nearly $600 million usually devoted to annual dividend outlays to reduce its debt and reinvest in its fastest-growing segments.
On a more immediate basis, Western Digital is set to benefit from the launch of new gaming consoles. These consoles aren't an every-year occurrence, but the data storage needs of new consoles tend to be significantly greater than previous models. According to Western Digital COO Michael D. Cordano, "the gaming console market is expected to be a multi-exabyte opportunity this calendar year."
However, the far more exciting opportunity comes in providing the solid-state drives that are used in data centers. We've already been seeing consistent data center growth for years as businesses transition their company-specific information into the cloud. All the coronavirus pandemic did was accelerate that trend. When combined with the ongoing rollout of 5G networks by telecom companies, what we're going to see is a significant uptick in demand for cloud services, data centers, and storage solutions.
Perhaps this is why Wall Street is expecting Western Digital's earnings per share to rocket to north of $8 by 2022 from $4.84 in 2019.