The majority of business media coverage these days is focused on sexy, high-flying stocks, which makes sense as these companies attract a lot of attention and volume from market participants. But sometimes, investors are just looking for a relatively safe and steady way to grow their savings.
The three large-cap stocks discussed below can provide just that combination of stability and returns. They all have a long history of success, are leaders in their industries, and operate in sectors of the economy that aren't affected as much by technological disruption.
1. Home Depot
Home Depot is recognized as the world's largest home-improvement retailer. Sales in the most recent quarter (the first quarter of fiscal 2021) were up 32.7% year over year and totaled $37.5 billion. The stock has been a winner for some time, rising 139% over the past five years.
The company is benefiting from a booming housing market. Low interest rates and higher home prices boost demand for Home Depot's products. Homeowners often complete renovation projects before selling a home (or after buying a new one), and rising home values incentivize spending on improvements.
The One Home Depot initiative launched three years ago has bolstered the company's omnichannel shopping experience. This has kept the business insulated from the threat of Amazon. In the most recent quarter, digital sales jumped 27% year over year, while the company fulfilled 55% of online orders through its brick-and-mortar stores.
Home Depot's large and bulky inventory, in addition to its critical tools and supplies, are often needed for time-sensitive projects. This is especially true for professional customers, a group that is becoming increasingly important to Home Depot's success. On the fiscal first-quarter earnings call, management highlighted the accelerating growth for this customer group with project backlogs rising.
Home Depot is a mission-critical partner for its customers. Low-risk investors should consider owning the stock, which trades at a reasonable valuation of 21 times forward earnings estimates.
2. O'Reilly Automotive
O'Reilly Automotive, like Home Depot, has so far defended itself against the threat of e-commerce. It is also an important part of consumers' lives. If a customer's car breaks down unexpectedly, getting it fixed quickly is essential, and the company makes itself readily available with a physical store footprint of nearly 5,700 locations.
Revenue in 2020 increased 14.3% from the prior year, its strongest showing in at least a decade. The lasting benefit of massive government stimulus, coupled with the lack of spending opportunities for entertainment and travel, supported same-store sales (or comps) growth of 24.8% in the first quarter.
O'Reilly's customers are split up between do-it-yourself (DIY) and do-it-for-me (DIFM) segments. The former is still a bigger contributor than the latter, but as the number of miles driven in the U.S. (a key metric for the business) returns to normalized levels, management remains confident in the company's DIFM outlook.
From 2015 through 2020, earnings per share (EPS) have grown at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of over 20%, which is even more impressive given the "boring" industry O'Reilly operates in. This is a consistent and reliable business that does well in any economic environment.
The stock has doubled over the past five years, slightly outperforming the S&P 500, but trading at a forward price-to-earnings ratio (P/E) of just 20, O'Reilly is cheaper than the broad market index.
There aren't many things that Americans (or the rest of the world for that matter) love more than caffeine, and Starbucks is there to satisfy this craving. Although the company took a huge hit during the depths of the pandemic as people worked from home and drove less, the U.S. is back in expansion mode.
Comps increased 9% domestically during the fiscal 2021 second quarter, and Starbucks now counts 22.9 million active rewards members in its system. These customers not only visit Starbucks locations more often and spend more at each visit, they provide the business with a valuable engagement tool too. CEO Kevin Johnson thinks this number can one day reach 40 million.
Overall growth will be driven heavily by China. Comps soared 91% in the region, and the country is expected to have 600 net new stores by the end of this fiscal year. If management executes on its goals announced last December, Starbucks will have an incredible 55,000 total locations worldwide by 2030.
The brand is extremely powerful on a global scale, and Starbucks has done a truly fantastic job of creating consumer habits around its products. If the drive-thru line at my local Starbucks during any time of the day is any indication, this dynamic is only getting stronger.
Its stock is currently the most expensive of the three companies I've mentioned at 32 times earnings, but investors should feel comfortable paying this premium for such an outstanding business.
The final word
Home Depot, O'Reilly Automotive, and Starbucks don't face the technological disruption that can roil other industries, and they all have long and successful operating histories. What's just as important is the fact that they sell products that lend themselves to repeat purchases, a true competitive strength.
These are three great stocks for low-risk investors.