You don't need to be a millionaire to invest in the stock market. In fact, with fractional shares and no-fee investing, you could get started with as little as $5. But if you had a bit more to sock away -- say, $5,000 -- you're still not out of the woods. You have to figure out where to invest it.
With the stock market at record highs, new investors might get discouraged. However, there are still plenty of stocks that should do well over the next several years, despite trading at record highs currently. Here are three top prospects to consider buying right now.
If you're a freelancer or a contractor, you need to find ways to reach new prospective clients. If you're a business looking for a freelancer with expertise in a particular area -- say, technical writing or graphic design -- you could benefit from Upwork (UPWK 1.84%), an online marketplace for freelancers and contractors.
Upwork allows companies to post available jobs to its site, then accept confidential bids from freelancers and independent contractors. Companies can interview candidates, read reviews and check references, and pay the contractor they eventually hire, all in one place.
With unemployment high and many "gig economy" jobs vanishing, many workers may turn to self-employment and freelance work to make ends meet. Indeed, Upwork's sales grew 19% in the second quarter of 2020, and management is predicting another 14% growth in sales in the third quarter. Like many young IT companies, Upwork isn't yet profitable because it's spending a lot on marketing. However, with sales growing and the company's second-quarter net loss much smaller than expected, Upwork looks like a promising buy.
Trading below $15/share, an even lot of 100 Upwork shares sells for less than $1,500.
2. Darling Ingredients
Animal proteins and fats don't sound too appetizing, but they're what bacon is made of, so they can't be all bad. They've certainly done wonders for renderer and processor Darling Ingredients (DAR 2.08%), which turns animal proteins and fats like used restaurant fry oil into usable ingredients like gelatin and additives for animal feed. Through its Diamond Green Diesel partnership with Valero, Darling also makes renewable diesel fuel.
Darling surprised the market with better-than-expected performance in the first quarter, and it delivered another stunner when it reported blockbuster second quarter 2020 earnings on Aug. 5. Revenue was up 2.6% year over year, but net income and per-share earnings were more than double what they were in second quarter 2019. That was despite some market observers who worried that the company's sales would suffer due to shutdowns of restaurants (a key source of Darling's ingredients). Darling even managed to pay down $5 million in debt during the quarter.
Since the report, Darling's stock has popped up to an all-time high of about $33/share. But its valuation is near an all-time low of just 13.2 times earnings. With continued growth likely, especially for Diamond Green Diesel, Darling looks like a buy. At current prices, 50 shares of Darling would cost about $1,650.
3. Brookfield Infrastructure Partners
Both Upwork and Darling are growth stocks that have some risk attached to them. A good counterbalance to those stocks in a portfolio would be master limited partnership (MLP) Brookfield Infrastructure Partners (BIP -0.10%).
Like most MLPs, Brookfield pays a distribution -- the MLP version of a dividend -- that's currently yielding about 4.6%. The company supports that payout by operating a globally diversified portfolio of infrastructure assets, including natural gas pipelines, telecom towers, data networks, and railroads. Roughly 95% of Brookfield's cash flow comes from assets that are either regulated or operated under fixed-rate, long-term contracts. That all but ensures a reliable stream of cash flow.
Brookfield plans to grow its distribution by between 5% and 9% per year, so now is a good time to buy in. With units -- the MLP version of shares -- trading at about $45/share, 41 shares would cost $1,845.
What's right for you
Buying 100 shares of Upwork, 50 shares of Darling Ingredients, and 41 units of Brookfield Infrastructure Partners would pretty neatly fit into a $5,000 budget, but those amounts may not be best for your portfolio. If you're a value-conscious, low-risk dividend investor, Brookfield is going to be more your speed. Meanwhile, if you like high-risk, high-reward tech stocks, Upwork is probably more up your alley.
Though they're very different, these three stocks have one thing in common: each looks like a solid pick right now.