The stock market has mustered a partial rebound since March's drubbing, but it's far from fully recovered. Most investors now believe the COVID-19 contagion won't alter life as we know it. However, it's still difficult to predict exactly what life may look like once the world gets back to something closer to normal. Amid the uncertainty, there are bargain stocks to be found.
Not all beaten-down stocks are inherently worth buying, of course. Some of the most recent leaders may soon lose ground, as investors start to realize these companies don't have much to offer in the way of a second act following the coronavirus outbreak.
Rather, investors would be wise to look for companies using the recent downtime to plan for what lies ahead once COVID-19 is in the rearview mirror. Three names come to mind.
1. United Parcel Service expands deeper into healthcare logistics
If you think United Parcel Service (NYSE:UPS) is just a company that ferries commercial packages from point A to point B, think again. UPS is increasingly embracing the unique needs of its customers, asking how it can solve complicated problems in its position as a middleman. For instance, while most consumers may not even realize it exists, the company operates a unit called UPS Healthcare, which offers crucial services like refrigerating medicines, transporting lab specimens, and handling deliveries related to clinical trials.
Late last month, UPS Healthcare introduced UPS Premier, which offers its healthcare customers another tier of prioritization.
To what extent United Parcel Service has been involved in COVID-19-related testing and treatment logistics isn't clear; it seems everyone involved in the response is using whatever tools and solutions they have at their disposal. But, the pandemic and its aftermath may ultimately prove just how important a partner that can offer specialized services is to the healthcare industry. It's also not a stretch to suggest testing for any communicable disease is going to become more common.
The kicker: Not everyone is thrilled about it, but late last month the delivery giant announced it would be adding surcharges to certain domestic packages due to overwhelming demand on its network as a result of the pandemic. These additional charges set the stage for an even stronger quarter that will end this month, though the added charges may well linger beyond June.
Of course, as long as consumers are suspicious of getting out at all, the surge in shopping at home will help boost United Parcel Service's business.
2. Visa had the solution before the problem was clear
Credit card middleman Visa (NYSE:V) conceded at the end of March that its total transactions were down. Specifically, total transactions fell 2% worldwide for the month in question, while payment volumes in the United States slumped 4% in March. The official statement explained, "as countries have imposed social distancing, shelter-in-place or total lock-down orders, domestic spending, most notably in travel, restaurants, entertainment, and fuel, has sharply declined week on week with a meaningful deterioration in volume and transaction trends in the second half of March."
Lockdowns likely made things worse in the meantime, even if the slow and rolling end to shelter-in-place orders is allowing people to get out and about again. Visa shares have recovered most of what they lost in March, but lingering economic weakness -- and hesitant consumerism -- could keep transactions crimped for the foreseeable future.
For the crowd of consumers that's feeling a bit braver, Visa already offers a way to make in-person purchases with a minimal amount of actual touching. Its tap-to-pay cards don't require anything more than holding them near a properly equipped cash register, and near-field radio communications do the rest. In other cases, simply tapping the card to the register (as opposed to a full swipe) will do the trick.
The idea hadn't caught on in a big way in the United States. Global Payments cited data from A.T. Kearney last year suggesting that only about 3.5% of card-based payments in the U.S. were contactless transactions. Fear of contracting the coronavirus or another contagious virus could ramp that number up in a hurry, playing right into the hand Visa's been holding for a while now.
3. Constellation Brands continues offensive
Finally, Constellation Brands (NYSE:STZ) (NYSE:STZ.B) isn't exactly a household name, but the alcoholic brands it makes and markets are far more familiar. Constellation is the name behind Corona beer, Robert Mondavi wine, and Svedka vodka, just to name a few.
Worldwide lockdowns have proven problematic for the company. While plenty of consumers still enjoy a drink at home rather than in the restaurants and bars that have been closed of late, getting goods to retailers and then consumers hasn't necessarily been easy. CEO Bill Newlands commented in early April that shutdowns ultimately work "to our advantage," but we've yet to see or hear any numbers and whether they have been impacted by coronavirus-related shutdowns.
Also weighing on the stock is a concern that the company may run out of beer to sell and perhaps the lack of guidance for the current quarter and year. The stock's only retraced about two-thirds of its late-February/early-March loss.
While many other companies are learning how to play defense against the coronavirus backdrop though, Constellation Brands is still playing aggressive offense. For example, it's continued to up its stake in cannabis company Canopy Growth (NYSE:CGC) despite Canopy's woes, anticipating a time when cannabis is the basis for a huge piece of the consumer goods market. The company also continues to push its recently launched Corona hard seltzer line, plugging into a craze that's catapulted a small company called Mark Anthony Brands to the head of that fast-growing class. It even continued to promote the unfortunately named brand of seltzers after the coronavirus made landfall in the United States.
It means little in the wake of COVID-19 disruptions, but the investments will pay off once the dust settles.