While the COVID-19 pandemic has put many smaller companies in danger of going out of business, large companies with rock-solid balance sheets are looking good these days. In difficult times, big companies with lots of cash can take advantage by investing through a downcycle to take market share, buy back their own stock, or make bargain acquisitions. In the best of all worlds, they do all three.
In that light, here are three large-cap stocks that, even after the market's historic run since March, still look like bargain buys today.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 was looking to be a solid year for Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL). Obviously, things changed with the pandemic outbreak, as many businesses, especially those in travel and leisure, greatly reduced their advertising spend in Alphabet's Google properties. In fact, research firm eMarketer predicts Google's ad revenue will decline about 5% in 2020 -- the first time in Google's history it will experience an ad-revenue decline. That dour outlook may be why Alphabet is the only FAANG stock that currently sits below its February high.
However, that could spell opportunity. While Alphabet's ad revenue may decrease this year, its cloud infrastructure business is booming, up 52.2% in the first quarter. Video-conferencing app Google Meet also saw a 30-fold increase in usage in Q1, and Chromebook laptop sales boomed in March as work-from-home and remote education took hold in the wake of the pandemic.
While Alphabet's overall ad revenue declined to exit the quarter, YouTube actually remained resilient, exiting Q1 at a 9% growth rate. Meanwhile, YouTube premium subscriptions grew as people looked to digital subscriptions to pass the time at home.
So at least part of Alphabet's empire is quite resistant to the coronavirus, even if ad revenue suffers in the near term. Thus, Alphabet is simultaneously both a stay-at-home play and a recovery play. On top of that, investors have several lottery tickets in the form of Alphabet's "other bets," which include self-driving car company Waymo, along with many other futuristic technologies.
Finally, Alphabet has the cash not only to buy back its own stock, which it did in record amounts last quarter as the share price fell, but also to make acquisitions. Last week, Alphabet bought smart-glasses maker North, which should bolster Alphabet's efforts in augmented reality and ambient computing. All in all, Alphabet's financial strength and diversified business make it a great buy heading into July, even after a significant price recovery from the March lows.
Warren Buffett-led conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK.A) (NYSE:BRK.B) has been a huge underperformer this year. In fact, Berkshire's stock is down over 21% on the year -- roughly 17% behind the S&P 500.
However, Berkshire is much, much more than just these public investments. It has arguably the best insurance operations in the entire world, an essential U.S railroad in BNSF, and an industry-leading utility that's poised to profit from the clean-energy boom for years to come. And by the way, not all of Buffett's public-equity investments are suffering. Berkshire's largest stock holding is Apple, which has absolutely trounced the market over the past few years, even in COVID-19-affected 2020.
Today, Berkshire trades under 1.2 times book value -- the level at which Buffett said he'd gladly repurchase Berkshire stock. Outside of Berkshire's cash and investments, its operating businesses appear to trade at just a mid-single-digit multiple of last year's operating earnings. Moreover, one Berkshire board member personally bought millions of dollars of stock back in May at similar levels to where Berkshire's stock trades now.
Although the market is currently in love with high-flying technology stocks, value investors would be hard-pressed to find a better opportunity than investing alongside the guru of value investing himself this July.
Applied Materials (NASDAQ:AMAT) is the largest semi-cap equipment manufacturer in terms of revenue and sports a market cap of $56 billion, putting it firmly in large-cap territory. The company makes equipment that helps produce advanced semiconductors and memory chips, which are becoming more important to large companies and even whole countries. That makes Applied's stock seem like a good bet today, as 5G, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things sectors all seem poised to take off this decade. That means an increasing need for more and more powerful chips.
However, as semiconductor manufacturing runs up against the limits of Moore's law, it takes more manufacturing steps to produce smaller, denser, and more powerful semiconductor and memory chips. That means more equipment purchases by these producers, and thus more sales for Applied Materials.
Despite these favorable long-term prospects, like the other two stocks above, Applied Materials hasn't yet made it all the way back to its February highs. Semiconductors are a notoriously cyclical business, and some fear the current recession will limit investment in the sector.
However, the pandemic has only put more of a premium on advanced technology as the work-from-home culture takes hold. Moreover, 2019 was already a "down" year for semiconductor-equipment investment, which declined substantially from 2018.
Semiconductor companies can only hold back on investment for so long before losing their competitiveness, so Applied Materials' equipment sales seem poised to bounce back this year and beyond, recession or not. Trading at just 19.3 times trailing earnings and 15.8 times forward earnings estimates, along with a well-covered 1.5% dividend, Applied Materials is a high-quality large company trading at a below-market multiple. That makes it a solid bet heading into July.