Let's face it: the stock market never exactly stands still. But when it comes to exceptional volatility, the up and down vacillations that we've witnessed since the beginning of the year have been more than certain investors can stomach.
Following the worst two-week start to a year in recorded history, investors are looking for ways to minimize downside risk for their investment portfolios, while still remaining invested for the long-term. It's not always an easy task to say the least.
Let profitability be your guide
However, if you're looking for ways to hedge against downside risk while still getting a good night's sleep, then perhaps it's time to consider investing in companies delivering some of the juiciest profits.
Focusing on total profits (and not just earnings per share, or EPS) allows us to recognize companies that are just raking in the dough hand-over-fist. Presumably, businesses that are among the most profitable in the U.S., or world, are likely to remain profitable even if growth in the U.S. slows or we enter a recession. Strongly profitable companies also tend to be more likely to reward investors with stock buybacks and dividends, and they're willing to reinvest healthy amounts of capital back into their own businesses. Highly profitable stocks could be exactly what you need during a choppy investment environment, because the above factors would suggest that they will hold up better than most companies during a stock market downturn.
With that being said, here are five names to consider that could generate enormous profits through fiscal 2017.
Surprise... or maybe not. Most of you probably knew the most profitable company in the world would be appearing on this list. Based on Wall Street's forecasted EPS for the company in 2016 and 2017, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) could deliver nearly $106 billion in cumulative profits. I'll give you a moment to pick your jaw up from the floor.
A number of factors play into Apple's success. To begin with, Apple has as strong a brand following as any product out there. When the company debuts a new gadget, be it a smartphone or its recent Watch, consumers line up around the block to get their hands on it. Successively higher sales of iPhones with each new model are a testament to consumers' loyalty to the brand. In fiscal 2015 alone, Apple sold more than 231 million iPhones.
Apple is also expanding into a number of platforms that'll grow its revenue capabilities into new channels. Apple Pay, Apple Watch, and Apple Music are all examples of this. Moving beyond just being a product-centric company should allow Apple to keep its brand at the forefront of consumers' and investors' minds.
Investors may also want to consider looking at Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOG)(NASDAQ:GOOGL), the parent company of Google, which briefly surpassed Apple earlier this year to become the most valuable company in the world. Based on Wall Street's full-year EPS estimates, Alphabet could generate $52.2 billion in profits over the next two years.
Alphabet's intrigue more or less rests with its competitive advantages, a la Google, and its knack for innovation.
Google's dominance as an online advertiser is unparalleled. Among search, Google's market share stood at 64.2% in the fourth-quarter of 2014 per eMarketer. Further, in terms of mobile ads, which are the holy grail of growth in the advertising business at the moment, Google is expected to control 33.2% of all share in 2016, which is more than numbers two through 10 in mobile market share combined! This dominance allows Google superior pricing power, and it makes the company the go-to when it comes to ad impressions.
Alphabet is also a leader in innovation. You may have heard about Google's driverless cars, and may have even laughed when one was pulled over for driving under the speed limit. However, these vehicles, along with the half-dozen robot developers Alphabet has purchased in recent years, could one day lead to driverless vehicles with robots that'll deliver goods to your doorstep. This is just one example of Alphabet leaping forward with innovation.
3. Wells Fargo
Economic growth may not have boomed in the fourth quarter of 2015, and interest rates are still near all-time record lows, but that hasn't stopped banking giant Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC) from capitalizing in a big way. Based on Wall Street's EPS estimates over the next two years, Wells Fargo could generate north of $45 billion in collective profit.
What's made Wells Fargo so successful throughout the years is that it's avoided risky investments, such as derivatives, that hampered many of its peers. Instead, Wells Fargo has continued to rely on high-quality loan and deposit growth to fuel its business. Focusing on keeping its expenses in-line while appealing to affluent clientele, Wells Fargo managed to generate net income of $23 billion in 2015. Return on assets of 1.32% for the year was also notably higher than many of its megacap peers could boast.
Looking ahead, Wells Fargo should benefit in a big way once interest rates begin to rise, but it still has the tools necessary to thrive even if rate increases are still a ways off. A push toward mobile banking could further reduce costs, while continued loan generation (commercially and from consumers) on the heels of low lending rates should continue to fuel steady profits.
4. Johnson & Johnson
Look no further than the largest company by market valuation in healthcare if you want substantial profits. Wall Street is forecasting that Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) could generate more than $37 billion in total profits over the next two fiscal years.
Johnson & Johnson's three-pronged approach to growth appears to be working well for the company. Its consumer healthcare segment delivers slow growth, but more importantly provides predictable cash flow and pricing power that's incredibly helpful during a recession. Its medical device operations offer investors a way to capitalize on the long-developing trend of an aging population. As people live longer and access to medical care improves, the demand for medical devices is expected to rise. Lastly, Johnson & Johnson's pharmaceutical segment provides juicy margins and innovative drugs. Imbruvica, a blood cancer drug developed with Pharmacyclics, could wind up generating $7 billion-plus in peak annual sales thanks to its superior response rates in second-line and higher patients with select blood cancers.
It also doesn't hurt that J&J is sporting one of just three AAA credit ratings among all publicly traded stocks, and has $18.5 billion in net cash as of the end of fiscal 2015. This gives the company incredible financial flexibility.
Finally, we have retail giant Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT), which has struggled a bit recently on the heels of a stronger U.S. dollar and higher expenses tied with boosting wages and closing underperforming stores. Normally, buying into weak growth prospects is something you might avoid during a volatile market, but Wal-Mart's $27 billion-plus in cumulative projected profits over the next two years is nothing to sneeze at.
What makes Wal-Mart such an intriguing potential investment is its storied dominance of the retail landscape. Wal-Mart's sheer size allows it to buy products in bulk at advantageous prices to its peers, which in turn also helps it undercut or match the prices of its competitors. By carrying a broad selection of products in its superstores, Wal-Mart gives the consumer plenty of reasons to do all of their shopping at Wal-Mart.
Following its store closures and wage increases, Wal-Mart should benefit from a happier and more productive workforce, as well as a store base that's producing the best profits and margins. I don't believe Wal-Mart is going anywhere.
How does nearly $270 billion in profits sound?
Why did I choose this diverse set of companies? Because if you add up the aforementioned profit estimates from Wall Street between 2016 and 2017, these five companies are expected to generate a cumulative $268 billion in profits. In addition, companies like Johnson & Johnson have a knack for surpassing Wall Street's expectations and pushing them higher, meaning this $268 billion figure through fiscal 2017 could rise even more if this trend holds true.
If you're looking for ways to shore up your portfolio amid heightened stock market volatility, consider looking into highly profitable and stable business models such as the five discussed above.
Sean Williams has no material interest in any companies mentioned in this article. You can follow him on CAPS under the screen name TMFUltraLong, track every pick he makes under the screen name TrackUltraLong, and check him out on Twitter, where he goes by the handle @TMFUltraLong.
Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares), Apple, and Wells Fargo. It also has the following options: short March 2016 $52 puts on Wells Fargo, and recommends Johnson & Johnson. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.