Election season is a reminder that nothing lasts forever. That includes 2020, which may have worn out its welcome by now. But 2021 is just around the corner. If you've got some money to spare, you may want to invest in stocks that have had temporary setbacks in 2020 but have good prospects moving forward. And the industrial space is full of worthy candidates.
We asked three of our Motley Fool contributors what their top picks would be if they had an extra $1,000. They came back with Johnson Controls (JCI -0.32%), Stanley Black & Decker (SWK -1.55%), and Darling Ingredients (DAR 0.14%). Here's why.
Growing by leaps and bounds
John Bromels (Darling Ingredients): 2020 should have been a challenging year for the animal products refiner. During the pandemic, restaurants -- a major source of Darling's namesake "ingredients," like used fry oil and grease trap contents -- were closing or operating at reduced capacity. Fuel demand was slipping just as Darling was completing a major expansion to its Diamond Green Diesel biofuel refinery, a joint venture with Valero. And nobody knew how the health, nutrition, and animal feed markets were going to react.
Darling defied the odds, outperforming expectations in Q1... and Q2... and again in Q3, results that have boosted the company's stock price by 63% year to date. However, I think Darling still has room to grow, especially when the current challenging economic conditions are in the rearview mirror.
Already, according to CEO Randall Stuewe on the Q3 2020 earnings call, the company is "experiencing a better pricing environment for our protein products and for our fats and oil products in the fourth quarter. And this should provide a positive catalyst heading into 2021." Meanwhile, demand for Diamond Green Diesel is growing, with record sales of 80 million gallons in Q3, and a 400 million gallon expansion project set to come online next year.
Despite the stock's upward momentum, Darling's price-to-earnings ratio has barely budged, and at 15.5 times earnings, it is near the low end of its historic range. That's a great value for a company that's just at the beginning of its growth trajectory.
This building efficiency maven is also a master at generating cash
Scott Levine (Johnson Controls): Underperforming the market this year, shares of Johnson Controls have climbed a little more than 7% while the S&P 500 has risen 9%. But don't let the stock's lackluster 2020 fool you. After the company's recent Q4 2020 earnings report, it seems like now is a great opportunity for investors to pick up shares of this industrials stalwart.
Beating analysts' expectations of $5.67 billion, Johnson Controls reported Q4 revenue of $5.95 billion, and it provided shareholders with a pleasant surprise on the bottom line as well. Whereas analysts expected the company to report adjusted earnings per share of $0.73, Johnson Controls reported adjusted EPS of $0.76.
It's not only the company's recent performance that warrants recognition; its future looks bright as well. For one, Johnson Controls reported that it ended Q4 2020 with a backlog of $9.2 billion, representing 2% year-over-year growth. And the demand for its industry-leading products and solutions remains strong. Johnson Controls also expects its cash flow generation to remain strong in 2021. Management, in fact, expects to generate $1.7 billion in free cash flow for 2021.
It's not only the company's auspicious 2021 free cash flow forecast, however, that makes Johnson Controls a compelling opportunity. The company's recent launch of Open Blue, a suite of connected solutions for buildings, reflects its ability to develop cutting-edge solutions in the area of smart buildings -- a global market that is expected to reach $127 billion by 2027 -- which suggests the company stands to continue to prosper beyond 2021.
Stanley Black & Decker and the new normal
Lee Samaha (Stanley Black & Decker): Investors in the tool company must be wondering at what point it will report a normal set of results. Stanley has faced significant headwinds in the last few years coming from adverse currency movements, tariff costs, and commodity price rises. For example, the headwinds were $370 million in 2018, $445 million in 2019, and are expected to be $165 million in 2020. All of these costs have acted as a drag on profits in recent years.
The picture gets even more confusing when you consider that Stanley's industrial sales have come under pressure in 2020 thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, stay-at-home measures have sparked interest in DIY activity and led to double-digit increases in sales. As such, Stanley's sales and earnings have been distorted, again, by a set of temporary market conditions.
That said, the headwinds will eventually dissipate as foreign currency movements won't always be against the company, production/sourcing is being shifted out of China, and history suggests commodity prices experience cycles. Moreover, if the easing of the pandemic leads to a slowing of growth in Stanley's DIY tool sales, then it's likely that its industrial tool sales will pick up.
Furthermore, all these external events have obscured the substantial progress that management has made through consolidating the industry (Lenox, Irwin, and Craftsman brands have been bought in the last few years), developing e-commerce channels, and growing its relationship with the major home improvement retailers.
When the dust finally settles, Stanley Black & Decker is expected to emerge as a company growing at a mid-singe-digit pace with margin expansion opportunities as the headwinds dissipate. As such, Wall Street analysts expect earnings and free cash flow to increase at a double-digit rate over the next couple of years. Given that Stanley trades on just 18 times its current free cash flow, the stock looks like a good value right now.