It might seem daunting to buy stocks now. The market is hovering near all-time highs while unpredictable headwinds -- including uncertain stimulus plans, the unresolved trade war, high unemployment, and rising COVID-19 infection rates -- threaten to end the rally. Meanwhile, the promise of vaccines is tantalizingly close but we won't know what impact that will have on stocks until vaccinations are widespread.
But now is not a time to avoid the stock market. Long-term investors should consider buying evergreen large-cap stocks that can withstand near-term challenges. Let's take a look at three reliable stocks that fit that description: Alibaba, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, and
Alibaba (BABA -0.75%), China's largest e-commerce and cloud company, has recently faced several major challenges. The long-awaited IPO of its fintech affiliate, Ant Group, which it holds a 33% stake in, was abruptly suspended. China's antitrust regulators then drafted new rules to curb Alibaba's market influence and U.S. regulators have threatened to delist U.S.-listed Chinese stocks.
All these challenges are holding back Alibaba's stock, but its fundamentals remain strong. Its revenue jumped 32% year-over-year in the first half of fiscal 2021 (the six months ending in September), with 32% growth in its core commerce business and 60% growth in its cloud business, as its adjusted EBITA rose 30%.
Analysts expect Alibaba's revenue and earnings to rise 47% and 36%, respectively, this year. Next year, its revenue is expected to rise 31%, with 21% earnings growth. That would be impressive growth for a stock that trades at less than 30 times forward earnings.
But investors shouldn't ignore Alibaba's weaknesses, which include the core commerce unit's growing dependence on lower-margin businesses (including its brick-and-mortar stores, cross-border marketplaces, and logistics service) and its glaring lack of profits from the cloud, digital media, and "innovation initiatives" segments.
New antitrust rules could also bar Alibaba from locking merchants into exclusive listings, and leave it more vulnerable to competition. Yet I believe Alibaba's strengths still outweigh its weaknesses. It still firmly controls 56% of China's e-commerce market, according to eMarketer, and it's reinforcing that lead by expanding into lower-tier cities, investing in brick-and-mortar retailers, and attracting more shoppers with live-streaming from merchants. Its cloud platform's losses are also narrowing, and it continues to expand as its top rival, Tencent Cloud, loses momentum.
Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company
Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSM 1.01%), the world's top contract chipmaker, produces chips for fabless chipmakers including NVIDIA, AMD, Apple, and Qualcomm. All these companies rely on TSMC because it produces the world's smallest and most power-efficient chips.
TSMC's revenue and net income rose 30% and 64% year-over-year, respectively, in the first nine months of 2020 as its clients continued to place big orders throughout the COVID-19 crisis.
Analysts expect TSMC's revenue and earnings to rise 34% and 59%, respectively, this year. Next year, its revenue and earnings are expected to grow 12% and 5%, respectively, as those cyclical orders cool off.
However, TSMC remains well ahead of Intel, its closest peer in the "process race" to create smaller chips, which are measured in nanometers. Intel won't start mass-producing 7nm chips until late 2022 at the earliest, but TSMC already generated 43% of its revenue from its cutting-edge 5nm and 7nm chips last quarter.
In terms of end markets, TSMC is manufacturing more chips for the high-growth HPC (high-performance computing) market, which accounted for 37% of its sales last quarter. That growth is gradually reducing its dependence on the saturated smartphone market, which still accounted for 46% of its sales.
TSMC's stock still looks reasonably valued at 28 times forward earnings, and it remains a great way to profit from the steady growth of the semiconductor market without betting on a single chipmaker.
Veeva Systems (VEEV 0.06%), a cloud services provider for life science companies, is a solid growth stock for three simple reasons.
First, Veeva's cloud services help drugmakers maintain customer relationships, store and analyze data, track clinical trials and regulations, and more. Competition between these drugmakers, which remains intense regardless of the macro environment, boosts demand for Veeva's services.
Second, Veeva enjoys a first-mover's advantage in its niche market. Its list of customers include pharmaceutical giants Pfizer and Moderna, and its subscription-based ecosystem -- which lands clients with its CRM (customer relationship management) platform, then expands with additional tools for cloud storage, AI-powered analytics, and other services -- widens its moat against potential challengers. Lastly, Veeva's scale and pricing power enable it to remain firmly profitable by both non-GAAP and GAAP standards.
Veeva's revenue rose 35% year-over-year in the first nine months of fiscal 2021 (February through October 2020), and its non-GAAP net income grew 33%. It expects its revenue to rise 31% for the full year, and grow another 18% to $1.71 billion next year. It has also reiterated its long-term goal to generate $3 billion in annual revenue by 2025.
Veeva expects its non-GAAP earnings to rise 29% this year, while analysts expect 10% growth next year. Those growth rates might not seem high for a stock that trades at nearly 90 times forward earnings, but I believe its recession-resistant business model, wide moat, and stable growth rates all justify its premium valuation.