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5 Stocks to Buy in the September Sell-Off

By Jason Hawthorne - Sep 22, 2021 at 2:30PM

Key Points

  • Market downturns happen, so it pays to have a list of stocks you want to buy.
  • Some companies are stable and predictable enough to be no-brainers when the market falls.
  • Others may succumb to business cycles but have a history of rebounding stronger than before.

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This eclectic mix has something for everyone.

History has shown that a market sell-off is a great time to add quality companies to your portfolio. Although no one can predict when that will happen, a 10% drop occurs about once every two years. That's why I'm highlighting five high-quality companies to buy if the most recent swoon persists. 

I can't tell you where Adobe ( ADBE 4.11% ), Markel ( MKL 0.37% ), Take Two Interactive Software ( TTWO 0.57% ), Vertex Pharmaceuticals ( VRTX 3.62% ), and Boston Beer ( SAM -2.59% ) will trade next week or next month. But I'm confident they will significantly outperform the market over the next three-plus years. Here's why. 

A hand points to a button that says "add to basket" on a chalkboard.

Image source: Getty Images.

Adobe

At a market capitalization of $300 billion, Adobe is one of the largest software companies in the world. Its applications are the backbone of a lot of the content creative professionals produce. Through the years, it has also given them the ability to manage, measure, and monetize their output. The company breaks its results into three categories.

Digital media encompasses the company's creative cloud offering. It's a subscription service that houses applications for virtually anyone creating or delivering content. The digital experience segment is a cloud platform that helps companies deliver the most engaging customer experiences. It provides everything from marketing management and automation to digital commerce and predictive analytics. Finally, its publishing and advertising division contains legacy products in addition to its advertising cloud offerings.

The business has performed amazingly well. Over the past decade, sales and free cash flow have grown 241% and 281%, respectively. Through the first nine months of its fiscal 2021, it posted revenue of $11.7 billion. That was up 24% from the same period last year and 43% over 2019. It carries little debt and its return on invested capital is 33%. That's slightly better than Microsoft.

CEO Shantanu Narayen sees strength across the business and believes the digital transformation will power the company's financial performance even while it invests in what it calls "massive market opportunities." There is no question the runway is long. That's why I believe any significant sell-off is a gift to investors. Take advantage if you get it and buy shares of Adobe.

Markel

Markel has been called the "baby Berkshire" for its resemblance to Berkshire Hathaway. It is also an insurance company that uses some of its float -- premiums collected on policies that haven't been paid out in claims -- to invest in stocks and buy businesses. It also manages those businesses in a similar way, treating its holding period as forever. 

One big difference is that Markel is only a $16.5 billion company. That gives it more flexibility in what it can buy and offers the potential for decades of steady, market-beating returns for shareholders. Want proof? Would it surprise you to find out Markel's stock has outperformed Berkshire Hathaway since 1990? It has. 

MKL Chart

MKL data by YCharts

At less than 37 times the size of Warren Buffett's behemoth, Markel still has an almost limitless opportunity to employ the same model. It might not be an exciting technology stock or double your investment over a short time, but it is a proven market-beating company that can add ballast to a portfolio. If you get a chance to add shares during a sell-off, take it.

Take Two Interactive

Take Two has one of the most popular video game franchises of all time -- Grand Theft Auto. As of last year, the fifth installment in the series -- GTA V -- was the third-best-selling video game ever. It trailed only Minecraft and Tetris. Want more proof? It took GTA V three days to reach $1 billion in sales. That's more than five times faster than the closest video game, the best-performing Harry Potter movie, and Avatar. And the company has more in its stable.

Another of its popular games -- the NBA2K series -- is also praised for both its polish and commercial success. But what excites me about Take Two is what those games have in common. They both offer an immersive experience in a virtual world where the possibilities seem endless. As talk of a metaverse becomes more mainstream, the company has already proven it can create engaging virtual worlds where users participate in crafting their own experience, as well as the experience of others. It has set the company apart financially.

Since 2012, sales have grown 308%. That compares favorably to Activision Blizzard's 70% and Electronic Arts' 36%. Of course, those publishers were already more established. Still, it helps highlight why I think Take Two is the game maker to buy in a market sell-off.

