2020 has been, for lack of a better word, bizarre for investors. In the midst of the worst economic downturn in the past century and an ongoing global pandemic, the U.S. stock market has managed to recover the bulk of its losses this year. At recent prices, the S&P 500 Index ETF Trust (SPY 0.14%) is within a percentage point of where it started in 2020, and on a total returns basis is back to breakeven. 

But we are still in the midst of a massive recession, and COVID-19 cases are surging. And even though so far the death toll hasn't approached what we saw at the peak, hospitals -- more specifically ICUs -- are starting to fill up, potentially the writing on the wall that things are going to take a turn for the worse. If that happens, we could see more places roll back the reopenings of businesses where people mingle and personal distancing is difficult, putting a pause on the beginnings of the economic recovery. 

Risk and reward on scales on chalkboard.

Image source: Getty Images.

That could scare investors badly enough to send stocks crashing again. But whether a second 2020 crash happens or not, there are plenty of stocks worth buying right now. Three at the top of my list are Brookfield Infrastructure (BIP 0.56%) (BIPC 1.83%)NV5 Global (NVEE 0.24%), and Mastercard (MA 0.30%). Here's why they're worth buying now, and holding, before the next stock market crash. 

Two stocks set for huge returns on the growth of infrastructure

Roads, bridges, telecommunications, water, and other infrastructure assets probably seem extremely boring, particularly compared to many of the tech stocks that have crushed it this year. However, I think investors have overlooked one of the biggest growth opportunities over the next 20 years in their hurry to buy the next big "work from home" cloud stock. 

According to the world's biggest economies, the next several decades are going to require many trillions of dollars to be spent around the world to grow infrastructure in developing economies that are experiencing massive middle class growth, and to modernize aging infrastructure in western nations that have fallen behind. 

For Brookfield Infrastructure, which invests in, operates, and improves these kinds of assets, the opportunity to continue delivering massive returns to investors shouldn't be ignored. The company has already delivered almost 475% in total returns since going public in 2009:

BIP Chart

BIP data by YCharts

But its best days could be ahead, and investors looking for growth or income should give it a very close look. At recent prices, shares yield almost 4.9%, and the dividend growth record is amazing at nearly 10 straight years. 

NV5's opportunity is on helping plan, design, and implement infrastructure projects, and in its short life (the IPO was in late 2013) it has delivered almost 550% in gains. Yet it's also still very small, with trailing 12-month revenue of $557 million and a market cap below $650 million at recent prices.

With founder and CEO Dickerson Wright still in charge and owning about 25% of the business, there's a lot to like about the company's potential over the next decade and more. The company's operating cash flow per share has grown 893% since its IPO, so there's an amazing track record of turning new business into more profits. 

NVEE Revenue (TTM) Chart

NVEE Revenue (TTM) data by YCharts

"Mastering" the future of commerce

Mastercard is another company that's delivered enormous returns in a relatively short public life. In less than 15 years, shareholders have enjoyed a remarkable 6,830% in total returns as more of the way people around the world pay for things has moved away from cash. 

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic looks to be accelerating that transition, too. Between stay-at-home orders that have pushed more people to try e-commerce, and the reduced risk of exposure by using cards and mobile pay for in-person transactions, Mastercard's role in the consumer economy continues to get bigger. 

MA Operating Margin (TTM) Chart

MA Operating Margin (TTM) data by YCharts

That's why, even with revenues of $300 billion, the company can continue growing. The world's middle class is getting larger, and that means more people spending disposable income and using consumer debt. With a number of durable competitive advantages, incredibly high margins, and a very scalable business, Mastercard is worth buying and holding for many years to come. 

Why they're worth buying before the next crash

One look at the economy and ongoing pandemic, and it seems like the party for stocks has to come to an end soon, right? The catch is, people have been making that exact same assumption for months now, only to watch stocks move higher. It's just impossible to predict when markets will crash, and when they will zoom higher. 2020 has proven that in spades. 

Simply put, there's just too much risk of opportunity cost to sit in cash and ignore these wonderful companies because the market feels like a crash is coming. That's particularly true considering all three are still trading at double-digit discounts to their individual high prices: 

NVEE Chart

NVEE data by YCharts

Instead of waiting for the next crash to buy, a better approach is to invest in these great companies now. If they crash in the next few weeks or months and the price falls below what you paid, that's an opportunity to buy moreI'd rather take that opportunity than sit things out and never buy, waiting for a market crash and a better price that never materializes.