It's July -- the height of summer. In ordinary times, July is the month for swimming pools, summer camps, and fireworks displays. But this July is anything but ordinary, and your summertime plans have probably changed a lot because of the current situation.
With that in mind, we asked five Motley Fool contributors to share their best picks for investors during this unusual July. They came back with NV5 Global (NVEE 0.04%), Slack Technologies (WORK), NextEra Energy (NEE -1.23%), Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A -1.14%) (BRK.B -1.07%), and Apple (AAPL 2.44%). Here's why they think these stocks could put fireworks in your portfolio this month.
A small fish in an ocean of opportunity
Jason Hall (NV5 Global): Shares of this small infrastructure engineering company are up almost 75% from the March lows at this writing. Yet even with those big gains, it still represents an incredible bargain for growth investors.
What makes NV5 Global appealing? Some $94 trillion needs to be invested in global infrastructure by 2040 to meet society's needs. The global middle class is adding about 1 billion new members per decade, mostly in developing nations, while infrastructure in developed countries is in dire need of modernization. NV5 is positioned to be a participant in both sides of this push.
Since going public less than a decade ago, NV5 has grown revenue 716% and earnings per share 155%, though generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) earnings have fallen over the past couple of years largely because of expenses related to some acquisitions. Those same acquisition expenses have played some role in the share price falling. Plus, there are concerns that management has grown too quickly and too aggressively.
Founder and CEO Dickerson Wright has a proven track record of building engineering businesses, and the company is rigorous about wringing excess back-office costs out and making the most of the skillset each acquisition brings. I expect that, over the long run, this will prove out on the bottom line.
Buying NV5 right now isn't about precision. It's hard to say how infrastructure spending and NV5 will be impacted by COVID-19. But at recent prices, it's too cheap to ignore, considering its enormous growth prospects over the next decade.
This stock is no Slacker
Dan Caplinger (Slack Technologies): The COVID-19 pandemic has created a huge shift in the way that people work. With health concerns keeping millions of workers out of their offices, the ability to work remotely has become critical. Without the tools needed to collaborate effectively, the already skyrocketing levels of unemployment would be even higher. Slack Technologies has developed a platform that's tailor-made for the current situation; yet for whatever reason, its stock hasn't gotten the same level of interest that peers like Zoom Video Communications have gotten.
The first quarter of this year showed investors the potential growth ahead for Slack. The company added 90,000 new customers during the three-month period, which was more than it had brought on for the entire previous year. Although many of those customers use Slack's free offerings, paid customer counts were also up 28%, which helped boost revenue by 50% from the year-earlier quarter.
Slack is also getting tested by fire. Users are spending more time than ever on the platform, and clients who are already onboard have re-upped their commitment to Slack. Net dollar retention came in at 132%, showing that the typical customer is spending a lot more than they did a year ago to take full advantage of the features that Slack offers them.
It's true that Slack doesn't have the workplace collaboration space all to itself. Many worry that Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT) Teams platform will remain a big competitor and limit Slack's growth. Yet many users find the Slack's features greatly superior. Moreover, with a new partnership with Amazon.com (NASDAQ: AMZN), Slack has put a powerful ally in its corner. That could keep Microsoft at bay and let Slack reach its full potential.
Even once the pandemic ends, Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield thinks that there's been a generational shift in the workplace that won't go back to the way it was. A remote-friendly option that effectively replaces email has been a long time coming. Now that it's here, Slack intends to make it available to the whole world. That's good news both for the company's users and its investors, especially as Slack keeps moving forward and adding new features to its workplace collaboration toolbox.
Two hot trends in one
John Bromels (NextEra Energy): I once spent five summers in a row in Florida, and I can tell you that July in Florida means one thing: air conditioning. With temperatures soaring in the Sunshine State, electric utilities Florida Power and Light and Gulf Power are going to be busy powering the air conditioning for their combined 5.5 million customers. Luckily, both are owned by electricity juggernaut NextEra Energy, the largest utility company in the U.S. and my pick to buy this month.
Even all that air conditioning only uses about half of the power generated by NextEra's 46-gigawatt nationwide power-generation network, which largely consists of renewable energy. The rest is sold to other utilities through reliable contracts. Speaking of reliability, NextEra's dividend is currently yielding 2.3%, and it's increased its payout every year for the last 25 years.
With so much uncertainty in the stock market right now, buying solid businesses that churn out reliable cash flow can help your portfolio weather the market's ups and downs. In 2019, NextEra generated $8.2 billion in cash flow from its utility and power-generation operations, and it doesn't plan to stop there. Management projects 6% to 8% annualized increases in earnings per share and 10% yearly dividend growth through 2022.
It's the businesses in the background
Tyler Crowe (Berkshire Hathaway): Most of the time, when it comes to investing in Berkshire Hathaway, the guiding principle is "invest in Warren Buffett. He knows what he's doing." What that advice tends to focus on is the company's portfolio of stocks. Outside that stock portfolio, though, is a powerful, diverse set of owned companies that, to me, make Berkshire incredibly attractive right now.
These companies range from defensive businesses like utilities and insurance; cyclical businesses with wide moats, such as railroads and industrial manufacturing; and businesses in the areas of construction, retail, real estate, and consumer products. These businesses throw off tons of cash. Over the trailing 12 months, Berkshire's businesses generated $37.9 billion in operating cash flow (operating cash flow excludes gains and losses from the investment portfolio). Add in some equity gains, and Berkshire has generated $22 billion in free cash flow over that time period.
What makes these businesses even more compelling right now is that they only comprise about one-quarter of the company's market capitalization. So underneath that giant pile of cash and stock investments is a set of businesses generating cash and valued at only 2.8 times operating cash flow.
Yes, it can be a little frustrating to see Buffett sit on that giant pile of cash and U.S. treasury bonds, and even more frustrating that there is zero consideration of returning any of that to shareholders. That said, there are immense opportunities to grow the portfolio, and there is an amazing collection of businesses fueling that portfolio.
Sometimes the simple investment is the smart one
Chris Neiger (Apple): Apple's share price has popped roughly 50% over the past three months as investors have looked to tech stocks as a type of investment haven during the pandemic. But there are plenty of reasons why Apple will continue to be a great investment long after this tech-stock bump has faded.
For example, the company's wearable devices segment (which includes its home and accessories products) reached $6.3 billion in sales in the second quarter, thanks to its popular Apple Watch and Airpods lineup. Apple's wearable future is brighter than ever, as the company continues to release new iterations of popular devices, like its AirPods Pro, and build on its already-impressive 29% market share in the wearable tech space.
Aside from wearables, Apple has a tremendous opportunity with its budding services business thanks to its App Store, Apple Music, Apple News+, Apple TV+, and Apple Arcade. Services revenue reached an all-time high of $13 billion in the most recent quarter, and some projections put the company's annual services revenue at $100 billion by 2024.
Adding to all of this is the fact that a 5G-enabled iPhone could spur new demand for the company's smartphone and usher in what many call an upgrade super cycle among current iPhone users. While the iPhone isn't as important to Apple as it used to be, the demand would not only give Apple additional device revenue but also many years' worth of services and wearable revenue as well.
Finally, Apple proved that the company still has a very forward-looking approach to its devices and services when it announced at its WWDC20 conference that it's switching its Mac computers from Intel chips to its own Apple-designed silicon. The move may be subtle to most users, but investors should see it as yet another way for Apple to consolidate even more control over its products, and likely make them better and more efficient, so that it can continue to outpace its competitors.
When you add all of this up and throw in Apple's bent toward massive share repurchases, this tech giant looks as strong as ever and well-positioned for its next season of growth.