Every year since 1894, the first Monday in September has been a federally recognized holiday to "celebrate the social and economic achievements of American workers," according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
However, Labor Day has taken on a completely different feel in 2020. The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has potentially cancelled or subdued friend or family get-togethers, as well as vacations. About the only thing that feels normal this year is the fact that retailers are aggressively advertising Labor Day sales to lure in physical and online shoppers.
But what you might not realize, especially with the stock market in all-out rally mode for more than five months, is that you can buy great stocks on sale right now. And I don't mean the type of sale you roll your eyes at because the department store advertises it 15 times a year. I'm talking about three deep-discount stocks that are serious bargains, and which could generate big-time returns if you're patient.
Here are the real Labor Day specials that you should consider buying.
If you want a deal, there's little need to look beyond bank stocks, which have been absolutely taken to the woodshed since the coronavirus pandemic pushed the U.S. into recession. With the Federal Reserve lowering its federal funds rate back to a record-tying low, banks can expect their interest income to be constrained for the next couple of years. At the same time, financial concerns for businesses and consumers are expected to push loan delinquencies higher for banks. It's a double whammy that's sunk the industry.
But within the financial sector, you'd struggle to find a better bargain than Wells Fargo (WFC -2.67%). Even with Wells Fargo attempting to move past an unauthorized account scandal that was fully disclosed three years ago, it's tough to justify the company's incredibly cheap valuation. You can buy a share of Wells Fargo, as of Sept. 3, for 63% of book value. The only time Wells Fargo has traded below a price-to-book value of less than 63% over the past 30 years was a one-week period during the height of the financial crisis in 2009.
Historically speaking, banking scandals rarely have a lasting negative impact. We witnessed Bank of America completely turn itself around over the past 11 years following more than $60 billion in legal settlements tied to its mortgage practices during the financial crisis. Wells Fargo can do the same, as well as lure back the affluent clientele that have been so pivotal in pushing its operating margins higher.
Wells Fargo also has a tried-and-true leader at the reins, Charles Scharf. Although he's Wells Fargo's third CEO in nearly as many years, Scharf led payment-processing giant Visa for a period of four years and ultimately doubled profits for the company. With Scharf focused on cost-controls and enhancing digital engagement, Wells Fargo has all the tools necessary to once again deliver superior return on assets among money-center banks.
Sometimes the deepest-discount stocks are actually growth stocks that aren't getting any respect. That's why drug developer Alexion Pharmaceuticals (ALXN) is a stock you'll want to consider buying.
There are literally hundreds of publicly traded drugmakers for investors to choose from, but Alexion stands out for one big reason: its focus on ultra-rare indications. There's obvious risk in developing therapies to treat what can be very small patient pools, but the payoff is robust and long-lasting if successful. Since ultra-rare diseases have so few applicable patents, competition is virtually nonexistent and insurers rarely put up a fuss on reimbursing high list prices.
For more than a decade, Alexion has ridden blockbuster drug Soliris to substantive growth. Currently, Soliris is generating approximately $4 billion in annual sales. But Soliris isn't the future for Alexion. That goes to Ultomiris, a next-generation therapy that's only administered once every eight weeks, as opposed to every two weeks with Soliris. Ultomiris is designed to replace Soliris over time, thusly protecting Alexion's cash flow in the ultra-rare indications the company targets.
Alexion also isn't afraid to bolster its portfolio through acquisitions. Though these deals haven't always paid off, some show substantial promise. For instance, the acquisition of Portola Pharmaceuticals earlier this year brought Andexxa under its product umbrella. Andexxa, which can reverse the anticoagulant effects of Factor Xa inhibitors, has conservative peak annual sales potential of $500 million.
Right now, investors can buy this rare-disease drug developer that's capable of growing sales and earnings at a low double-digit rate for just 9 times next year's earnings and 10 times current operating cash flow. For context, Alexion's forward P/E has averaged 18 over the past five years, and its average multiple to cash flow is 31.5 between 2015 and 2019. It's an absolute steal at these levels.
Walgreens Boots Alliance
Investors used to plucking great deals off of the clearance rack would also be wise to consider putting money to work in pharmacy chain Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA -1.47%).
Whereas most healthcare stocks are recession-resistant and see little change to demand during recessions, that's not been the case for Walgreens during the pandemic. Its stores are seeing less in the way of foot traffic and front-end sales, which has adversely impacted the company's profitability in 2020.
But there's good news, too. To begin with, Walgreens is perfectly positioned to grow its top and bottom line as America grows older. As baby boomers age, their reliance on maintenance therapies is likely to increase. Since pharmacies like Walgreens make the bulk of their margin on filling prescriptions, this bodes well for the company's long-term organic growth potential.
Walgreens Boots Alliance has also made significant strides in precision medicine and convenience for its shoppers. The company's Boots.com website has been generating double-digit sales growth, while its digital Find Care platform has been successful in connecting patients who have chronic health conditions with specialists or general physicians. Patients who have a chronic health condition have the potential to become regular pharmacy customers, and Walgreens' management knows it.
Investors wanting to scoop up shares of Walgreens Boots Alliance can do so right now and pay just over 7 times forward earnings. The only time over the past three decades that Walgreens' price-to-earnings ratio has been this cheap was for a very short period of time at the tail-end of the Great Recession, 11 years ago.
And, as the icing on the cake, Walgreens is a Dividend Aristocrat with a 44-year streak of increasing its base annual payout. Its current yield of 5% is nearly triple that of the S&P 500.