For many investors, the words "stock market crash" are enough to send shivers down their spines. But the fact of the matter is that a stock market crash is a given.
To be fair, we're never going to know ahead of time precisely when a crash will begin, how long it'll last, or how steep the decline will be. In many instances, we won't even know what the catalyst is for a big decline until it's well underway. But what we do know is that the benchmark S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^GSPC) has undergone 38 double-digit declines over the past 71 years. That's an average of one double-digit-percentage decline every 1.87 years, and it demonstrates how commonplace crashes and corrections are to the investing cycle.
Stock market crash catalysts are building
At the moment, there are more than enough catalysts on Wall Street to push the broader market considerably lower. For example, history clearly doesn't favor the market over the near term. Following each of the previous eight bear market bottoms (dating back to 1960), there was at least one double-digit-percentage decline within three years. This suggests it's highly unlikely the near-perfect bounce we've experienced from the March 2020 bottom continues unabated.
Valuation remains another glaring concern. For the past six months, I've been pointing out that the S&P 500's Shiller price-to-earnings ratio has been climbing. The Shiller P/E takes into account inflation-adjusted earnings over the past 10 years. There have been only five times in history where the index surpassed and held a Shiller P/E of 30 (including right now), and the previous four instances subsequently resulted in the S&P 500 losing at least 20% of its value.
There are other factors at play beyond history and valuation, too. Inflation has been picking up in a big way and could tighten consumer wallets. There's also a growing likelihood that the Federal Reserve could take its foot off the proverbial gas pedal with regard to monetary policy and quantitative easing. And don't forget about the coronavirus delta variant, which threatens to slow down reopening efforts in various parts of the U.S. and around the world.
We might not be able to pinpoint exactly when a crash will occur, but at this point, downside is inevitable.
The market's pain is long-term investors' gain
However, bad news is actually good news for long-term investors. That's because crashes and corrections allow investors to scoop up high-quality stocks at a discount. When the next market crash does strike, the following trio of surefire stocks will be ripe for the picking.
Bank of America
To state the obvious, bank stocks are cyclical, and BofA is no exception. If a crash or correction is associated with an economic contraction, it's always possible that banks could see variable weakness in certain aspects of their operations. But one of the main reasons to buy bank stocks is to take advantage of disproportionately long periods of economic expansion. Whereas recessions are measured in months, economic expansion can go on for many years, if not a decade. Thus, buying a stock like Bank of America is simply a favorable bet on the long-term growth of the U.S. economy.
Something important to note about Bank of America is the company's interest rate sensitivity. While this worked against the company in the second quarter, rapidly rising inflation very much implies that higher lending rates are on the horizon. According to BofA, a 100-basis-point parallel shift in the interest-rate yield curve would result in $8 billion in added net interest income over 12 months. Virtually all of this would flow right to its bottom line.
To reduce its operating expenses and court younger customers, Bank of America has also been aggressively investing in digitization initiatives. It ended June with 40.5 million digital active users (up nearly 5 million from three years prior), and saw 44% of sales completed online or with a mobile app, which is 15 percentage points higher than the second quarter of 2018. Coercing customers to bank digitally will allow BofA to consolidate its branches and ultimately lower its noninterest expenses.
Another surefire stock that can be confidently bought when the next crash arises is cybersecurity identification specialist Ping Identity (NYSE:PING).
Why Ping? To begin with, cybersecurity has transformed into a basic-need service. As more businesses than ever shift their presence online and move their data and customers' data into the cloud, the need to protect this information is increasingly falling into the laps of companies like Ping Identity. And don't forget: Hackers and robots don't take time off just because Wall Street is having a bad day.
At the heart of Ping's success is the company's Ping Intelligent Identity Platform. This cloud-based platform relies on artificial intelligence to grow more efficient over time at recognizing and responding to potential threats. Instead of relying solely on on-premises security solutions, Ping's cloud-based option acts as a hybrid that also helps to verify user identities, authorize access to specific data, and monitor the actions of users.
Although Ping had a relatively rough 2020, with some of its customers choosing shorter-term licensing subscriptions, the company's consistent mid-teens growth in annual recurring revenue (ARR) demonstrates that its software-as-a-service subscription segment is firing on all cylinders. Since subscription revenue is recognized over the life of the subscription, it can take a little while for revenue growth to catch up with ARR. But within the next two years, we should really begin to see Ping's annual sales growth pick up.
A profitable cybersecurity stock operating in a surefire growth industry is a smart buy during a crash.
Zoom Video Communications
The third surefire stock investors can add to their portfolios during the next stock market crash is cloud-based Web conferencing platform Zoom Video Communications (NASDAQ:ZM).
There's no debating that Zoom was absolutely in the right place at the right time when the pandemic struck. With the traditional workplace turned on its head, businesses turned to Zoom's conferencing solutions to keep projects and workflow on track. Unsurprisingly, the company's full-year sales more than quadrupled in 2020 from the prior-year period.
The big question is: Can this growth continue? While expecting a quadrupling in year-over-year sales should be thrown out the window, sustainable double-digit growth is a very real expectation. Zoom's platform has demonstrated that it can make workplaces more efficient, and it perfectly caters to what'll likely be a hybrid office/home work environment throughout the country in 2021 (and beyond).
Nonetheless, Zoom continues to think about ways to bolster its growth prospects. This past week, it announced an all-stock deal to acquire Five9 (NASDAQ:FIVN), a provider of cloud contact-center software, in a deal initially valued at $14.7 billion -- a modest premium considering where Five9 closed the previous trading session. This deal should prove complementary to Zoom's focus on promoting Zoom Phone, a cloud phone system designed to be a digital alternative to legacy communications.
And if you need one more good reason to believe in Zoom, keep in mind that CEO and founder Eric Yuan owns a significant number of shares in the company. When the interests of shareholders align with founders who have a lot of skin in the game, good things tend to happen.