In general, an investor should be able to buy any stock they want at any time they wish. But what if the investor were limited to buying into only three tickers in a particular calendar year?

The premise is ridiculous, of course. Nevertheless, mentally limiting purchase prospects to just three names in a 12-month stretch can be a useful exercise all the same. These restrictions force an investor to think critically about risk, reward, and reliability in any and all potential market environments. Almost needless to say, the end result is usually a small list of possible investments. And yet, this short list of stocks could serve as a solid foundation for a long-term portfolio.

With that as the backdrop, here's a closer look at the three stocks I'd be comfortable buying in 2023 if I was only allowed to buy three in the coming year.

1. Walmart

There's no denying Walmart (WMT 0.46%) is more defensive than offensive. Single-digit percentage revenue growth that may or may not even outpace inflation is its norm. And, its profit margins are typically paper-thin. It's not a growth stock by any stretch of the imagination.

What Walmart is, though, is an unstoppable force within the retail arena.

A ranking compiled by RIS and wRatings indicates the company controls roughly 13% of the overall retail market in the U.S., topping Amazon. That's solid, but still dramatically understates the retailer's prowess within its key business categories. Walmart controls roughly one-fifth of the nation's grocery market, and it dominates the general merchandise brick-and-mortar scene in the U.S. The company says 90% of the nation's residents live within 10 miles of one of its stores. It's no slouch outside of the U.S., either.

This reach is important, particularly to investors. While Walmart may not be the preferred shopping choice for every consumer, for most of them it is the most convenient and accessible one.

And, it's a particularly smart choice as we head into 2023 under a dark cloud of economic malaise. Credit Suisse's recently initiated coverage rates Walmart at an outperform due to its pricing power and potential for market share gains in a weak economy. Indeed, Walmart CFO John Rainey specifically pointed out during November's quarterly conference call that brisk inflation has meant most of the retailer's grocery market share gains come from households earning in excess of $100,000 per year -- consumers who may not have previously shopped at a Walmart store.

Credit Suisse's analysts set a target price for Walmart stock of $170, or 20% above the stock's present price.

2. Nike

It's been a tough year for Nike (NKE -1.26%) and its shareholders. The stock is down more than 40% from November 2021's high mostly due to crimped demand in China and an inventory backup. For perspective, last quarter's inventory levels were up a whopping 43% versus year-ago figures, while currency-adjusted sales in China were down 4%.

But the stock's steep sell-off discounts the fact that Nike is the premier brand name in sports apparel, and will likely work its way out of both headaches sooner or later. And that may happen sooner than later, in light of easing COVID-19 lockdowns in China.

Although Beijing is still enforcing many restrictions within the country, the most heavy-handed measures are now being eased. While its citizens aren't exactly rushing back to their pre-pandemic consumerism habits following a surge in coronavirus infections shortly after some restrictions were lifted, the country does seem to be inching back to norms.

The rolling restart of many temporarily shuttered manufacturing businesses should lead to restored incomes, which will eventually rekindle China's consumer spending. Indeed, Nike's footwear sales in China were up 4% year over year last quarter, versus being down 11% a quarter earlier. It's a start.

And Nike's swollen inventory? That may not be quite the problem you think it is, either.

It's been a slow-moving effort, but the company is still turning up the heat on its direct-to-consumer efforts. This obviously includes expanded usage of Nike's shopping app, but more than that, it involves its brick-and-mortar stores as a pickup point. In this vein, last quarter's 16% growth in direct sales and the 34% uptick in currency-adjusted digital sales suggest the initiative is working.

It matters simply because the more Nike can directly serve consumers, the more money it can make.

3. Boeing

Finally, I'm adding Boeing (BA -0.24%) to my list of stocks I'd be willing to buy in 2023 if I could only pick three. It's also arguably the most contentious of the three prospects.

While the aircraft manufacturer appears to have put its 737 MAX design woes in the past, the dent in its reputation remains in place, reminding potential customers and investors that any corporation has the capacity to stumble. Meanwhile, although air traffic surged in the middle of the year once consumers regained comfort with the idea of traveling, travel interest seems to be waning again.

Airline Jet Blue cautioned shareholders last week that December's demand is below initial expectations, and United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby expects a mild, travel-curbing recession to materialize early in the coming year. Still struggling to restore their pre-pandemic profits, it's the sort of backdrop that puts the kibosh on the purchase of new commercial jets.

And yet, Boeing is selling the daylights out of new jets anyway. United just placed an order for 200 (and maybe more) Boeing planes. In October, Alaska Air ordered an additional 52 737 MAX planes, expanding its total order to 146 of the aircraft. Air India is rumored to be in the market for 190 of Boeing's MAX jets, although that figure could grow to 500 when all is said and done.

Economic weakness or not, airlines are in need of newer fleets to satisfy whatever demand awaits. Indeed, Boeing's current backlog still stands at a hefty 5,296 planes. These orders can be cancelled, mind you. But most of them likely won't be.

See, aircraft fleet updates were largely put on hold during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. With these fleets now an average of three years older -- and an average of three years further into their expected useful lifespan -- airlines can't afford to postpone these purchases much longer. This reality should start to become evident in Boeing's top and bottom lines this coming year, with revenue expected to soar by 22% in 2023.