Shares of Moody's (MCO -0.11%) rose 15.7% during the first half of 2020, according to data from S&P Global Market Intelligence. The debt ratings powerhouse continued its strong multiyear run, recovering from the March market crash to exceed its price to start the year and then just recently its February highs.
Moody's benefited from a strong first-quarter earnings report that beat expectations, and its subscription-based analytics segment should remain resilient during the year, according to management.
In the first quarter, Moody's revenue increased 13.2%, with adjusted earnings per share of $2.73. Both numbers handily beat analyst expectations. Obviously, that only encompasses about one month of the coronavirus pandemic.
On its first-quarter earnings presentation, management forecast that its debt ratings segment, which includes about 60% of 2019 revenue, would likely decline in the high single digits this year. While investment-grade issuances are actually forecast to increase as companies raise capital to weather the storm, big decreases in high-yield or "junk" bonds as well as leveraged loans are going to bring down the overall segment. Meanwhile, Moody's analytics division, which made up around 40% of revenue last year, is expected to achieve mid-single digit growth with expanding margins.
This all adds up to overall 2020 guidance of mid-single-digit revenue declines but just low-single-digit earnings declines. That's well below Moody's 8% average revenue growth rate and 15% EPS average growth rate of the past few years, but considering the circumstances, the outlook certainly paints the picture of a recession-resistant company.
Moody's is a high-quality, wide-moat business that, while not immune from the fallout of COVID-19, will likely be quite profitable even in this "down" year. As a result, it trades rather expensively at 33 times next year's earnings estimates.
Still, these types of high-quality growth stocks are winning the day, and I would expect the gains to continue, though perhaps not at the levels of the past few months.