Since March 2009, growth stocks have enjoyed a very strong rally mainly due to the easy availability of cheap capital, thanks to an extremely low-interest rate environment. However, many growth stocks seem to have lost their sheen in the last few months of 2021 and early 2022. Stickier-than-expected inflation, a resurgence in COVID-19 cases causing a drag on global economic recovery, ongoing labor shortages, and ineffective policies seems to have undermined investor sentiment.
Instead of putting their money in speculative businesses, investors are now going back to basics and are opting for safer investments -- companies with stable business models and robust cash flows. Against this backdrop, AbbVie (ABBV 0.05%) and Meta Platforms (META -1.93%) could prove to be attractive picks for retail investors. Here's why.
Shares of leading biopharma company AbbVie rallied just over 26% in 2021, yet the company looks reasonably valued at 9.7 times forward earnings. The company has generated almost $17 billion in free cash flow in the first nine months of 2021 and carried a cash balance of $12 billion at the end of the third quarter, which ended Sept. 30, 2021. The company belongs to the prestigious Dividend Aristocrat list (companies that have raised dividend payouts annually for at least 25 years). It pays a solid dividend yield of 4.18%, much higher than the drug manufacturers' average yield of 2.87%.
Chances that AbbVie will continue minting money in the coming years remain high. Investors remain concerned about the company's growth prospects because leading immunology drug Humira is going off-patent -- it already lost patent protection in the EU and will lose its patent in the U.S. in 2023. However, based on the drug's sales trajectory in international markets post-patent expiry, it is unlikely that its U.S. revenues will drop to zero overnight even in the face of significant biosimilar competition. The drop in Humira's U.S. revenues will likely happen at a much slower pace than that seen for small molecule drugs after they go off-patent. Patients may also be more reluctant to switch to biosimilars during the pandemic, as it would entail additional physician visits and laboratory testing. AbbVie is expecting Humira headwinds to negatively affect its overall revenues in 2023, but it has also projected a reversal to modest top-line growth in 2024.
AbbVie has also succeeded in gradually reducing its over-reliance on the Humira franchise. In Q3, Humira accounted for around 38% of the company's total Q3 revenues, much lower than the 68% revenue exposure in 2017. The company's non-Humira immunology drugs, such as Rinvoq and Skyrizi, which had total sales of $1.2 billion in Q3, are also reporting strong uptake. The company's blockbuster oncology assets, Imbruvica and Venclexta together raked in sales of $1.87 billion in Q3. Finally, AbbVie's neuroscience and aesthetics portfolio, Botox and Juvederm, have also reported double-digit year-over-year operational sales growth rates in Q3 and will continue to be solid growth drivers in the coming years.
Against this backdrop, AbbVie offers an attractive blend of growth and income to retail investors. Therefore, I remain highly bullish on this stock.
2. Meta Platforms
Meta Platforms, previously known as Facebook, is another cash-rich company that generated lackluster gains in 2021. The company generated free cash flow of $9.5 billion in Q3, which ended Sept. 30, 2021, and has $58.1 billion in cash and marketable securities on its balance sheet. Yet, the stock rose by just over 23% in 2021, lower than the S&P 500's gain of 27% in the same time frame.
For the past few years, the company has been plagued by several challenges, including bad press related to its misuse of private data, failure to spread hate speech, antitrust issues, and reduced effectiveness of advertisements due to ongoing phasing out of third-party cookies. Despite this, the now-rebranded Meta Platforms seems well-poised to continue printing money in the coming quarters. The company reported 3.58 billion people logging into Meta's products -- Facebook, Whatsapp, and Instagram -- at least once a month, and average revenue per person of $8.18 in Q3. Thanks to its large and highly engaged customer base, Meta enjoys strong advertising revenue streams from its Facebook and Instagram applications. To better monetize these apps through increased engagement, the company has also introduced new features such as Instagram Reels and Facebook Watch.
Meta has also emerged as one of the frontrunners in the metaverse market. Matthew Ball, the CEO of venture capital firm Epyllion Industries, expects the metaverse to be a $10 trillion to $30 trillion market opportunity in the next 10 to 15 years. Meta has already built up a solid virtual reality-focused product portfolio through targeted acquisitions and is investing significant resources in developing data infrastructure, artificial intelligence, and machine learning capabilities. While not yet monetized today, the metaverse can prove to be a huge growth driver for the company in the coming years.
With a very sturdy business model, new growth opportunities, and healthy cash flows, Meta can prove to be a smart pick for retail investors.