Thanks to the trade war, numerous S&P 500 stocks could arguably deserve a place on a “stocks to avoid” list. Over the last few years, much of the growth in the most-established United States equities has come from China. With almost four times the population as the U.S., many saw the country’s potential when it began to turn away from communist doctrine.
Now, many of these have become stocks to avoid in today’s market. With a trade war that has lasted more than 18 months, many equities have sold off due to dimming earnings prospects.
However, investors should also remember that China has built its emergence in large part on the American consumer. Their need for access to U.S. markets should lead to an eventual trade deal.
But until the U.S. and China sign such an agreement, the following companies should remain stocks to avoid.
Stock to Avoid: 3M (MMM)
As an applied science and manufacturing powerhouse, 3M’s (NYSE:MMM) dependence on China should not surprise anyone. In 2018, 31.3% of the company’s revenues came from the Asia-Pacific region, of which China is a dominate influence. It comes as somewhat of a shock that in what many consider the “century of Asia,” revenues from that region have fallen over the last year, helping to make MMM stock one of these five stocks to avoid.
Moreover, the firm once known as Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company faces issues of its own. It remains a conglomerate in an era when such business groupings make less sense. Also, although it continues to innovate, e-commerce has made it easier for small companies to invent competing products and bring them to market.
MMM stock has lost 37% of its value since the trade war began. Despite this loss, investors will likely not rush in at a forward price-to-earnings ratio of almost 16. Nor will they want to buy 3M stock with a predicted long-term growth average of 3.4%. They might react to the dividend yield that has moved near 3.5%. However, with a payout ratio above 56%, even the dividend faces some dangers.
While investors should not write this company off, MMM’s profit growth will struggle to gain traction without help from Chinese consumers and businesses.
General Motors (GM)
Arguably, all U.S. car companies could make the stocks to avoid list due to the trade war alone. However, General Motors (NYSE:GM) likely faces the most pain. GM stock has seen little price growth since it resumed trading in 2010. In 2018, GM sold almost 700,000 more vehicles in China than in the U.S.
GM has long faced struggles with sales growth in other regions. This includes North America, where it would struggle to earn a profit it not for strong truck and SUV sales. Hence, General Motors’ overall sales growth depends on China. Due to tariffs, investors do not seem optimistic that this growth will materialize.
On the surface, GM stock looks like a bargain. It trades at around six times forward earnings and its dividend yields almost 4%. Still, with no average profit growth expected over the next five years, investors should see little reason to buy.
Even without tariffs, GM and its peers would struggle in China amid intense competition. However, GM’s P/E ratio likely prices in these troubles. If it can escape the tariffs, GM stock may finally sustain a move higher. Still, with the specter of these import duties, GM will remain cheap for a reason.
Las Vegas Sands (LVS)
Despite the company name, the growth of Las Vegas Sands (NYSE:LVS) depends on mainland China. Five of the company’s nine casinos operate in Macao, a special administrative region of China.
Because China has banned gambling outside of Macao, the company’s significant presence in this region would seemingly guarantee LVS stock billions in revenue. However, as the Chinese spend less amid the tariffs, they have also gambled less in Macao’s casinos.
This has devastated LVS stock. Las Vegas Sands peaked at over $81 per share in June 2018. Thanks to reduced revenue related to the tariffs, the stock has fallen by more than 35% to the $52 per share range. Over the last year, it has tested the high-$40’s per share range more than once only to bounce back.
That said, LVS maintains a forward P/E of about 15.6, and analysts expect meager long-term growth. This does not make Las Vegas Sands cheap. Still, a trade deal, or even the hint of one, could take it off of the stocks to avoid list. As late as July, LVS stock traded in the mid-$60’s per share range simply due to the earlier optimism of a trade agreement. Unless such confidence leads to an actual deal, investors should stay away.
By most measures, Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) stock should not find itself on a stocks to avoid list. The world’s smartphones depend on its chipsets to operate. The U.S. Department of Justice recently filed an amicus brief asking that Qualcomm be granted reprieve in a ruling that labeled the company a monopoly. These chipsets will help lead the 5G revolution, and even Chinese smartphone users cannot afford for tariffs to block Qualcomm’s technology.
Moreover, QCOM stock trades at a low valuation given its growth prospects. The forward P/E ratio is close to 16.7 as of the time of this writing. However, this buys average annual growth of an estimated 27.03% per year over the next five years.
Still, the company depends on China for about two-thirds of Qualcomm’s revenue. Despite its headquarters in San Diego, this makes the company a de facto Chinese equity. If tariffs further hurt QCOM stock, it will struggle to meet analyst growth targets. Even a resolution with the government or a better-than-expected 5G rollout may not save Qualcomm stock in that instance.
Qualcomm will wield tremendous power as 5G rolls out. For this reason alone, I would recommend buying QCOM stock in most cases. However, without a resolution to the trade dispute, stockholders will struggle to benefit from the 5G technological revolution.
Strangely, Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) stock has become one of the stocks to avoid due to the company’s success. SBUX stock has risen by more than 80% over the last year. It also increased following its latest earnings report as comparable-store sales across the world rose by 6%.
Still, saturation in both the U.S. and Canada has forced the company to look abroad for growth. Over the last few years, it has made expansion across China a primary growth goal. As of January, the company had established 3,684 stores in China, its second-highest store count behind the U.S.
Moreover, Starbucks faces an emerging competitor in Luckin Coffee (NASDAQ:LK). Luckin has existed for less than two years. However, the Beijing-based coffee house opens a new store every 15 hours on average. Such a threat would constitute a challenge to Starbucks under the best of circumstances. However, a brutal tariff war could further undermine the Seattle-based coffee chain.
China has helped keep earnings increases for Starbucks in the double digits. However, one has to question if investors will continue to pay more than 30 times forward earnings should the trade war end the growth of Starbucks China. This uncertainty, coupled with the multiple, should make SBUX one of the stocks to avoid.
As of this writing, Will Healy did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned stocks. You can follow Will on Twitter at @HealyWriting.