These Companies Point Where You Should Invest Amid COVID-19 Pandemic – Seeking Alpha

Posted: April 18, 2020 at 5:49 pm


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Every crisis creates an opportunity. This can sound a bit insensitive especially when the force behind the crisis is a viral pandemic that has claimed more than 141,000 lives while infecting more than 2.1 million in under four months.

The coronavirus pandemic has ravaged global markets causing countrywide lockdowns and forcing business closures. As such, to optimistically forge forward to seize the opportunity and invest might not resonate well with a lot of people.

Yet cancer is as deadly if not deadlier, and investors continue to sieve through terabytes of market data in search of companies that are on the brink of finding a solution to buy their stocks. In the same spirit, investors will be on the lookout for companies that show promise in their search for a COVID-19 cure, vaccine, or a more efficient method of testing.

Here, we are going to look at a few companies that could be interesting for investors amid the coronavirus pandemic. And surprisingly, not all run their trade in the healthcare sector.

Abbott Laboratories (ABT) has emerged as one of the mainstay names in the healthcare sector to benefit from the coronavirus pandemic. The company developed a COVID-19 test kit that returns results for a positive test within 5 minutes while those who turn negative can receive results in 15 minutes.

President Trump hailed this discovery as a game-changer in the fight against the spread of the virus through mass testing. The US leads globally in terms of tests with over 3 million, partly because of Abbott Labs' ID Now COVID-19 test system. The company indicated earlier this month that it will be conducting 50,000 tests per day and since then the number of cases in the US has ramped up.

The shares of the company have gained more than 50% since it announced the 5-minute COVID-19 test kit in late March. Analysts estimate that Abbott could realize as much as $150 million in sales from COVID-19 tests, but they have also warned that the company could witness a significant drop in sales for other diagnostic sales, according to a report on Barron's.

This week, the company reported that it had developed an anti-body test for COVID-19 which will test for recovered patients that may have developed immunity for the virus. Abbott said that it will be shipping 4 million anti-body tests in April, with a target of 20 million monthly shipments by June. President Trump applauded the anti-body testing in a recent briefing calling it a "great test" that could play a crucial role in overcoming the coronavirus pandemic. However, the fight does not start and end with Abbott Labs. To completely eradicate the COVID-19 pandemic, it will take more than the Illinois-based Abbott. It will take the world to work in unison. As such, while Abbott and co in the US look to develop products that will rid the country of the disease through vaccination and therapy, Europe, Asia and the rest of the world are doing the same albeit with a different approach. Poland-based tech giant Infermedica last month announced the launch of a COVID-19 risk assessment tool to be offered as part of its free for use symptom checking app Symptomate and Infermedica API among other portals. The company CEO, Piotr Orzechowski, told the media that "Helping patients to quickly assess their risk of coronavirus and providing recommendations on the next steps is how we can help. The demand for health services is escalating and patient triage is, more than ever, an important tool in guiding patients on what to do when they're feeling unwell." The company is working with more than 50 partners globally, including Microsoft Corporation (MSFT) in the US. It has also been adopted by the ministries of health in Poland and Ukraine. While there are several privately held companies looking to embrace the opportunity created by the coronavirus pandemic, very few can quantify the expected impact on the top line. Furthermore, unless you are a venture capitalist or an angel investor there isn't much of an opportunity. Abbott is one of the few that offer retail investors the opportunity to benefit by investing via the stock market.

With projected monthly sales of $150 million from its rapid diagnostic test kit, Abbott could report $450 million in additional sales for the second quarter of 2020. That is about 5.6% of the total revenue of $7.98 billion reported in the same period last year. The company's stock surged further on Thursday morning after its Q1, 2020 results beat EPS expectations of $0.61 per share with $0.65. The company's top line surged higher 2.5% to $7.7 billion from the same period last year.

The rise in the company's stock price over the last two weeks has increased its P/E ratio to 46.93, which is relatively higher compared to close peers, Boston Scientific Corporation (BSX) 10.57, AbbVie Inc. (ABBV) 15.21, and Medtronic Plc (MDT) 25.26. But this should not be a reason to think that Abbott is overvalued. The company traditionally trades at a higher P/E ratio compared to its peers, averaging 55 over the last 12 months.

As such, the rise in stock price has been accompanied by relatively better earnings growth. The company's forward P/E of 23.81 is more in line with the industry average which again indicates high expectations on earnings during the next 12 months. The long-term future also looks promising with a PEG ratio (5-years expected) of 2.44. Again, this is not far off the PEG ratios of Medtronic's 2.35 and Boston Scientific's 2.41.

Conagra Brands Inc. (CAG) operates in the consumer goods industry. The company experienced some slowdown in top line and bottom line in the last three quarters. However, since the coronavirus pandemic hit the market, it has since witnessed a resurgence in demand.

In the company's most recent quarterly results, CEO Sean Connolly demonstrated optimism going into the final quarter of fiscal 2020 saying that Q4 revenues could offset the weaknesses of the slowdown experienced during the 9 months ended February 29, 2020.

