Coronavirus cases now number over 60 million worldwide, and they're continuing to rise. However, with vaccines from Pfizer (PFE) and Moderna (MRNA -0.18%) now showing more than 90% efficacy in preventing COVID-19, there's plenty of hope that the worst effects of pandemic could drastically slow down and people's lives could go back to normal in the near term. The impending release of vaccines also uncovers a new opportunity for investors: Buying shares of companies that supply ultra-low temperature (ULT) freezers and that can help with the shipment of the vaccines.
Two stocks that investors should keep an eye on include Thermo Fisher Scientific (TMO 0.32%) and United Parcel Service (UPS 1.16%). The former will help with providing ULT freezers to keep the vaccines at optimal temperatures, while the latter will see an uptick in activity by shipping out millions of doses of vaccines over the next year. Here's a closer look at why both of these stocks could be great buys right now.
1. Thermo Fisher
ULT freezer sales aren't normally a notable item in Thermo Fisher's financials; the company only mentions freezers on its reports when describing that they're part of its laboratory products segment. However, that could change in the coming year, as demand for its freezers could be through the roof. Pfizer's vaccine, for instance, needs to be stored at negative 70 degrees Celsius, which is much colder than your average freezer (normally at negative 18 degrees Celsius). Meanwhile, Moderna's vaccine only needs to stay at negative 20 degrees Celsius. Thermo Fisher's ULT freezers can accommodate either vaccine, as they can reach temperatures as low as negative 80 degrees Celsius.
There's no guarantee what temperatures other vaccines will need to be stored at, and so loading up on ULT freezers is something many vaccine distributers and healthcare centers are doing right now. Even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is cautioning against loading up on ULT freezers -- because it will take time for companies to ramp up vaccine production, and so the need for the freezers won't be significant out of the gate -- many U.S. states are buying them up anyway. And if that continues, it could lead to supply issues.
For Thermo Fisher, the strong demand for ULT freezers will likely translate into an improved top and bottom line. Laboratory products and services is typically the company's top segment, generating the bulk of its revenue. Through the first nine months of the year, sales from lab products and services totaled $8.6 billion and rose 11.1% year over year. Thermo Fisher's total sales this year have reached $21.7 billion, and they're up 15.8% from the same period last year.
The healthcare company is a solid investment on its own merits, recording profits in each of the past 10 quarters with a net margin that's normally well over 10%. But with a boost likely coming from strong demand for ULT freezers over the next year or perhaps longer, investing in the company is even more attractive right now. Year to date, shares of Thermo Fisher are up 46%, outperforming the S&P 500 and its 13% returns by a wide margin.
UPS is another stock that COVID-19 vaccines will keep busy as the logistics company helps deliver them all over the world. It could be as early as this month that the distribution of vaccines begins. UPS is preparing for that, and says it has the capability to make up to 1,200 pounds of dry ice per hour. The company also said in a press release issued on Nov. 24 that it will help supply ULT freezers, partnering with Stirling Ultracold, so that it can provide more than just a temporary storage solution. The CEO of Stirling Ultracold, Dusty Tenney, publicly alluded to this partnership being part of a longer-term solution, stating that "this program will help ensure vaccines remain effective next year, and for years to come, as future vaccines and biologics are developed to keep the world healthy and safe."
Vaccine shipment is only the latest reason to invest in UPS, however. The company is benefiting from a rise in online shopping and a growing need for deliveries amid the pandemic. Through the first three quarters of 2020, the company has reported sales of $59.7 billion -- up 11.6% from the $53.5 billion it reported last year. Heading into what could be a busy season for online retail as COVID-19 case numbers remain high, that growth rate could climb even higher by the time the year is over. However, given the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, the company is not providing any guidance or estimates pertaining to revenue for the fourth quarter.
Year to date, UPS stock has climbed 44% thus far, slightly outpacing Thermo Fisher. And both stocks could continue to surge as vaccine shipments give their operations an extra boost.