You may hesitate to invest, say, $3,000 with a buy-and-hold strategy as a result of the huge coronavirus-induced uncertainties many companies are facing. However, some stocks should do well over the long term no matter how the coronavirus pandemic pans out.
The secular increase in networking traffic should support the demand for Cisco's core networking business over the next several years. But the company posted its fourth consecutive quarter with a year-over-year revenue decline -- down 9% to $11.9 billion -- earlier this month, partly because of the intensifying competition from innovative cloud networking specialists such as Arista Networks.
Cisco isn't standing still, though. Over the last several years, it has expanded into adjacent areas such as cybersecurity and communications. It has also been transitioning to a subscription-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) portfolio to remain relevant with flexible cloud offerings.
And the success of such moves is materializing. For instance, during the last earnings call, management highlighted double-digit year-over-year revenue growth from the cloud cybersecurity solutions Duo and Umbrella. And profits stayed strong with non-GAAP (adjusted) operating income of $3.9 billion, down 12% from the prior-year period.
However, given Cisco's recent underwhelming performance, the market values the tech stock at a forward price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of only 13.5, which provides investors with an attractive buy-and-hold opportunity as the company's recent cloud and software initiatives are poised to thrive.
With revenue declining from $81.7 billion in 2015 to $75.0 billion over the last 12 months, IBM is also facing difficulties with its legacy businesses. But it has been taking drastic actions to pivot its portfolio toward the promising hybrid cloud (any combination of public and private cloud) that market management estimates at $1 trillion.
It acquired the cloud specialist Red Hat in 2019 for $34 billion. And last month, it announced the spinoff of some of its consultancy businesses by the end of next year. More recently, it acquired the SAP consulting partner TruQua and the application monitoring specialist Instana to fuel its growth in the hybrid cloud area.
As a result, IBM's exposure to the cloud has been increasing significantly. Following 19% year-over-year growth to $6.0 billion during the third quarter, cloud businesses represented 34% of revenue, up from just 12% in full-year 2015.
However, because of these acquisitions, IBM's $49.6 billion of net debt at the end of the last quarter remains significant. But the company's strong profitability -- IBM generated $10.8 billion of free cash flow over the last twelve months -- should contribute to reducing that debt load going forward without threatening investment opportunities.
Thus, IBM should succeed in pivoting to the vast hybrid cloud market. Yet given the uncertainties related to the company's legacy businesses and large debt load, the stock is trading at only 10.8 times forward earnings estimates. That represents an interesting opportunity for long-term investors to buy the stock at a very reasonable price.
3. Check Point
The cybersecurity specialist Check Point is dealing with similar challenges as Cisco and IBM -- it has been updating its hardware-based legacy portfolio with cloud solutions to remain relevant.
As a result, it generated low single-digit revenue growth over the last several quarters. But in contrast with many cybersecurity players, it sustained high margins thanks to its low operating expenses. During the last quarter, non-GAAP operating income reached $265 million (up from $246 million in the year-ago period) with revenue of $509 million -- good for a 52% operating margin.
Thanks to such high profitability, and with a prudent acquisition strategy that consists of acquiring small niche players to scale their technologies, the company accumulated a large safety net of $1.6 billion in cash and equivalents at the end of last quarter and no debt.
With a cybersecurity market that should grow at a compound annual rate (CAGR) of 10% through 2027, according to Grand View Research, Check Point can take market share thanks to its comprehensive portfolio, which covers many aspects of the cloud and on-premises cybersecurity areas. The company should also sustain its high profitability in the process.
Yet the stock is trading at only 17.3 times forward earnings, again an attractive entry point for long-term investors.
Because of their legacy businesses, these three tech specialists won't deliver outstanding performance overnight, but they have been building solutions to remain relevant over the next several years and beyond. That gives investors the chance to increase their exposure to tech sector growth at a reasonable price.