EA Revenue (Annual) Chart

EA Revenue (Annual) data by YCharts

Vertex Pharmaceuticals

Some drugmakers have a portfolio of treatments across many disease areas. Others focus on one type of ailment and work to dominate the space. That's how Vertex has built a market capitalization of $48 billion and annual revenue of $6.7 billion. The company has four approved drugs for cystic fibrosis -- a disease that causes mucus to build up in organs -- and treats roughly half of the 83,000 patients in the U.S., Europe, Australia, and Canada.

Management believes it can treat an additional 30,000 of those patients by successfully commercializing drugs in markets where it recently gained approval, obtaining approval in new markets, and rolling out its newest CF drug in the U.S. and Europe.

It has also partnered with other biotechs to maintain its position in CF and explore new growth opportunities. It spent $900 million to purchase a controlling interest in CTX001 -- its collaboration with CRISPR Therapeutics -- for treating sickle cell disease and beta thalassemia. The company also has a non-opioid pain treatment, a drug targeting kidney disease, and a stem cell-derived therapy for type 1 diabetes in clinical trials. Vertex also has pre-clinical gene-based programs with Moderna and Arbor Biotechnologies. It's a robust pipeline with a lot of potential.

Despite that, Wall Street isn't giving the company a lot of credit. Its price-to-sales ratio is the lowest it has been since 2012 -- the year it began selling its first CF drug. Analysts expect sales to climb this year and next, making the discount even more pronounced. With a strong foundation in CF and so much potential in the pipeline, Vertex Pharmaceuticals might already be a steal.

Boston Beer

Riding the trends in the alcoholic beverage industry is like being on a rollercoaster. Tastes in the U.S. have shifted over the years with wine, whiskey, hard cider, craft beers, and hard seltzer each taking a turn as the drink of choice. For the most part, Boston Beer has been able to succeed no matter what was in vogue. But it's been an up and down journey for shareholders. The stock has experienced drops of at least 60% three times in the last 20 years.

SAM Chart

SAM data by YCharts

It's in one of those slumps now as Truly -- its hard seltzer brand -- underperforms amid an avalanche of competition. After the decline, the stock is offering investors an opportunity they don't get very often. Analysts still expect revenue of $2.16 billion this year. That makes the projected P/S ratio of less than three close to the lowest level since the beginning of 2019.

Of course, it could get worse before it gets better. Management slashed its earnings forecast in July and then pulled guidance earlier this month, saying it would incur write-offs and fees associated with the product. As scary as that is, I'm betting Boston Beer will repeat its history of surviving a downturn, finding a new trend, and powering to new all-time highs in the years ahead.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis – even one of our own – helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.

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Stocks Mentioned

The Boston Beer Company, Inc. Stock Quote
The Boston Beer Company, Inc.
SAM
$442.85 (-2.59%) $-11.79
Vertex Pharmaceuticals Incorporated Stock Quote
Vertex Pharmaceuticals Incorporated
VRTX
$190.23 (3.62%) $6.64
Electronic Arts Inc. Stock Quote
Electronic Arts Inc.
EA
$125.30 (-0.54%) $0.68
Adobe Inc. Stock Quote
Adobe Inc.
ADBE
$689.31 (4.11%) $27.21
Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Stock Quote
Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
BRK.A
$426,666.99 (-0.27%) $-1,165.76
Microsoft Corporation Stock Quote
Microsoft Corporation
MSFT
$337.16 (2.27%) $7.48
Take-Two Interactive Software, Inc. Stock Quote
Take-Two Interactive Software, Inc.
TTWO
$170.63 (0.57%) $0.97
Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Stock Quote
Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
BRK.B
$282.62 (-0.17%) $0.47
Markel Corporation Stock Quote
Markel Corporation
MKL
$1,249.96 (0.37%) $4.62
Activision Blizzard, Inc. Stock Quote
Activision Blizzard, Inc.
ATVI
$60.49 (-0.21%) $0.13
CRISPR Therapeutics Stock Quote
CRISPR Therapeutics
CRSP
$77.77 (-1.29%) $-1.02
Moderna, Inc. Stock Quote
Moderna, Inc.
MRNA
$364.80 (10.67%) $35.17

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

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