A month ago it looked like U.S. residents had seen the last of any government-issued stimulus checks meant to give the rebounding economy a boost. But the possibility now appears to be back on the table.
Although the odds are still stacked against such payments following the most recent unemployment claims report, in late March a few dozen Democratic senators asked President Joe Biden for recurring stimulus payments to Americans for the duration of the pandemic. Their argument continues to circulate. So, never say never.
More important to investors, the previous stimulus checks worked, allowing people to become consumers again, benefiting corporations as a result.
With that as the backdrop, here's a rundown of four stocks that could be buoyed by a fourth round of stimulus checks, whether it comes now or later.
1. Walmart is already ready
It just makes sense that money meant to help individuals meet their basic needs for food and clothing will flow to the name best positioned to sell those items. That's Walmart (NYSE:WMT), which is not only the nation's biggest grocer but the country's second-biggest apparel retailer, according to Wells Fargo. It's also the country's most accessible seller of consumer staples, with 4,743 stores. More than 90% of the U.S. population lives within 10 miles of a Walmart, making it the easiest go-to option for most.
Granted, Walmart is a tough name to own here despite the prospect of more stimulus checks. Both sales and operating earnings are projected to sink slightly in 2021 after last year's heroic, pandemic-driven growth. The world's biggest retailer is also planning to shell out $14 billion on capital expenditures this year, up from its usual outlays of between $10 billion and $11 billion. That's going to crimp the GAAP bottom line more than usual.
With a stock price still down 6% from November's highs -- while most other stocks hit record highs earlier this month -- the market is pricing in the worst-case scenario for Walmart. Even a modest revenue bump could spark a sentiment reversal that sends Walmart shares meaningfully higher.
2. Now boarding Alaska Air Group
While most recipients of stimulus checks will spend that money on food and bills, it would be less-than-honest to say plenty of people aren't in a better financial situation than they were just a few months ago. The Conference Board's look at consumer sentiment in March says after months of progress, optimism is now as high as it's been since the pandemic took hold a year ago.
Moreover, after being effectively trapped at home for the past year, folks are bored and ready to go somewhere else -- anywhere else. A recent survey performed by daily deals outfit Groupon indicated that 26% of consumers are "so #@$%ing ready" to visit a hotel or resort once pandemic restrictions are lifted, just behind the top-rated answer of "hugging friends and family."
Translation: A bunch of people are going to be traveling with any "found money" that may come their way this year.
There are plenty of ways to plug into these converging trends, but one of the top ones is a position in regional airline Alaska Air Group (NYSE:ALK).
That could be a tough idea to swallow given some of the turbulence other airlines have bumped into of late. Both United Airlines and Delta Airlines missed last quarter's earnings estimates, for instance. Take a closer look at the news from Alaska Air, though. We're already seeing these green travel shoots starting to sprout. The carrier not only topped last quarter's profit expectations, but it did so by ferrying more passengers than expected. Perhaps most important, Alaska Air swung back to positive cash flow in March.
Connect the dots.
3. Home Depot makes home improvement easy
Finally, add Home Depot (NYSE:HD) to your list of stocks that could be lifted by a fresh round of stimulus checks.
There's a curious trend underway among homeowners. Rather than upgrading by moving, they're investing in improvements where they presently live so they can stay there. In pre-pandemic 2019, Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies said spending on remodels within the U.S. grew 4.8%, extending a longstanding trend. That figure was expected to slow in 2020, and for a short while, it did. With circumstances evolving as the year wore on, however, consumers rekindled their interest in upgrading their living spaces.
The Joint Center for Housing Studies now estimates that growth in the country's remodeling spending will average 4.8% through the first quarter of next year. And, as fellow Fool Parkev Tatevosian points out, now that vaccines are widely available people are feeling increasingly comfortable with letting people into their homes -- including contractors.
It's not clear to what extent this is prompting people to remodel rather than move. In its most recent tally of existing home-selling activity, the National Association of Realtors suggested a lack of supply of homes for sale is not only a major bottleneck but a key driver of rising home values. This of course only prompts more investment in homeowners' existing dwellings.
Home Depot doesn't exactly need help, mind you. Sales for the quarter ending in January were up 25% year over year, capping off 20% revenue growth for the full fiscal year. Earnings grew by double-digit percentages, too. If a slew of households do secure a few more stimulus dollars they don't actually need, Home Depot still stands to be a big beneficiary.