The 7.2% drop in the S&P 500 between mid-September and mid-October was an attention-getting fall that should serve as a wake-up call to investors who may have grown complacent over the past five years, but by historical standards the decline was pretty tame. In typical corrections markets usually fall 10% and in bear markets they drop at least 20%.
That raises a question: what should we own the next time we see one of those more cataclysmic drops? To get us some ideas, I dug through data from S&P Capital IQ and discovered that Catamaran Corp. (NASDAQ: CTRX), Cantel Medical (NYSE:CMD), and Emergent BioSolutions (NYSE:EBS) were among the select few that rallied between October 2008 and March 2009. No one can know if they'll perform similarly the next time around, but they might be worth considering. So let's take a closer look.
Keeping costs in check
Few trends have been as unwavering as the trend toward higher drug spending and that's likely a big reason that Catamaran skirted the Great Recession's sell-off back in 2008 and early 2009. Even with investors panicking, shares in Catamaran still popped an impressive 49% between Ocdtober 2008 and March 2009.
Catamaran's gravity-defying performance stems from its critical role in helping healthcare payers like insurers and corporations limit the amount they spend on medicine for members and employees. The company's role as a pharmacy benefit manager means that it helps negotiate prices with drugmakers, manage prescription fulfillment, and engage in programs designed to boost the use of lower cost generics by patients.
As a result of rising healthcare spending and acquisitions, Catamaran's sales jumped 53% to $5.5 billion in the third quarter, leading to a 12% increase in adjusted EPS to $0.58. But even better times may lie ahead given that Catamaran's market share of the PBM market is just 9%. That suggests that there may be additional opportunities tied to ageing Americans and rising insurance enrollment for earnings and share price upside. If so, Catamaran may be positioned to climb during the next recession, too.
When it comes down to containing infection there's no excuse for cutting corners. Perhaps that's why when markets were tumbling into the thick of the Great Recession, share prices in Cantel Medical climbed 38%.
Cantel is a big player in infection prevention and control that sells products like reprocessing systems for endoscopy, water purification systems for dialysis, and disposable infection control products for healthcare settings like dentist offices and hospitals.
Demand for those systems, disinfectants, and sterilizers is fairly inelastic, so investors should be somewhat insulated from a market drop. Importantly, Cantel's business is growing briskly with sales growing a compounded 12% annually since 2007. Since Cantel competes in a market it values at more than $45 billion, there seems to be plenty of room for growth and if that's true, Cantel might be a good company to consider owning even if markets don't crash.
Prevention is the best medicine
Cantel helps contain and control infection, but Emergent BioSolutions aims to prevent it. The company gets a big piece of its revenue from government contracts for vaccines developed to defend populations against biological warfare and that's probably why investors felt comfortable bidding its shares up by 37% from late 2008 through early 2009.
Emergent's top selling product is BioThrax, the only FDA approved vaccine used to prevent anthrax, but it also sells other vaccines, including one for smallpox. In addition to steady revenue from those products, Emergent also benefits from ongoing contracts to develop new, better vaccines.
Since it's a biodefense play, Emergent relies heavily on government spending, which means it may be less prone to the whims of private business during an economic slowdown. Additionally, since its products are arguably must-have solutions, it's less likely that Department of Defense bean counters will cut Emergent's contracts to shave expenses.
If that proves true (and no competitors emerge) then Emergent may be in a good position the next time Mr. Market nose-dives. The company's sales jumped 55% to $138 million during the third quarter, bringing its year-to-date revenue to $302.2 million, up 41% from 2013. And Emergent's profit is climbing, too. Analysts expect that Emergent will earn $1.17 per share this year and $1.70 next year. If the company can deliver on that forecast, investors should be rewarded regardless of whether markets tumble.
Proacting rather than reacting
Investors won't know that we're in the midst of a crash until they're well into it and that may mean that investors are forced into making snap-judgments with big (and potentially) bad long term consequences. Preparation may be the key to avoiding making those mistakes when quote screens start flashing red, so it might not be a bad idea to keep Catamaran Corp., Cantel Medical, and Emergent BioSolutions on the radar. After all, if they hold up as well in the next downturn as they did in the last one, they might offer a bit of relief on an otherwise tough tape.