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3 Top Infrastructure Stocks to Buy Right Now

By Neha Chamaria – Oct 10, 2020 at 9:05AM

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With construction spending on the rise, these infrastructure stocks look compelling.

President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden may have polar opposite views on just about everything, but they're on the same page about one goal: rebuilding America's infrastructure. It's an essential goal, because the nation can't function without its roads, airports, energy, water, and telecommunication systems -- and America's existing infrastructure is in far from its best shape.

Regardless of who wins the 2020 race to the White House, you should be cherry-picking infrastructure stocks if you're betting on an economic recovery. With construction spending already on the rise, get into these three infrastructure stocks -- each a leader in its own right -- before it's too late. 

An offbeat but smart infrastructure turnaround play

You need machinery to construct, and while equipment manufacturers are the first to come to mind, I have my eyes on the world's largest equipment rental company, United Rentals (URI 0.60%). Here are some notable facts about the company:

  • United Rentals has roughly 13% share in the North American equipment rental market.
  • As of June 30, it had a fleet of more than 640,000 units worth $14.1 billion.
  • Non-residential construction and industrial markets generated roughly 47% each in revenue in 2019. Only 5% came from residential construction.
  • The company's revenue clocked 14.8% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) between 2009 and 2019.

2019 was a record year for United Rentals with revenue soaring 16% to $9.3 billion. Over the years, acquisitions have played a big role in United Rentals' top-line growth -- its last notable acquisition was that of BlueLine Rental in late 2018 for $2.1 billion.

A closeup view of a bridge.

Image source: Getty Images.

United Rentals was all set to deliver another record year in 2020 when COVID-19 struck. But with volumes picking up in the second quarter, the company reintroduced full-year guidance and expects $8.25 billion in revenue at the midpoint. That number unsurprisingly reflects a challenging year, but investors should look at the bigger picture.

When the economy is shaky, heavy-machinery users prefer to rent equipment as they strive to curtail costs and preserve cash. That scenario's highly likely to play out when the economy's recovering this time around given the COVID-19 uncertainty, and should bode particularly well for United Rentals. This potential catalyst, and the fact that the company expects to generate $2 billion in free cash flow this year and use most of it to pare down debt, underpins my conviction in the stock.

This stock's built to last

What better way to play an economic recovery than by investing in a company that owns and operates a humongous portfolio of essential infrastructure assets? Brookfield Infrastructure Partners (BIPC -1.91%) (BIP -2.23%) is a top-class company in its league, with significant global operations in utilities, transport, data, and energy. That covers a wide gamut of the infrastructure industry, offering investors a fantastic opportunity to diversify within the industry by owning just one stock.

Moreover, although infrastructure is a cyclical industry, the bulk of Brookfield's businesses generate stable and steady income and cash flows under long-term, fixed-rate, or regulated contracts. That is why the company hasn't just paid, but has grown, its dividend per share at a CAGR of 11% between 2009 and 2020. The dividend growth, when combined with a strong dividend yield -- currently 4% -- has generated multibagger returns for shareholders over the years. 

BIP Chart

BIP data by YCharts

Brookfield is now increasingly betting on high-growth areas like 5G technology. Its latest acquisition is proof: In September, Brookfield acquired 135,000 telecom towers in India from the nation's largest conglomerate. The deal could add significant value to Brookfield given India's massive addressable telecommunications market.

With Brookfield Infrastructure targeting 5% to 9% annual dividend growth in the long term, shareholders can easily expect double-digit annual returns from this stock. That makes for one of the most compelling investments you can find in a cyclical industry like infrastructure.

Here's an extraordinary dividend growth stock

Nucor's (NUE -1.74%) name may not come to mind when you think infrastructure, but this company is the leading manufacturer of steel: a raw material that's indispensable for building infrastructure assets, from bridges and dams to pipelines and rail tracks. That's what makes Nucor an offbeat yet appealing bet on infrastructure.

Nucor's agility is on display yet again. Right from the start of the coronavirus outbreak, the company got down to evaluating inventory and capital projects to conserve cash and improve its liquidity position. In April, Nucor projected these initiatives to generate an additional $1 billion in free cash flow in 2020. By the end of the second quarter, Nucor's cash, cash equivalents, and short-term investments had sequentially doubled to $3 billion.

It helps that Nucor produces steel from processed scrap in its mini-mills that use electric arc furnaces instead of traditional blast furnaces. It's a low-cost, flexible production model that can largely be credited for Nucor's resiliency through economic downcycles. More importantly, the direct induced iron that's produced from scrap and is Nucor's key raw material comes from its own backyard -- the company is the largest metal scrap recycler in the U.S. This self-reliance is a huge competitive advantage.

With non-residential construction picking up, Nucor expects to earn $0.50 to $0.55 per share in its third quarter. Just in July, the steel giant was expecting Q3 earnings to mirror its second-quarter earnings of $0.36 per share. Clearly, Nucor is doing something right. 

As the most diversified steel manufacturer in terms of product and end market, Nucor should benefit hugely from an uptick in construction activity. Nucor's also a Dividend Aristocrat, having increased dividends every year for 47 consecutive years. Top that with a 3.4% yield, and Nucor is a great stock to own at all times.

Neha Chamaria has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Brookfield Infrastructure and Brookfield Infrastructure Partners. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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