Investors are focused on election results this week and how a change in the balance of power might affect their portfolio holdings. But staying focused on quality companies that can thrive no matter the political environment is a much better long-term strategy.
Three companies that I think deserve to be on investor watch lists in November are Google parent company Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOGL)(NASDAQ:GOOG), salesforce.com (NYSE:CRM), and STORE Capital (NYSE:STOR).
Let's take a closer look at why that is.
1. Alphabet: Google Search is under fire -- again
Alphabet -- specifically its Google Search bread-and-butter business -- has been in the headlines recently because the U.S. Department of Justice and 11 state attorney generals have filed a lawsuit against the company for anti-competitive practices. What that means for Google remains to be seen once the court proceedings are concluded, but big tech has been here before. Microsoft was dealt a lawsuit back in 1998 over its operating system dominance, and it still managed to do just fine since then.
Meanwhile, there's much more going on under the hood at Google these days besides internet search. Sure, Google Search hauled in $26.3 billion in revenue in Q3 2020 (a 6% year-over-year increase that quickly reversed the declines from back in Q2), good for 57% of total revenue in the period. But Google generates plenty of ad revenue elsewhere outside of search, including on YouTube and other network properties. There's also Google Cloud (which grew 45% year over year in Q3 to $3.44 billion) and the "Other" segment (up 35% to $5.48 billion) -- comprised of hardware, subscriptions, and other various businesses.
In total, Alphabet's revenue increased 14% in Q3 2020 and operating profit was up 18% from the year prior. Google Search may remain a sluggish concern for a while as it works to resolve antitrust issues, but this is now a well-diversified tech giant with plenty of growth levers to pull. Let's not forget the "Other Bets" segment and Google's other various investments spanning everything from self-driving cars and transportation to healthcare technology. Also not to be ignored is the massive net-cash balance Alphabet has on hand should the lawsuit carry monetary fines. At the end of September, the gatekeeper of the internet had nearly $119 billion in cash and marketable securities on its balance sheet.
Views on Google may be highly polarized right now, but I think this remains a worthy stock to build a portfolio around. Shares trade for 34.5 times trailing 12-month free cash flow (revenue less cash operating and capital expenses), a reasonable price tag in my opinion given the long-term potential Alphabet's empire possesses -- antitrust or not.
2. Salesforce goes on sale
While Alphabet stock is back on the rise since its Q3 report, Salesforce stock has started heading in the opposite direction after a stellar fiscal Q2 2021 report back in late August. After surging double-digit percentages to new all-time highs, shares have cooled off and are down over 20% from their peak.
No matter. Wild swings in valuation are the norm for this fast-growing software leader, and a breather after Q2 (in which Salesforce surprised investors with 29% year-over-year revenue growth and outlook for at least 21% for the full-year period) was warranted. After all, while Salesforce's 20%-plus yearly revenue growth streak looks to stay intact this year, CEO Marc Benioff and company are uninterested in maximizing the bottom-line return given the deep impact COVID-19 is having on the world. A return to profit growth will just have to wait for another time when a crisis isn't the primary concern.
Nevertheless, after the stock's pullback, I'm a buyer of Salesforce again. Shares trade for over 10 times trailing 12-month sales and 60 times trailing 12-month free cash flow (though the latter metric has been impacted by acquisitions and other spending to maximize expansion this year) -- a steep premium to be sure, but not a totally unreasonable one given Salesforce's success and emerging leadership in the enterprise software space.
Digital transformation has picked up the pace this year, and digital research agency and consultant Avionos (a Salesforce partner) thinks many years of rapid change lie ahead because of pandemic disruption. Many organizations are finding they are way behind the curve when it comes to updating their operations, and tech projects they were able to defer in times past have now become a matter of survival. Salesforce will report Q3 results in late November or early December, and I expect its strong momentum to continue.
3. STORE Capital: Don't completely count real estate out
Let's shift gears from the realm of tech to a sector that has been less than fortunate in 2020: Real estate. For many properties, the future (and how prosperous it will be) remains highly uncertain, and STORE Capital hasn't been immune. Units of the real estate investment trust (or REIT) remain down close to 40% from their peak pre-COVID-19 crisis.
But I think the pessimism baked into the current stock price is overdone if investors are looking far down the road. STORE recently said 100% of its properties were open again in October, and it had collected 90% of base rents and interest from tenants during the month (compared to 92% of properties open and 85% of base rents and interest collected the last time I caught up with the company in August). The remaining 10% of rent not collected in October continues to be deferred with interest, primarily from early childhood education centers and movie theaters.
To be sure, a bumpy road lies ahead for STORE. It's possible the ongoing pandemic will lead to more business closures, and the fate of movie theaters, in particular, is anyone's guess right now. However, my guess is moviegoing will survive in some shape or form, as will early childhood education. And while pockets of real estate (shopping malls and commercial centers in dense urban areas specifically) are looking particularly bludgeoned from the pandemic, the single-tenant properties located in more suburban areas that STORE specializes in are looking resilient.
It's also worth noting that, despite a far-from-perfect Q2 2020, STORE was (barely) back in year-over-year growth mode thanks to higher interest collections. With the rate of rental and interest collection even higher in Q3, there's a good chance STORE will post another positive revenue advance, and perhaps even a return of profit growth. STORE Capital reports on its third quarter on Aug. 5.