The most rewarding gains in the stock market are captured when an investor is able to buy shares in a quality business at a good price -- leaving room for that business to grow in value over time.

There are plenty of short-term challenges that have contributed to compressed equity valuations. Rising interest rates make it more expensive to borrow money. A potential decline in consumer spending or a slowdown in economic growth impacts just about every sector of the economy. These factors have compounded to create quite a bit of uncertainty in public markets.

Investors looking for ultra-long-term investment opportunities have come to the right place. Delta Air Lines (DAL -3.54%), Ford Motor Company (F 1.00%), and Rocket Lab USA (RKLB 2.69%) are three industrial stocks that could be worth buying now. Here's why.

A person looking through an airplane window with sun rays coming in.

Image source: Getty Images.

Delta Air Lines can fly higher

Lee Samaha (Delta Air Lines): Having suffered a disastrous period due to government-imposed travel restrictions, the airline industry is firmly in recovery mode. However, there's a healthy debate about the nature of the recovery, and it's being played out in Delta Air Lines' valuations. 

Delta's management believes the airline will generate $2 billion in free cash flow (FCF) in 2023 and then $4 billion in 2024. Given that its current market cap is only $23.1 billion, those FCF figures make the stock look very cheap. 

That said, there's usually a reason the market is pricing in such a generous valuation. It boils down to a couple of critical factors. First, there's skepticism about the pace of the recovery in light of the slowdown in the economy. Second, there's a belief that (highly lucrative) business travel won't return to previous levels due to the increased use and familiarity of video conferencing that came out of the pandemic. 

The latter is a particular issue for Delta, given its renewed focus on the business traveler. 

However, there's no sign of either yet in Delta's earnings. For example, the airline maintained its full-year revenue, margin, and earnings guidance on its recent first-quarter earnings call. Moreover, in a sign that the premium business traveler is coming back, Delta Air Lines President Glen Hauenstein said on the recent earnings call: "Diverse revenue streams, including premium and loyalty, generated 56% of total revenue in 1Q. Premium revenue growth continued to outpace the main cabin."

Simply put, you must believe the airline industry will slow down to think Delta isn't a good value right now. As long as the industry keeps growing and Delta hits its expectations, investors have cause to believe the stock is materially undervalued.

Ford recognizes an EV future

Daniel Foelber (Ford): Ford made a splash in 2021 when investors poured into electric vehicle (EV) opportunities. It was during late 2021 and early 2022 that Ford shares surpassed the $20 per share mark and reached a 20-year high. Since then, the company has struggled to make EVs a significant portion of its sales.

In the first quarter of 2023, Ford sold 456,972 vehicles. But only 10,866 of those sales were EVs. Ford has hundreds of thousands of F-150 Lighting orders, the highly touted Mustang Mach-E SUV, and the Ford E-Transit. Its results are painfully disappointing relative to its product offering.

The stock price has reflected a bleak outlook. Ford stock has gone pretty much nowhere for the last two years and is down over 40% from its 20-year high. To make matters worse, a decline in consumer spending and a potential recession could result in an industrywide slowdown in new car purchases.

However, Ford has quite a few long-term tailwinds going for it. Even though Ford has fumbled much of its initial EV execution, the company is well positioned to capitalize on a transition from gas-powered cars to EVs over the long term. A year ago, Ford split its business into two distinct operating units, Ford Blue (the legacy business) and Ford Model e (the EV business) as the company clearly recognizes an EV future. 

Most importantly, Ford has a reputable brand and is the natural front-runner to be the leader in the EV pickup truck market. A silver lining from Ford's Q1 production and sales numbers is that the F-Series remained the best-selling truck in the U.S., with sales up 21.1% and totaling 170,377 pickups. 

Ford's inability to efficiently manage its EV production has been a palpable disappointment for investors hoping Ford would emerge as a competitive EV automaker. The good news is that the sell-off in the stock, paired with a strong performance by Ford's core business, has opened the door to an attractive investment opportunity. Ford's forward price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of 7.6 is a discount to its five-year median P/E ratio of 11. 

Ford is a legacy automaker with a rich history. But it is also a stodgy company with a lot of moving parts. For that reason, there has been a noticeable lag between Ford's corporate vision for a transition toward meaningful EVs and its actual results. Therefore, it makes sense that Ford stock has sold off. But Ford stock is a natural fit for patient investors. The valuation is inexpensive. The dividend yield is high at 4.7%. And Ford has put the pieces in place to capitalize on the EV truck market.

Ford stock could continue to go nowhere in the short term. But the dividend paired with its long-term growth prospects and the stock's sell-off makes now a good time to invest in Ford.

Hop aboard with Rocket Lab -- it's out of this world

Scott Levine (Rocket Lab USA): It's not every day that investors have the chance to invest in a stock at the forefront of a nascent industry, but that's exactly the opportunity that Rocket Lab presents right now in the booming space industry. A leader in launch services, Rocket Lab's Electron rocket is the second-most frequently launched U.S. rocket behind SpaceX. Several weeks ago, the company celebrated the 35th successful liftoff of the Electron rocket, marking a company record for the fastest turnaround time -- seven days -- after its previous launch.

A look at Rocket Lab's financials further illustrates how the company is already on an impressive trajectory. In 2022, Rocket Lab reported revenue of $211 million, representing a 239% year-over-year increase. And the company seems poised to maintain that trajectory. At the end of 2022, the company had a backlog of $503.6 million -- a 109% increase over the backlog of $241 million that it had at the end of 2021.

While revenue and backlog are growing at an impressive clip, it's important for investors open to hitching a ride with Rocket Lab that the company is still unprofitable and it may take years before it achieves profitability.

While it's not the same as the Space Race of the 1960s, there's a new race of sorts underway as companies compete for market share in the final frontier. And the opportunity is big; Morgan Stanley estimates that the space economy could be valued at $1 trillion by 2024. Bank of America forecasts the industry to reach a $1.4 trillion valuation by 2030. Euroconsult, a consulting service company that specializes in the space industry, estimates that the space economy was valued at $464 billion in 2022.