The COVID-19 pandemic created some crazy demand swings this year. First, it seemed like bath tissue sellers might be the standout growth stocks to own as consumers hunkered down in early 2020. Weeks later, investors flocked toward retailers that delivered home furnishings, entertainment, or video communication products to millions of shoppers who began asking more of their homes.
Most of these demand shifts could prove temporary as vaccines neutralize the virus threat in the months ahead. But some growth businesses that succeeded in 2020 have a shot at continued gains from here. With that in mind, let's look at three of this year's winners that still look like attractive investments today.
1. Home Depot
An intense new consumer focus on home furnishings and home improvement lifted results for a wide range of retailers. Home Depot (HD 0.02%) gladly participated in the bonanza, adding $15 billion (or an additional 18%) to its sales base in the nine months that ended in early November.
The home improvement giant has much more room to run.
Start with the chain's world-class multi-channel selling platform that allowed it to post double-digit gains in both customer traffic and average spending last quarter. Add in the financial strength illustrated by Home Depot's whopping $17.4 billion of operating cash flow through the first three quarters of 2020. Finally, there's lots to love about the retailer's ability to send more cash to shareholders while making aggressive new bets like the recent acquisition of HD Supply Holdings.
Sure, Home Depot is facing more competition from rival Lowe's in the new year. But its industry-leading customer satisfaction suggests it is ready for that challenge.
2. Activision Blizzard
If you thought that a new global premium on digital entertainment would help Activision Blizzard (ATVI) this year, you were right. The owner of the Call of Duty and World of Warcraft video game franchises welcomed hundreds of millions of gamers to its audience base in 2020, which helped push sales up to $5.7 billion through the third quarter compared to $4.5 billion a year earlier.
Activision's success is about way more than simply more stay-at-home time, though. It released products on new platforms and different monetization models, showing that its Call of Duty brand could thrive in areas like mobile and the free-to-play niche. The developer's steady flow of content releases resulted in sky-high engagement levels, too.
CEO Bobby Kotick and his team have predicted that the record size of the Call of Duty audience will support a holiday quarter that crosses $2 billion in sales. We'll find out in early February whether Activision surpasses that outlook, as it did last quarter. But investors should be just as excited to see what the developer can do with its valuable intellectual property given its huge, and widening, global entertainment platform.
3. Lululemon athletica
In retrospect, it seems obvious that lululemon athletica (LULU 0.87%) would have had a good year at a time when shoppers flocked toward online purchasing and global fashion tastes shifted toward athleisure. To be sure, the company bounced right back to sales growth following store closures in the spring, and sales shot past expectations in the latest quarter, jumping 21% after accounting for currency exchange rate shifts.
The chain warned investors to brace for a slowdown in the holiday quarter, in part because another wave of COVID-19 outbreaks will force it to limit customer traffic in many markets.
But investors can look past that short-term challenge to see a long runway for growth ahead as Lululemon pushes into new demographics like menswear, new niches like outerwear, and new geographies. And, thanks to its solid track record of expanding gross profit margin, the chain's earnings power should improve even faster.
While 2020 demonstrated the futility in trying to make short-term predictions, it also helped investors see which businesses could endure huge operating disruptions and become stronger growth stocks through the challenge. That resilience will be valuable, no matter what selling conditions 2021 brings.