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2 Stocks Boosted by the Pandemic: Are They Still Buys?

By Bradley Freeman - Updated Feb 18, 2021 at 11:41AM

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Some companies offered exactly what people needed after the coronavirus hit, but once the pandemic is under control, will you still want them in your portfolio?

While the COVID-19 pandemic has upended numerous industries and put a severe drag on the broader economy, not all businesses have been suffering. Some actually experienced a financial boost as life under the threat of the coronavirus increased demand for their offerings.

But with vaccines now being distributed, it's possible to look ahead to a day -- hopefully soon -- when the threat of the pandemic has faded. What will that mean for the companies that have been catering to our pandemic-driven needs? Let's consider the outlook for two of them.

A person uses a spray bottle and towel to clean a surface

Image source: Getty Images.

Clorox cleaning products are in high demand

Clorox (CLX 0.46%) -- a consumer packaged goods behemoth with a focus on cleaning supplies -- has been thriving since COVID-19 began to spread. Its products are ideal for sanitizing surfaces and are effective at killing the coronavirus, so that's understandable.

In its fiscal 2021 second quarter, which ended Dec. 31, year-over-year revenue growth was 27%, and net income increased 40%. That performance prompted management to raise its fiscal 2021 revenue growth outlook from a range of 5% to 9% to a range of 10% to 13%. The company also upped its earnings guidance to a range of 9% to 12% growth over the previous year.

This impressive performance was undoubtedly influenced by the pandemic, which is by no means over. And Clorox will continue to shine while it persists. However, the threat of coronavirus will at some point ebb, and the market appears to have already begun factoring that eventuality into its view of the stock. Shares are down about 15% in the past six months, and over the same period, the stock's price-to-earnings multiple has declined from 2020's peak levels.

CLX PE Ratio Chart

Data by YCharts.

Once people are no longer worrying about a global pandemic, it's quite likely that Clorox's cleaning supplies won't be in quite as high demand. That's not to say the company will see a complete reversal of its recent results, but its growth is likely to slow to rates closer to pre-pandemic levels.

A Peloton Bike owner uses the equipment at home

Image source: Peloton.

Peloton had an amazing 2020

In the early months of the pandemic, brick-and-mortar fitness centers and gyms closed their doors, and while many have reopened, a large share of their customers are still not comfortable returning. This dynamic has created an incredible opportunity for Peloton Interactive (PTON 4.76%) -- and to the company's credit, it took full advantage.

Despite continued supply constraints and shipping delays, the connected fitness organization recently achieved its first billion-dollar revenue quarter with sales spiking 128% year over year to $1.06 billion in the three months ended Dec. 31. Subscribers' workouts soared 303% to 98.1 million, and monthly workouts per subscriber rose 67%. Its net income even turned solidly positive at $63.6 million.

These fantastic results undoubtedly deserve praise but perhaps not our investment dollars. The COVID-19 pandemic will end with vaccines making their way across the U.S., and at that point, Peloton will have to compete once more with in-person fitness options.

Some people believe fitness chains are dead and never coming back, but I wholeheartedly disagree. One of the industry's largest players -- Planet Fitness -- has raised its television marketing budget to respond to unexpectedly high demand, and the company has seen membership growth in some locations.

And generally speaking, many people view working out as a social activity, and despite the benefits of connected fitness equipment, consumers may still find that social element is something a home gym cannot offer. For another large segment of the market, Peloton's offerings are either too expensive, take up too much space, or both. For a monthly fee smaller than what Peloton charges, many gym members can have access to all the equipment and trainers they could ever want -- with no upfront hardware costs. Investors must anticipate the challenge brick-and-mortar gyms will pose once there is no longer a threat of contagion.

There's also Peloton-specific evidence that demand could be nearing saturated levels. A secondary market has appeared with people offering Peloton equipment for lower prices and with faster delivery times. The company does generate a portion of its revenue from recurring subscription fees, which users are likely to sign up for regardless of whether they bought their equipment new or used, but this could negatively impact its hardware sales.

This is not to suggest that growth for this fitness brand will cease. Peloton was growing quickly before COVID-19 and will likely remain a formidable at-home fitness company for years. Still, the company faces a more competitive landscape going forward, and the recent pandemic-level growth is unsustainable.

Tougher roads ahead

Both Clorox and Peloton should be applauded for the strides they've made in the past year. Investors just need to recognize that much of that success was driven by factors not in the control of either organization. The world yearns for a return to normalcy, but that will end up being a headwind for these companies.

While they have been winners in the pandemic, I'd still approach both stocks with caution.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the "official" recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We're motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.

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Stocks Mentioned

The Clorox Company Stock Quote
The Clorox Company
$140.75 (0.46%) $0.64
Peloton Interactive, Inc. Stock Quote
Peloton Interactive, Inc.
$11.01 (4.76%) $0.50
Planet Fitness, Inc. Stock Quote
Planet Fitness, Inc.
$71.62 (6.12%) $4.13

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