The U.S. officially entered a recession in February as the COVID-19 crisis shut down a wide range of industries. The S&P 500's crash, which began around that same time, officially ended the record-setting 11-year-old bull market.
The COVID-19 recession continues to this day as unemployment rates remain high and pandemic-stricken sectors of the economy struggle to recover. But in this volatile and uneven market, there are still plenty of growing companies that are naturally protected from the pandemic and other macro headwinds.
Let's take a closer look at three tech stocks that will easily weather the current recession and have what it takes to manage future economic downturns: Palantir (PLTR 7.77%), salesforce.com (CRM 1.59%), and Match Group (MTCH 2.29%).
Palantir, the data-mining firm that went public via a direct listing in September, is controversial because it generates over half its revenue from U.S. government contracts.
Its Gotham platform helps government agencies -- including the FBI, CIA, the Department of Defense, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement -- gather information on individuals from disparate sources and crunch it into actionable data. In its prospectus, Palantir says its goal is to become the "default operating system" of the U.S. government. Its Foundry platform offers similar tools to enterprise clients.
Palantir is well-insulated from a recession because its customers are locked into multi-year contracts, and American government agencies are unlikely to reduce their spending on intelligence-gathering services. This isn't a partisan issue, either: Palantir secured major contracts under the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations, and will likely continue to flourish under a Biden administration.
Palantir's revenue rose 25% year over year to $742.6 million in 2019. In the first half of 2020, its revenue grew 49% year over year to $481.2 million. It expects its revenue to rise 42% to $1.06 billion this year.
On the bottom line, Palantir's net loss narrowed from $580 million in 2018 to $579.6 million in 2019, then narrowed again year over year from $280.5 million to $164.7 million in the first half of 2020.
Palantir's stock isn't cheap at about 20 times this year's revenue, but it's still much cheaper than other recent high-growth tech IPOs. Therefore, investors looking for a recession-resistant growth stock should take a closer look at this controversial company.
Salesforce's cloud-based services -- which include the world's top customer relationship management (CRM) platform and other e-commerce, sales, marketing, and analytics services -- help companies streamline their businesses, automate tasks, eliminate inefficient business units, and reduce their overall dependence on human employees.
Salesforce's Einstein AI service, which is integrated into most of its services, also makes it a top play in the booming artificial intelligence market. Companies already use Salesforce's services to cut costs, but those usage rates could accelerate significantly during an economic downturn.
Salesforce's business model remained resilient during the COVID-19 downturn earlier this year. Its revenue rose 30% year over year to $10 billion in the first half of fiscal 2021, while its adjusted earnings surged 35% during that time.
Salesforce's billings growth also accelerated in the second quarter as more people used its services for remote work and online learning, and its adjusted operating margin hit a record high of 20.2%. It expects its revenue to rise 21%-22% this year, and for its adjusted EPS to grow 24%-25% -- even as it ramps up its investments and spending in the third and fourth quarters.
Salesforce's stock might initially seem expensive at 70 times forward earnings, but it's actually much cheaper than many of its cloud service peers. It's also one of the few high-growth cloud companies that generates consistent profits.
3. Match Group
Match Group, the parent company of Tinder and other top dating apps, is naturally insulated from a recession for two reasons. First, it generates nearly all its revenue from paid subscriptions instead of online ads, which are more exposed to macro headwinds and economic slowdowns.
Second, economic downturns often boost engagement rates on online dating platforms. During the depths of the Great Recession in Nov. 2008-09, Match.com posted its strongest monthly membership growth in seven years. So instead of pulling people apart, the economic crisis pushed singles toward each other. We saw a similar trend earlier this year when Match's top apps continued to grow through the COVID-19 shutdowns.
During the third quarter, Match's total number of subscribers grew 12% year over year to 10.8 million. Within that total, Tinder's subscribers grew 16% to 6.6 million. Its total revenue rose 16% year over year to $1.74 billion in the first nine months of 2020, and its adjusted EBITDA also grew 16% to $651 million.
Wall Street expects Match's revenue and earnings to rise by 16% and 8%, respectively, this year. The stock isn't cheap at nearly 50 times forward earnings, but its dominance of the online dating market, its sticky subscription model, and Tinder's enduring popularity among Gen Z and millennial users all justify that premium valuation.