Since bottoming out on March 23, 2020, the benchmark S&P 500 has been virtually unstoppable. The market's widely followed index has doubled from its bear-market bottom, and has now gone more than nine months without even a 5% retracement.
While some investors might be leery of putting money to work in the market with the S&P 500 so close to a record high, history has shown that patience is often handsomely rewarded on Wall Street. If your investing horizon stretches years into the future, there's no such thing as a bad time to put your money to work in stocks.
With that being said, if you have $1,000 at the ready, which won't be needed to pay bills or cover an emergency, the following five stocks are no-brainer buys.
In late July, Wall Street huffed and puffed a bit after social media leader Facebook (META 2.53%) reported its second-quarter operating results and cautioned of slower growth in the second half of the year. However, these very short-term growth concerns are diminutive next to the company's overwhelming dominance in the social media space.
When the curtain closed on June, Facebook tallied 2.9 billion monthly active users (MAUs) for its namesake site, as well as 610 million additional unique MAUs for Instagram and/or WhatsApp, which it also owns. These 3.51 billion people represent about 44% of the global population. Advertisers are fully aware that they can't go anywhere and reach as many eyeballs as they can on Facebook. This gives Mark Zuckerberg's company incredible ad pricing power, and should allow it to sustain a double-digit growth rate.
Furthermore, of the $54 billion in advertising revenue generated in the first half of 2021, nearly all of it derives from Facebook and Instagram. Even though WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger are two of the most-visited social sites on the planet, neither has been meaningfully monetized, as of yet. Once they are, Facebook's cash flow could really soar.
The icing on the cake here is that Facebook is positioning itself as a leader in virtual reality/augmented reality with its Oculus devices. Another fast-growing sales channel could be just what the doctor ordered to send this to new highs.
Novavax's claim to fame is going to be its COVID-19 vaccine, NVX-CoV2373. This vaccine was tested in a large-scale study in the U.K., which resulted in a vaccine efficacy of 89.7%. It was then subsequently tested in a phase 3 trial in the U.S. and Mexico, with the June results demonstrating a similar 90.4% vaccine efficacy. With markedly higher initial efficacy than the Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines, Novavax has a really good chance to become the global No. 3 in the fight against the pandemic.
The only reasons Novavax's valuation hasn't ascended into the stratosphere are the company's numerous delays in filing for emergency use authorization in developed markets, and the likelihood of production delays until the fourth quarter. But when examined with a wider lens, these delays aren't going to stop Novavax from becoming a major vaccine player.
What's even more intriguing are the company's early stage studies combining a vaccine for COVID-19 and influenza. If Novavax is successful in developing the first COVID/flu combo vaccine, its valuation could soar.
Typically, electric utility companies grow by a low single-digit rate, but are buoyed by predictable cash flow, which allows them to pay out market-topping yields in the 2% to 4% range. NextEra isn't like your typical utility stock. That's because it's been investing tens of billions of dollars into renewable energy projects that are designed to lower its electric generation costs and significantly lift its growth rate. NextEra generates more capacity from solar and wind power than any other utility in the country, and it's translated into the company averaging a high single-digit growth rate for more than a decade. Between 2020 and 2022, NextEra is doling out $50 billion to $55 billion for new infrastructure projects.
Although green energy is the future, NextEra does still enjoy a healthy amount of cash flow from its regulated operations (i.e., those not powered by renewable energy). Some folks might see the need to request rate hikes from state public utility commissions as a nuisance. The reality is that regulated utilities avoid potentially volatile wholesale market pricing and have exceptionally transparent cash flow.
As long as lending rates remain favorably low, look for NextEra to be on the leading edge of renewable energy innovation.
Walgreens Boots Alliance
Pardon the pun, but healthcare stocks are normally immune to recessions. Since people don't get to choose when they get sick or what ailment(s) they develop, there tends to be consistent demand for drug, device, and healthcare service providers. But this wasn't the case for Walgreens, which was clobbered by the pandemic and reduced foot traffic in its stores. With the worst of the pandemic (hopefully) in the rearview mirror, Walgreens' multipoint turnaround plan can shine.
By the end of fiscal 2022, Walgreens Boots Alliance will have reduced its operating expenses by over $2 billion, all while beefing up spending on digitization initiatives. Even though direct-to-consumer represents a small fraction of total sales, online retail could well be a sustainable double-digit growth opportunity for the company.
Equally exciting is its partnership with VillageMD. The duo will open up to 700 full-service clinics co-located in Walgreens' stores in more than 30 U.S. markets. Whereas most in-store clinics can't handle anything more than a sniffle, Walgreens and VillageMD will have physician-staffed clinics. This should lead to recurring visits and a busy pharmacy.
Palo Alto Networks
Among double-digit growth opportunities, cybersecurity might be the safest bet this decade. The ongoing shift of enterprise and customer data into the cloud is making security solutions ever more important. And since robots and hackers don't take a day off, cybersecurity has evolved into a basic need service.
Palo Alto Networks has shone brightly as it's undergone a multiyear transition that's seeing it de-emphasize physical firewall products in favor of cloud-based subscriptions. The company began promoting its subscription services years ago in order to remain competitive and better serve its clients. After all, cloud-based subscription solutions are often nimbler at tackling threats than on-premises solutions. It also doesn't hurt that subscriptions will generate significantly higher margins for Palo Alto than its firewall products.
Management has done a good job of making bolt-on acquisitions, as well. The numerous buyouts Palo Alto has undertaken have bolstered its service offerings and widened the number of small- and medium-sized businesses that it would appeal to.
With sustainable double-digit growth potential and a forward-year sales multiple of only 7, Palo Alto is ripe for the picking.