As 2022 gets underway, there is hope yet again that life will return to normal in the new year. While the omicron variant is the latest pandemic-related worry, recent reports indicate that its effects may be less severe than those of other variants. This gives investors some optimism that perhaps it won't be as concerning as first feared. There's no guarantee this will happen, but if it does, there are some stocks that could become incredibly strong buys.
Curaleaf Holdings (CURLF -1.70%), Restaurant Brands International (QSR 1.71%), and Southwest Airlines (LUV 1.29%) have struggled this year and haven't been the best stocks to be holding in 2021. But next year could be a very different story, and here's why you'll want to consider adding them to your portfolio today.
1. Curaleaf Holdings
Year to date, shares of top marijuana stock Curaleaf Holdings are down more than 27%, while the S&P 500 has risen by a similar percentage. There's nothing wrong with the business itself, but investors have simply cooled to marijuana stocks. The Horizons Marijuana Life Sciences ETF has declined 15% in 2021 likely because optimism is fading that any kind of reform in the industry will take place at the federal level.
However, a slowdown in the pandemic could allow lawmakers to shift focus away from managing COVID-19 and finally take a serious look at marijuana legislation. The industry does have a fan in Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer who could help lead the charge. And there was optimism that some positive reform could be achieved in December when the SAFE Banking Act was included in the National Defense Authorization Act (the annual defense bill). SAFE would have helped cannabis companies gain access to banking services, but it was stripped out of the defense bill and appears to be dead in the water -- yet again.
Reform may happen for the industry, but with COVID dominating the legislative agenda, it's hard for cannabis to get back into the spotlight. However, some positive movement next year on any marijuana-related bill could be a significant catalyst for Curaleaf, a top cannabis producer and industry leader. The company has generated more than $1.1 billion in sales over its past four quarters. With a presence in more than 20 states across the country, its reach is wide.
Even if reform doesn't happen, it may only be a matter of time before growth investors circle back to pot stocks like Curaleaf that are constantly evolving and looking for the next opportunity. On Dec. 23, the company announced plans to acquire Nature Remedy Patient Center, an Arizona-based dispensary for $13 million. Once it closes the deal (which will likely happen in January), Curaleaf's dispensary count will reach 118 locations.
Curaleaf is a growth machine. With its shares struggling of late, now is as good a time as any to load up on them. If you wait until after there's some positive news with regards to legalization, the stock may have already taken off.
2. Restaurant Brands
The challenge with reopenings and consumers not fully back to their regular, day-to-day lives hasn't weighed too heavily on Restaurant Brands' stock, down a modest 2% this year. Heading into 2022, the company can count on Burger King, Tim Hortons, and Popeyes -- its stable brands -- for solid results if and when things go back to normal.
Plus, its newly acquired Firehouse Subs could give the business an additional growth driver next year. The chain has 1,200 locations and will likely record revenue of $1.1 billion in 2021, with its comparable U.S. sales growing at a rate of 20% compared to 2019. Restaurant Brands may not only benefit from that growth; it could also accelerate it by expanding the business into new markets. In December, Restaurant Brands announced it will be developing the Popeyes brand in France and Monaco through a deal with a French restaurant group -- Napaqaro. The company's chains have a global presence, and with Firehouse Subs locations only in North America, there's plenty of potential for Restaurant Brands to build on its new brands' success.
By adding another chain into the mix, Restaurant Brands becomes an even more attractive reopening play and a stock that's more likely to succeed if there's more of a return to normal next year.
3. Southwest Airlines
Airlines were looking like promising investments to hold this year, especially with air travel on the rise, but in 2021, Southwest's stock has fallen more than 10%.
COVID-19 is going to impact the airline's performance more directly next year because a spike in illnesses or a return of lockdowns could result in flight cancellations. During the company's most recent earnings call, Southwest CFO Tammy Romo predicted that first-quarter capacity in 2022 will be only 6% lower than 2019's levels. Management also believes there's put-up business demand that it may capitalize on if business picks up. The earnings call was in October before omicron, the latest coronavirus variant, began to spread.
The airline sector is a risky one to invest in because so much depends on the course of the pandemic. Through the first nine months of 2021, Southwest has been on a positive trajectory, with sales of $10.7 billion rising 53% year over year. The airline even managed to earn a profit of $909 million during that time versus a loss of $2.2 billion a year ago.
With people already receiving booster shots in the U.S., which may ease the threat posed by omicron, Southwest looks like a safe bet for next year. Unlike other airlines that rely on broad, international travel, Southwest is focused on the U.S. and vacation spots in the Caribbean, Central America, and Mexico. This narrower scope can make it more likely the company will be able to fill out its schedule.
Near its 52-week low, Southwest may look like an underwhelming buy right now, but things could look a lot more promising for the business in 2022.