In case you missed the memo, the U.S. economy is in a recession -- its first in 11 years. The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic completely turned the business world on its head, and has sent the U.S. unemployment rate to levels not consistently seen in more than eight decades. According to initial data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, second-quarter gross domestic product declined by an ugly 9.5% on a quarter over quarter basis. 

Though things may appear grim from an economic perspective, recessions have always offered an opportunity for long-term investors to buy into high-quality stocks at attractive valuations. We may not know when a recession will occur, or how long it'll last, but we do know recessions have a history of being relatively short-lived. That's good news for optimists.

But there's another way to improve your odds of investing success even more: buy recession-resistant companies. No company is fully shielded from the effects of an economic downturn, but some highly recession-resistant stocks have what it takes to navigate these "hiccups" with ease. Here are four such names you can consider buying now.

A dollar sign rising from the financial section of the newspaper.

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Mastercard

It probably sounds insane to consider a financial services company as being in any way recession-resistant, but that's exactly how you should treat payment facilitator Mastercard (NYSE:MA) during tough economic times.

To begin with, it's not as if retail spending comes to a dead stop during a recession. Consumers still need to buy basic goods and services, but may be less willing to use cash to do so. This makes it all the more likely that Mastercard will be responsible for helping to facilitate an increase in credit-based/cashless transactions during economic contractions.

Furthermore, it's important to remember that Mastercard solely focuses on facilitating cashless transactions. Though it can be tempting to also lend money during periods of expansion, and thusly double-dip with interest income, recessions lead to an increase in loan delinquencies. These rising loan delinquencies can wallop direct lenders, but will remain nothing more than an indirect threat to Mastercard, with discretionary transactions falling off a bit. By staying out of the lending arena, Mastercard is able to consistently produce operating margins of between 50% and 57%.

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Livongo Health

The fact is that most healthcare stocks are pretty darn recession resistant. That's because people don't get to choose when they get sick or what ailment(s) they develop, leading to relatively consistent product and service demand for healthcare companies. One name in particular that I'd like to highlight is healthcare solutions provider Livongo Health (NASDAQ:LVGO).

Livongo aggregates mountains of data from patients with chronic illnesses, then uses artificial intelligence to send its members tips and nudges to incite positive behavioral changes. This helps patients with chronic illnesses stay on top of their disease. Despite the ongoing pandemic, Livongo continues to at least double the number of Diabetes members it's enrolled on a year-over-year basis. Best of all, Livongo is just scratching the tip of the iceberg, as its solutions also have the potential to help people with hypertension and weight-management issues, as well.

Livongo also happens to be merging with Teladoc Health, a rapidly growing telemedicine services provider. The ability to connect with a physician from your home, and have that physician maintain remote oversight, could make this combined company quite the dynamic duo in any economic environment.

A stack of gold ingots placed next to Ben Franklin's face on a one hundred dollar bill.

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Kirkland Lake Gold

Investors can also count on gold-mining stocks to be highly recession resistant. With gold typically viewed as a hedge play, I'd suggest that Kirkland Lake Gold (NYSE:KL) should have little issue keeping it head above water during a recession.

There are two factors at play here. First of all, there's the high likelihood that the underlying price of gold is going to rise during a recession. When economic contractions strike, the Federal Reserve lowers lending rates, and on occasion it pumps up the money supply via quantitative easing measures. Additionally, fear and panic are often prevalent on Wall Street. All of these factors feed into pushing the price of gold higher.

More specific to Kirkland Lake Gold, it's the most cash-rich mining stock in the industry (based on net cash), with one of the lowest all-in sustaining costs (AISC). Even after acquiring Detour Gold, which substantially increased Kirkland Lake Gold's mining costs, its second-quarter AISC came in at only $751 an ounce. This means Kirkland Lake will see some of the biggest upticks in cash flow and profits when the price of gold rises.

 

A gold holding a bowl in his mouth, signifying that its time for food.

Image source: Getty Images.

Freshpet

Another highly recession-resistant category where investors can put their money to work is the pet care industry. More specifically, I see no signs of slowing for organic and natural pet food producer Freshpet (NASDAQ:FRPT).

Once again, there's a macro and micro trend here that needs to be understood. On a macro level, data from the American Pet Products Association shows that there hasn't been a year-over-year decline in U.S. pet expenditures for at least a quarter of a century. This means the dot-com bubble and financial crisis didn't stop pet owners from spoiling their companion animals. It's also worth noting that almost every household views their companion pets as family, and would therefore spend big bucks to ensure their health and happiness.

On a micro level, Freshpet is firing on all cylinders. It's offering rapidly growing premium organic and natural food products that bear healthy margins and high price points that consumers are more than willing to pay. Freshpet has also more than doubled its retail store count since 2013 to over 22,100 retail locations (as of June 2020), and has really begun hitting all forms of media with its marketing campaign. If Freshpet can grow its net sales by 33% during one of the most challenging quarters in decades, imagine what it can do over the long run in an expanding economy.