Most folks won't be thrilled to hear this, but a stock market crash or double-digit correction might be on the way.
To be crystal clear, no one can predict with any long-term accuracy precisely when a crash or correction will occur, how steep the decline will be, how long it'll last, or in many instances what'll precipitate the move lower in the broader market. But one thing is clear: Crashes and correction are a normal part of the investing cycle and the price of admission to the greatest wealth creator on the planet.
History isn't the market's friend in the near term
For instance, the widely followed S&P 500 has behaved similarly following each of its previous eight bear-market bottoms, dating back to 1960. Within three years of bouncing back from its trough, the S&P 500 has always had one or two instances where it's declined by at least 10%. Rallying from a bear-market bottom is a bumpy process that takes time. With the broad-based index doubling in value in less than 17 months, there's a good chance we're long overdue for some "bumps."
History is no fan of extended valuations, either. As of the close of business on Monday, Oct. 4, the S&P 500's Shiller price-to-earnings ratio was north of 37. The Shiller P/E takes into account inflation-adjusted earnings over the past 10 years. While access to information over the internet has helped expand P/E multiples since the mid-1990s, history is quite clear that bad things happen when the S&P 500's Shiller P/E crosses above 30. In the previous four instances this has happened, the broad-based index shed at least 20% of its value.
Even the history behind margin-debt usage is worrisome. Although it's perfectly normal for nominal margin debt outstanding to increase over time, it's not normal for margin-debt usage to skyrocket higher in a short time frame. There have been three instances since 1995 where margin-debt usage jumped by at least 60% in a given year. Two of these instances were directly before the dot-com bubble burst and the financial crisis began. The third instance is in 2021.
The table would appear to be a set for sizable but healthy pullback in the S&P 500.
A crash or steep correction is the perfect time to buy these surefire stocks
While big moves lower in the market are known to cause investor anxiety, they're also the perfect opportunity to pounce. You see, whereas history isn't the market's friend in the short run, it's unquestionably the greatest ally of investors over the long term.
For example, there's never been a rolling 20-year period over the past century when an S&P 500 tracking index wouldn't have generated a positive annualized total return for investors. A crash or correction is simply an opportunity to buy great companies at a discount.
Should this recent sell-off manifest into a crash or correction, the following three surefire stocks can be confidently bought hand over fist.
Few stocks have generated more surefire returns for long-term investors than Warren Buffett's conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A -1.38%) (BRK.B -1.44%). Since taking over as CEO in 1965, Buffett has overseen an average annual return of the company's Class A shares (BRK.A) of 20%. In aggregate, and taking into account the year-to-date return of Berkshire Hathaway, Buffett has created around $600 billion in shareholder value and produced a roughly 3,300,000% return in 56 years.
Though there is a laundry list of reasons for Buffett's success, his leanings toward cyclical businesses plays a big role. Even though the Oracle of Omaha is well aware that economic contractions and recessions are inevitable, he understands that periods of expansion tend to last substantially longer. Thus, he's packed Berkshire Hathaway's investment portfolio with bank stocks, tech stocks, and consumer staples companies that'll thrive during an expanding economy.
Another reason Berkshire Hathaway has delivered such incredible returns is Buffett's focus on dividend stocks. While Berkshire doesn't pay a dividend, it's on pace to collect more than $5 billion in dividend income in 2021. That's nearly a 5% yield, relative to the cost basis of Berkshire's holdings. Since dividend stocks are almost always profitable and time-tested, they fit the bill of what Buffett is looking for in a long-term holding.
Long story short, riding Buffett's coattails has often been a smart move.
Another surefire stock that's continuously delivered for its shareholders and would be perfect to buy during a stock market crash is Salesforce.com (CRM -0.96%), which provides software solutions for cloud-based customer relationship management (CRM).
For those of you unfamiliar with CRM, it's used by consumer-facing businesses to enhance customer relationships and boost sales. It can be used to handle service or product issues, oversee online marketing campaigns, and run predictive sales analyses of an existing client base. What's particularly noteworthy about CRM software is that it's finding its way into nontraditional sectors, such as finance and healthcare.
Cloud-based CRM software offers double-digit growth potential through at least mid-decade, and Salesforce sits at the center of this rapidly growing trend. According to IDC, Salesforce controlled 19.5% of global CRM spending in 2020, which is over a full percentage point higher than the share Oracle, SAP, Microsoft, and Adobe possessed last year on a combined basis. A little stock market turbulence doesn't change demand for CRM software solutions or weaken Salesforce's commanding market share lead.
What's more, CEO Marc Benioff has been an acquisition maven. The buyouts of MuleSoft, Tableau, and most recently Slack Technologies have added to the company's cloud-based ecosystem and should allow annual sales to more than double to $50 billion over the next five years. Any discount investors can get on shares of Salesforce should be viewed as a gift.
A third surefire stock to buy if a stock market crash or correction arises is Alphabet (GOOGL -7.68%) (GOOG -7.44%), the parent company of internet search engine Google and streaming content provider YouTube.
When it comes to global internet search, there's Google and everyone else. The thing is, "everyone else" barely moves the needle. According to GlobalStats, Google accounted for 92% of the worldwide search engine market in September. Looking back two years, it's much of the same, with Google holding a 91% to 93% share of global internet search. As the clear go-to for advertisers, Alphabet's Google benefits immensely from long-winded periods of U.S. and global economic expansion.
What might be even more exciting than Alphabet's veritable monopoly on internet search is the company's rapidly growing ancillary projects. Streaming service provider YouTube saw ad revenue surge 84% in the second quarter, with its annual sales run rate hitting $28 billion. YouTube has quickly become one of the most-visited social sites on the planet.
Meanwhile, Google Cloud delivered 54% sales growth in the June-ended quarter and now sports an annual run rate over $18 billion in sales. Google Cloud is the third-biggest player in cloud infrastructure and should grow into a major source of operating cash flow for Alphabet over time. There's absolutely no reason for Alphabet not to be on your buy list if the market crashes or corrects.