This week's announced 8.3% increase in the Consumer Price Index for August over the prior year has markets scrambling again. Investors are weighing the impact that further interest rate increases could have on the economy, and the pressure it could put on the Federal Reserve to raise rates at a higher pace. That doesn't bode well for economic growth. What's all this mean for investors? Where can we invest our money in a tougher economic climate?
Within recession-resistant, value-based plays, I love healthcare. It's quite simple. In times of economic uncertainty, what do we all need even if we don't want to pay for it? Medical treatment.
Insurance never goes out of style
It might not be as exciting as Zoom or Okta, but everyone needs health insurance. UnitedHealth Group (UNH -0.36%) has been one of the most reliable insurance companies out there in terms of expanding its business and earnings on an annual basis. Total revenue increased 11.3% in 2021 alone. That's an impressive figure for a business of its size. UnitedHealth Group is no slouch in translating that growth into meaningful value for shareholders. Over the past four years, net earnings per diluted share have seen consecutive double-digit growth rates.
Momentum doesn't seem to be slowing down. Despite being an absolute juggernaut with nearly $300 billion in annual revenue for 2021, UnitedHealth Group continues to produce robust gains on a quarterly basis. In the second quarter, revenue jumped 13% to $80.3 billion, and operating income was also up a whopping 19% year over year. Through the first half of the year, premiums revenue is up 14.5%, which represents the core of the business at $128 billion through that time frame. And with the announcement of a 10-year partnership with Walmart, the revenue is likely to keep growing. It seems UnitedHealth can't go wrong, which is probably why analysts are projecting 14% annual earnings growth for the next five years.
A pharmacy titan
CVS Health (CVS -1.00%) is a diversified player over a large span of the healthcare/insurance industries. A few years ago, we watched the drugstore giant dive headfirst into insurance through its merger with Aetna. Now the company has been in the news more recently for its announced agreement to buy out Signify Health (SGFY) in an $8 billion deal.
This Signify deal would help CVS gain data tools that can be applied broadly to the healthcare world. Signify allocates data and tech to aid physician groups, health systems, and related entities that are based around in-home care, but I could easily see CVS using this to complement the other pieces of its primary care business as well, which already includes 1,100 walk-in clinics.
Factor all of CVS's assets together, and you see that the company is becoming a juggernaut in everything medicine. With pharmacies and prescription drug coverage, health plans through Aetna, retail shopping for a large scale of products, and medical needs all blended into one, CVS is a one-stop shop.
The critique of CVS is a combination of losing the COVID testing/vaccine momentum, along with the planned shuttering of 900 stores. Overall, I think the focused expansion within primary care offers a business that is much more appealing. Moreover, the increasing use of online ordering means that not as many stores may be needed to run the business.
Primary care and pharmaceuticals are things consumers need regardless of economic circumstances, and I like the stock as a long-term investment. Annual top-line revenue continues to grow, and second-quarter revenue increased 11% year over year to $80.6 billion, while some of its key initiatives revolving around patient care saw progress. MinuteClinic, the company's retail clinical services arm, reported a 20% increase in scheduling during the second quarter, and since its launch earlier in the year, 6 million people have enrolled in CVS's health dashboard.
Solid performers with histories of success
Healthcare is an industry that will never go out of style. Even if inflation drives up costs, many consumers still need prescriptions to survive. We will always need medical care -- accidents happen and diseases occur. It's simply a part of life, which makes companies like CVS and UnitedHealth Group a part of life as well.
Both of these stocks have delivered more than 20% price gains over the past 12 months, as investors have begun shifting their portfolios toward safer value plays compared with some of the riskier high-growth tech investments that have dominated markets over the past half-decade. Given their demonstrated track records, with very few apparent tailwinds, I think both companies can continue to demonstrate strong earnings growth over the next few years and offer protection against the impact that a potential recession could have on other industries in 2023 and beyond.