The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed consumer and business spending in ways that pummeled some companies while pushing others to record levels of growth. That divide has become clear to investors, whether they're judging digital entertainment providers, software specialists, or retail giants.
What's less clear is which of these winners can keep thriving after the threat of the coronavirus recedes and spending patterns head back toward normal cadences when COVID-19 vaccines become widely available. Identify these rare candidates, and you have a good shot at generating solid returns through what could be a rocky 2021 for the economy.
With that goal in mind, let's look at a few attractive stocks whose growth spikes might only be getting started.
1. Activision Blizzard
The pandemic has put a major new premium on at-home entertainment as people spend less on things like dining out, movie tickets, and visits to theme parks. That tailwind helped Activision Blizzard (ATVI 1.97%) add tens of millions of new gamers to its ranks this year, swelling its sales footprint in the process. Revenue has soared to $5.7 billion through the first three quarters of 2020 from $4.5 billion a year earlier. Net income is up by 73% to $1.7 billion.
The video game publisher is making its own luck, too, having raised its content quality and boosted the pace of new releases in franchises like World of Warcraft, Candy Crush, and Overwatch. Better yet, Activision Blizzard has demonstrated this year that it can still engage gamers in its mature Call of Duty franchise even as it pushes the brand into new monetization models. Millions of new users are being introduced to that ecosystem through the free-to-play and mobile platforms, likely laying the groundwork for the recently launched Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War title to be another record-setter.
Investors should be happy to see that launch lifted by a record level of engaged users. But they'll likely be reaping rewards from Activision Blizzard's widening reach in the entertainment industry for years to come.
Wayfair (W 4.45%) entered 2020 with two big concerns hanging over it. First, investors were worried that its fantastic growth rate couldn't be sustained for long. And second, they panned the business for generating ballooning losses.
The e-commerce giant put both those worries to rest during the last few quarters. Wayfair has added $4 billion to its annual sales base so far in 2020 as demand soared in the home furnishings niche. Its streak of losses appears to be behind it, too, with CEO Niraj Shah and his team projecting solid profitability from here on out.
Sure, sales growth will slow over the next few quarters. But Wayfair has impressive competitive advantages that will cushion that blow. These include its proprietary delivery network and immersive shopping platforms, which combine to keep its customer satisfaction rates well ahead of those of its competitors. Wayfair now gets more than half of its orders from highly engaged shoppers who have made three or more purchases from it previously -- up from 30% in 2015. That loyalty is valuable, and it suggests the company is on course to make further market share gains.
You don't have to squint to see the dramatic impact of COVID-19 on eBay's (EBAY 1.70%) business. After holding flat for almost a year, sales volumes jumped by 29% year over year in the second quarter and 21% in the third as a flood of purchasing activity moved online.
That success was in part set up by the company's strategic moves to go on the offensive, including a concerted push into the booming used and refurbished niches. CEO Jamie Ionnone thinks those segments could add tens of billions of dollars to its total addressable market over time.
Meanwhile, eBay's asset-light selling model, its rising fees, and the emergence of new revenue lines like advertising and payment processing all point to accelerating cash flow. And for a business that's already generating tons of excess cash, that should mean more direct returns to shareholders in 2021 and beyond. If you like getting a big chunk of your returns from dividends and stock buybacks, then you might prefer eBay over Wayfair and Activision Blizzard right now.