With a recession looking more likely later this year, it's hard to find stocks that you can buy confidently. Even with tough times ahead, there are still great stocks that can deliver short-term stability or long-term gains.

These five stocks have strong characteristics that should provide confidence to anyone with $500 available to invest right now.

1. Adobe

Adobe (ADBE 1.19%) is an established tech leader with sustainable competitive advantages, above-average growth, and strong cash flows. The company is known for its suite of productivity and design software, which has become an essential tool for people in creative positions.

Abobe's broad and respected product portfolio creates a wide economic moat. That competitive advantage should instill investor confidence for the company's long-term prospects. Analysts expect Adobe to grow nearly 15% annually over the medium term, which should outpace most stocks. Its forward price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio is under 25, so it's not particularly expensive relative to its expected earnings.

Even more impressive, the company consistently generates cash flows that are substantially higher than its net profits, due to noncash expenses that weigh on the bottom line. Consistently strong free cash flow is a marker of high-quality earnings and a great means for building shareholder value.

There is a caveat to consider with Adobe. It has a high beta at 1.3, so a market decline could send this stock tumbling. With a recession becoming more likely over the next year, make sure that your portfolio is set up properly to manage any extra volatility that Adobe would create. Also note that Adobe shares are over $370 each, so you might want to consider fractional shares if you want to spread $500 across a few different stocks.

Smiling investor relaxing at a desk with their hands behind their head and a laptop in front of them.

Image source: Getty Images.

2. UnitedHealth

UnitedHealth Group (UNH 0.75%) is one of the largest healthcare-plan providers in the world, covering more than 50 million people through its various products.

Health insurance is a fairly low-margin business. It also requires significant organizational expertise to administer services and coordinate among patients, care providers, medical facilities, device companies, and other groups in the medical world. These factors, along with the influence and efficiencies that come with scale, should protect UnitedHealth's competitive position for years to come. It's really hard for contenders to replicate its success.

As a diversified plan provider, UnitedHealth will never dazzle with its long-term growth. Instead, it combines impressive stability with respectable expansion. The company has grown between 10% and 15% in recent periods, and it produced nearly $25 billion in free cash flow last year.

UnitedHealth also has cheaper valuation ratios and a lower beta than Adobe, so it's better suited for volatility-averse investors. This stock is a reliable cash flow machine. With share prices just under $500, this is another one that might require fractional shares.

3. Veeva Systems

Veeva Systems (VEEV -1.16%) provides a cloud-based software suite for life sciences that's used in a broad set of essential applications. These include customer relationship management, compliance, research data management, and tracking and reporting on clinical trials. Veeva has grown to completely dominate its niche, and it counts most of the prominent pharmaceutical and biotech companies among its customers.

Veeva's competitive advantage stems from that dominance in its core market. It's specialized in a way that shields it from competition from any peers that have a broader industry focus. Any upstart challengers would have trouble overcoming the company's comprehensive product suite and high costs associated with switching systems.

Growth slowed in recent quarters, but revenue still expanded 16% last year. It also produced more than $750 million in free cash flow. The company's wide economic moat, excellent cash generation, and strong growth catalysts over the next few years make it a strong bet. This is another fairly expensive stock that's prone to volatility, so recognize that it needs to be a long-term investment to buy and hold.

4. Consolidated Edison

Consolidated Edison (ED -2.09%) is the electric, gas, and steam utility that serves New York City and other parts of that metropolitan area. It's a regulated utility, which means that it essentially operates a monopoly in its markets, along with government oversight on pricing and other important financial matters.

Utility stocks are often considered "safe" investments. The businesses have reliable cash flows, and the stocks exhibit low volatility. Utility consumption doesn't fluctuate significantly with economic cycles, and the monopolistic markets remove one of the key risks for most stocks. This allows them to be cash flow machines for investors.

Con Ed, as its known among New Yorkers, isn't going to deliver significant growth, but it's a strong candidate to generate strong dividend income while retaining value. The company has steadily grown its operating income and pays a reliable dividend.

It also has strong financial health metrics that should allow it to navigate a potential lean period and continue distributing cash to shareholders. Con Ed has a 3.3% dividend yield and a 0.35 beta as a result, so risk-averse investors can buy it with confidence.

5. Fortinet

Fortinet (FTNT 0.59%) is a cybersecurity stock that combines high growth, product excellence, and a sustainable competitive advantage. The company is focused on endpoint security, and it's recognized as a leader in the enterprise firewall market.

Whenever an employee, customer, or other stakeholder accesses an enterprise's network, it creates a potential entry point for malicious parties to access sensitive data. That's a reliable demand driver for Fortinet and its peers that won't go away anytime soon.

Fortinet has delivered on that potential with its financial results. Revenue grew 33% last year, and it's expected to grow more than 20% in 2023. It was able to achieve that growth while producing nearly $1 billion in net profits and $1.5 billion in free cash flow.

Fortinet's operational potential is hard to deny, but it's an expensive stock. Its forward P/E is just under 50. While that's reasonable for a company growing so quickly, it means that significant future success is already assumed in the price. If Fortinet's outlook sours or if the whole market hits a rough patch, the stock could drop markedly. Make sure that you're buying for the long term and are prepared for volatility.