One year ago, the stock market was dealing with historic levels of volatility in the wake of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. It took the benchmark S&P 500 just 33 calendar days to lose more than a third of its value, and the CBOE Volatility Index, which measures the expected volatility in S&P 500 options contracts over the coming 30 days, hit an all-time high.
It was a trying time to be an investor -- and round two might be approaching.
Uncertainties still linger about COVID-19, only this time equity valuations have advanced to their second-highest level in history. When coupled with other factors, such as rising yields that threaten to halt the housing boom, it becomes clear that a recipe exists for a stock market crash.
If the stock market correction currently under way were to accelerate into a full-fledged crash, the smartest move for investors just might be to buy profitable brand-name stocks with time-tested operating models. Below are five brand-name stocks worth buying during a market crash.
One of the smartest stocks to buy when heightened volatility rears its head is payment facilitator Visa (NYSE:V).
Buying Visa is like playing a numbers game where the odds are heavily in your favor. As a company that generates revenue based on the amount businesses and consumers spend with the merchants on its network, Visa is reliant on a growing economy. Although contractions and recessions are a natural part of the economic cycle, the vast majority of recessions and stock market crashes can be measured in months. Meanwhile, periods of economic expansion and bull markets often last for many years. With Visa, you're buying a stock that takes its lumps for a very short period of time, then thrives for years.
Visa also benefits from its conservative approach to payments. Though some of its peers also choose to directly lend, and are thus able to generate interest income and fees during periods of expansion, Visa isn't a lender. This decision to avoid lending means Visa doesn't have to set aside capital to cover loan and credit losses during contractions and recessions. It's a big reason why Visa's profit margin is regularly above 50%.
2. Costco Wholesale
If things begin to get dicey with the market, investors can always consider putting money to work in warehouse club Costco Wholesale (NASDAQ:COST), which happens to be riding a 12-year streak of delivering positive total returns (i.e., including dividends) to its shareholders.
The obvious benefit of owning a stake in Costco is that it's being driven by a lot of necessary buying. Even though discretionary purchases are what help push Costco's margins higher, the simple fact that it's carrying food and beverage items (i.e., basic need goods) means demand for its products shouldn't tail off much, if at all, during a crash or recession.
Costco also gets a boost from its membership-based operating model. The fees generated by the company's annual memberships provide a margin boost and help it to undercut traditional retailers and grocers on price. The company's size and bulk-buying further help to improve what are traditionally razor-thin margins.
Additionally, paying a fee to shop at Costco can help encourage shoppers to stay loyal to the brand. With plenty of e-commerce momentum on its side in the wake of the pandemic, Costco Wholesale is a stock investors can trust.
3. NextEra Energy
Another wise way for investors to put their money to work during a crash is to buy into highly defensive sectors. One brand-name stock that comes to mind is NextEra Energy (NYSE:NEE), the largest electric utility stock by market cap in the United States.
On a broader basis, demand for electricity and natural gas doesn't change much from year-to-year. Since electricity is something all homeowners and renters need, investors can count on a predictable level of cash flow each year from utility stocks.
More specific to NextEra, it's the leader in renewable energy capacity in the United States. No other utility is generating more capacity from wind or solar. Although these green-energy projects can be pricey, the reward is substantially lower electricity-generation costs and a sustained growth rate in the high single digits. Compare that to the typical utility, which averages low single-digit growth.
NextEra isn't done, either. Between 2019 and 2022, the company has reiterated a plan to spend $50 billion to $55 billion on capital expenditures. Much of this CapEx will cover renewable energy options. With bold plans in its coffers, such as installing 30 million solar panels in Florida by 2030, NextEra Energy can be the light for investors' portfolios during a crash.
4. Bristol Myers Squibb
If you're after a company with stronger growth prospects than a utility, yet still crave the security of a defensive sector, healthcare stocks can be the perfect portfolio addition. In particular, pharmaceutical stock Bristol Myers Squibb (NYSE:BMY) could be money.
Bristol Myers raised eyebrows in 2019 when it closed the mammoth acquisition of cancer-drug developer Celgene. Last year, blockbuster multiple myeloma drug Revlimid generated more than $12 billion in net sales and continued a long-running streak of double-digit annual growth. Revlimid has benefited from label expansion opportunities, strong pricing power, increased duration of use, and improved screening diagnostics that have helped patients detect cancer earlier.
But the company is growing organically, too. Eliquis generated close to $9.2 billion in net sales last year for Bristol Myers and is the world's leading oral anticoagulant. Meanwhile, cancer immunotherapy Opdivo brought in about $7 billion in sales and is being tested in dozens of clinical trials as a monotherapy or combination treatment. Label expansion could push Opdivo to north of $10 billion in annual sales.
Since people don't get to decide when they get sick or what ailment(s) they develop, drugmakers are a good bet to succeed in any environment.
Think about this for a moment: Facebook ended 2020 with 2.8 billion people visiting its namesake site each month. An additional 500 million unique people visited one of its other owned assets: WhatsApp or Instagram. That's 3.3 billion people -- over 40% of the world -- visiting a Facebook-owned asset at least once monthly. Advertisers fully understand that they can't go anywhere else and get this sort of depth or targeted audience.
What's even crazier is that Facebook generated more than $84 billion in ad revenue in 2020 from its namesake site and Instagram. It hasn't even begun to depress the gas pedal on WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger yet, despite both being top-5 destinations for social media users. Once these assets are monetized, Facebook's cash flow could really explode.
If Facebook's ad revenue can grow 21% during the worst economic downturn in decades, it should survive a market crash just fine.