The company is expecting a surge of more than 50% in domestic sales, which will be enough to tramp up annual growth.

Connolly said that "on a quarter-to-date basis, shipments and consumption in our domestic retail business have increased" by about half, more than offsetting the effect of "worsening trends in our food-service business."

The company has benefited from the country lockdowns, which prompted consumers to go on a shopping spree in a bid to stockpile for the future. The first and second quarters of fiscal 2021 might not benefit from similar economic imbalances, but Q3 and Q4, the world could experience another wave of the coronavirus pandemic triggering another series of lockdowns. Experts have indicated that unless the world finds a vaccine for COVID-19, there could be a series of waves before we finally get on top of the disease. As such, Conagra and other consumer goods companies could continue to witness abnormal sales figures, which will boost their short-term valuations.

This is clearly demonstrated by the company's improved valuation for the next 12 months. Conagra's 12-month trailing P/E ratio of 20.49 will improve to 14.37 within the next 12 months. Its PEG ratio (5-years expected) will drop to 2.13.

In comparison, the company's current valuation is dwarfed by Mondelez International Inc. (MDLZ) which has a P/E of 19.63. Another close peer, The Kraft Heinz Co. (KHC) trades at a trailing P/E of 17.68. But when you look at the forward P/E ratios and the PEG ratios of the two companies, Conagra prevails as the most attractive in the long term. Mondelez's Forward P/E and (5-year expected) PEG ratios of 19.72 and 2.86, respectively are higher than Conagra's. On the other hand, Kraft Heinz remains on top for the next 12 months with a forward P/E ratio of 12.15, but if we factor in earnings forecast for the next five years, Conagra offers better growth potential.

Generally, the entire consumer goods sector appears to have benefited from the coronavirus pandemic as consumers continue to stockpile. Shares of Conagra are now up more than 36% since March 13 while The Kraft Heinz has gained over 41%. On the other hand, Mondelez has recouped most of the losses incurred between Feb. 14 and March 23. The company has gained 28% over the last three weeks, after plunging nearly 30% in the preceding period.

Zoom Video Communications (ZM) is a video conferencing company based in San Jose, California. Shares of the company have gained 123% since Jan. 2. There was a temporary pullback late last month but the stock has since recovered amid mixed analyst recommendations.

With the implementation of the social distancing campaign across the world, businesses have adapted to modern methods of communications. Employees have been forced to work remotely to avoid the spread of COVID-19, which means that normal office conversations needed to be conducted via video conferencing. Zoom Video is one of the beneficiaries of this paradigm shift.

The company's shares temporarily plunged during the final week of March after Credit Suisse analysts suggested that now would be the time to sell amid increased optimism that the lockdown will be lifted soon. However, shares of the company have recouped most of the losses after another report from Cantor Fitzgerald analyst Drew Kootman chipped in with a bullish view.

There are a few twists and turns remaining before we can say for certain that we are now free of the coronavirus pandemic. Preliminary forecasts suggest that it could take as long as 18 months before a vaccine for COVID-19 hits drug stores across the world. On Wednesday, President Trump said that the most important thing now is coming up with therapeutic treatment for the disease since a vaccine requires long periods of testing before it can be approved for use on people.

From a valuation perspective, Zoom Video appears to be trading at an extremely high price to earnings ratio. The company's trailing 12-month P/E ratio of about 1,510 could be prohibitive to value investors. However, its forward P/E ratio of 328 shows promise while its (5-years expected) PEG ratio of 9.62 confirms its growth potential.

In the most recent quarter, the company's earnings grew 169% and this demonstrates why investors are willing to pay a high premium for the stock.

From a competitive view, Zoom Video's main rivals come from well-diversified tech giants in the form of Microsoft Corporation's Skype and Cisco Systems Inc.'s (CSCO) Webex. Privately-held GoToMeeting is unlikely to cause short-term concerns from an investing perspective. As such, Zoom Video offers investors a unique investment opportunity as a publicly listed pureplay video conferencing company.

Besides the intermediate opportunity presented by COVID-19, Zoom Video will also witness growth amid the growing use of remote workforce. The remote working business environment will improve as more people embrace 5G network technology beginning in 2021. This will encourage more businesses to utilize remote workers thereby boosting the growth of the video conferencing market.

In summary, the coronavirus pandemic is nothing to be celebrated. It has adversely affected global economies, contributed to a loss of jobs, caused emotional harm and above all, claimed several lives.

However, it would be even worse if companies like Zoom Video, Abbott Labs, and Conagra Brands, among others, did not respond to the crisis in the way they did. Besides standing to make a lot of money, they have helped to solve many problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

And if we cannot get rid of the disease soon enough, they and several others will continue to benefit as they provide the much-needed answers to the problems that arise.

Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

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These Companies Point Where You Should Invest Amid COVID-19 Pandemic - Seeking Alpha

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April 18th, 2020 at 5:49 pm

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