Happy birthday, America! On this day, 244 years ago, all but one of the 13 United Colonies officially adopted the Declaration of Independence, thus declaring their collective right to govern without England calling the shots. But despite this freedom, far too many Americans are still held captive by their finances. A survey released by GOBankingRates last year found that nearly 7 in 10 Americans have $1,000 or less in savings, which would suggest that many are not where they need to be with regard to retirement planning.
Thankfully, the stock market has proven to be quite the long-term equalizer. Among the various ways Americans can put their money to work, none has generated stronger returns over the long run than the stock market.
If you have spare cash that won't be needed to pay bills or cover emergencies, then the following blend of growth and income stocks should be perfect to help you secure your financial freedom.
The first top stock that'll put you on the path toward financial independence is e-commerce giant Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN). You might be under the impression that its nearly $1.4 trillion market cap means its best days are in the rearview mirror, but a quick look at its income statements suggest otherwise.
Most people are familiar with Amazon because of the company's enormous online marketplace. Today, Amazon is responsible for approximately 40% of all U.S. e-commerce sales in the United States. Being the go-to source for online orders means that Amazon's efforts to reduce its overhead and improve its logistics have paid off. Although retail margins tend to be very small, the company's retail operations are responsible for building up the brand and keeping users loyal to the ecosystem of products and services offered by the e-commerce giant.
However, Amazon's future is very much dependent on the success of its cloud-services segment, Amazon Web Services (AWS). AWS is an infrastructure-as-service play that helps small and medium-sized businesses build their clouds. Considering that the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has pushed more businesses than ever into the digital realm, cloud-service plays should see an increasing amount of demand.
But what's important here is that Amazon generates considerably juicier margins from cloud than from retail, ads, and content. Thus, as AWS becomes a greater percentage of total sales over time, Amazon's operating cash flow will expand even faster.
Generally speaking, medical devices are a commoditized field that can lead to a lot of competition and razor-thin margins. But that's not what long-term investors are going to get with surgical-system developer Intuitive Surgical (NASDAQ:ISRG).
As of the end of March, Intuitive had installed 5,669 of its da Vinci surgical systems worldwide, which is far more than all of the company's competitors combined! Over the past two decades, these installations have allowed the company to build up priceless rapport with the medical community, which has made it highly unlikely that Intuitive Surgical's clients leave for a competitor.
But it's not the sale of these intricate systems that's going to drive Intuitive Surgical's growth. Instead, it's the instruments and accessories sold with each procedure, as well as the servicing done on these systems, which provide the bulk of the company's growth and operating margin. That's excellent news, considering that as the number of installed systems increases, the percentage of revenue generated from these higher-margin channels rises. This is another way of saying that Intuitive's operating margins should expand over time.
Among healthcare stocks, there may not be a more surefire long-term winner.
Another way to achieve financial independence is by adding the premier financial technology stock to your portfolio, Square (NYSE:SQ). Though it's fundamentally pricey, there are two key reasons Square is worth every penny of the premium investors are currently paying.
First off, there's Square's seller ecosystem, which was responsible for processing more than $106 billion in gross payment volume last year. While this seller ecosystem is best known for aiding small and medium-sized businesses facilitate transactions, it's the steady increase in use among larger businesses that's turning heads.
In the first quarter, Square saw a higher percentage of payment volume coming from businesses with more than $125,000 in annualized gross payment volume (GPV) than under $125,000, which is a marked shift from previous years. If Square can effectively court these larger merchants, its seller-based fee revenue could soar in the United States' consumption-driven economy.
The other reason Square deserves a premium valuation is Cash App, which looks to be its golden ticket to enormous profit potential. The peer-to-peer payment system saw its monthly active user (MAU) count more than triple from 7 million to 24 million between the end of 2017 and the end of 2019. Given the concerns surrounding COVID-19, it would not be surprising if MAUs potentially doubled in 2020.
With the ability to invest directly from Cash App, move money to and from traditional bank accounts from the App, and utilize Cash Card as a traditional debit card that's linked to a customer's Cash App balance, Square's "golden ticket" looks unstoppable.
Don't overlook the fact that brand-name growth stocks can also provide value and income. That's why investors looking to take charge of their financial futures are going to want to add Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) to their portfolios.
Every investor wants the luxury of going to sleep at night without having to worry about their portfolio. There's perhaps no "safer" stock out there than Microsoft, in this respect. You see, Microsoft is one of only two publicly traded companies with the highly coveted AAA credit rating from Standard & Poor's. This means S&P has more confidence in Microsoft to repay its debts than it does in the U.S. government making good on its own debts (the U.S. government has a AA credit rating from S&P).
Microsoft is a big beneficiary of exceptionally high-margin software and cloud services. It continues to rake in cash flow from its legacy Windows operating system (which still dominates PCs, by the way), and has seen its growth rate pick up as software-as-a-service platform Azure has gained new clients. On a constant-currency basis, Azure's sales grew 61% in the most recent quarter from the prior-year period. Similar to Amazon, Microsoft's operating cash flow should notably expand as cloud revenue becomes a greater percentage of total sales.
I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention Microsoft's dividend, which has pretty much quadrupled over the past decade. The company's current yield of 1% may not sound like much, but Microsoft is dishing out around $15 billion annually to its shareholders in dividend payouts.
Finally, securing your financial independence means locking up steady income -- and there's arguably no better way to do that than with telecom giant AT&T (NYSE:T).
AT&T's high-growth days are certainly in the rearview mirror, but that hasn't stopped the company from delivering superior income to its shareholders. AT&T is a Dividend Aristocrat that's increased its payout for 36 consecutive years and counting. As of the end of June 2020, AT&T was yielding a mouthwatering 6.9% annually to its shareholders, which is more than triple the average yield of the S&P 500.
However, this boring business still has a few tricks up its sleeve. For instance, the rollout of 5G networks should be a long-term positive. Though the cost to upgrade wireless infrastructure is hefty, AT&T will see data consumption rise at the consumer and enterprise level for years to come. This tech-upgrade cycle should help to fuel growth at AT&T's wireless division, which is where it generates its juiciest margins.
AT&T also stands to benefit from an increase in consumer streaming activity. Whereas subsidiary DirecTV has been hurt by cord-cutting, the recent launch of HBO Max may be able to rope viewers back into the AT&T ecosystem.
At less than nine times forward earnings, AT&T is a top-notch income stock at a very fair price.