For more than a year, investors have been privy to one of the strongest bounce-back rallies from a bear-market bottom in history. Through last weekend, the benchmark S&P 500 had jumped higher by 87% since March 23, 2020. For some context, the S&P 500 has delivered an annual average total return (including dividends) of a bit north of 10% since 1980. But since the beginning of 2020, the widely followed index has generated a total return of almost 33%.
The thing about investing in the stock market is there are always deals to be had -- even with the indexes at or near all-time highs. And best of all, you don't need Warren Buffett's pocketbook to go shopping. If you have $100 that can be put to work right now, and it won't be needed to pay bills or cover emergencies, you have more than enough to begin or further your journey to financial freedom. Here are some of the smartest stocks you can buy right now with $100.
One of the best ways you could put $100 to work right now is by purchasing a stake in Fastly (FSLY 3.79%). The edge cloud services company is tasked with expediting the delivery of content to end users in a secure manner.
Fastly was one of a few dozen tech stocks that benefited immensely from the coronavirus pandemic. As businesses shifted online and into the cloud, and consumers moved their buying and content-consumption habits online, it made sense that Fastly's content-delivery network demand rose significantly. This trend was ongoing prior to the pandemic and should certainly continue well after it ends.
What's noteworthy about Fastly is the success it's had in keeping its clients around and growing along with them. The company reported an annual revenue retention rate of 99% during one of the most challenging economic downturns in decades and a dollar-based net retention rate of 147% and 143%, respectively, in the third and fourth quarters. This shows that existing customers spent 47% and 43% more in Q3 2020 and Q4 2020 than they did in their respective year-ago quarters.
Fastly's margins are also climbing at a healthy rate. Even though Wall Street wasn't thrilled with the company's wider-than-anticipated full-year loss projection for 2021, it's worth pointing out that adjusted gross margin in 2020 rose 430 basis points to 60.9%. If you told me there's a company on the cutting edge of content delivery with a sustainable 30%-plus growth rate that offers an adjusted gross margin north of 60%, I'd tell you that you have a winner on your hands.
Another smart way to consider putting $100 to work right now is by purchasing deeply discounted value stock Viatris (VTRS 2.29%). If the name isn't familiar, it might be because Viatris is the new name for the combination of Pfizer's established and generic medicines unit Upjohn with generic powerhouse Mylan.
Although Wall Street wasn't thrilled with the company's 2021 forecast, offered in late February, all pessimism appears priced in at less than four times projected earnings per share this year.
According to the company, it remains on track to realize $1 billion in annualized cost synergies from the merger by 2023 and will be using these cost savings and operating cash flow to eliminate $6.5 billion of its $26 billion in debt in three years. The goal is that by 2024, Viatris will be able to reinvest in research and development and possibly even kick-start a share-repurchase program. All the while, its annual dividend yield should come in around 3%, which handily outpaces the average yield of the S&P 500.
But what makes Viatris such a no-brainer investment is the expected demand growth for generics over time. Brand-name drug-list prices continue to rise, which is pressuring consumers and insurers to find new, low-cost treatment solutions. As the population ages and grows, demand for generic medicines will climb. As a combined company, Viatris should have more pricing power than Upjohn or Mylan ever had individually.
Over the next decade, cybersecurity may well be the safest double-digit growth trend. The aforementioned shift by businesses online and into the cloud means that safeguarding customer and enterprise information is now a basic-need service in any economic environment. This should allow identity-verification specialist Ping Identity to shine. The company's solutions rely on artificial intelligence to grow smarter and more efficient at identifying and responding to threats.
To be upfront, the company didn't have a great 2020. Whereas most cybersecurity stocks performed well, Ping saw a number of customers choose one-year subscriptions, as opposed to higher-margin multiyear plans. Nevertheless, annual recurring revenue rose by 15% to $259.1 million, and the company's subscription margins yielded an insane 86% during the fourth quarter. Even if Ping Identity were to grow at a modest level of 10% to 15% annually, an 86% subscription gross margin would allow it to rake in significant cash flow and provide more-than-enough incentive to develop new identity-verification solutions.
Whereas Fastly is all about growth and Viatris is the ultimate value stock, Ping Identity is a blend of both worlds. Double-digit sustainable growth is possible, yet investors only have to pay a multiple of seven times sales for an industry that's regularly valued at a multiple of 20 or more times current-year projected revenue.