Closing out the first week of September, the benchmark indices finally started to gain some positive momentum. Although encouraging in the nearer term, overall, I don’t find the moves that impressive. With Wall Street lacking the holistic energy to push the indices to fresh heights, I believe investors are better served acting defensively. As such, retail stocks to buy provide an intriguing mix of protection and upside potential.
But at first glance, retail stocks seem like a sector to avoid like the plague. If our economy stumbles into a recession – and the latest jobs report suggests this is a very real possibility – the natural instinct is to curb unnecessary spending. Thus, it’s no surprise that many discretionary retail stocks, such as Macy’s (NYSE:M) and JC Penney (NYSE:JCP) have suffered volatility.
That said, this segment isn’t about people making superfluous purchases on a whim. Instead, many retail stocks to buy enjoy secular revenue streams. For instance, no matter what goes on in the economy, people have to live and work. Therefore, retailers who specialize in core products, accessories or apparel may see a spike in interest.
Moreover, some retail stocks might thrive in a recession. During a bull market, confident consumers will probably eschew discount stores for something higher brow. But in a recession, discount stores might see customers that they normally wouldn’t see.
If we do have a downturn, it’s important not to lump all retail stocks together. Here are seven stocks to buy if we encounter choppy waters.
Dollar Tree (DLTR)
Among discount retail stocks to buy, Dollar Tree (NASDAQ:DLTR) is one of the most well-known. From household goods to cleaning products to various food items, everything you see costs a buck. Not only that, DLTR stock has a proven track record for performing brilliantly during distressed economic times.
For example, since 2008, the market value for DLTR stock has increased roughly tenfold. Additionally, we could see even bigger gains if we suffer another downturn. Recently, Dollar Tree upgraded its guidance for full-year earnings per share from a range between $4.77 to $5.07 to between $4.90 to $5.11. Management also narrowed down its expectations for full-year revenue.
Much of this enthusiasm has to do with same-store sales exceeding analysts’ forecasts. While I’d tactically like to wait to see if DLTR stock will correct some of its extreme bullishness, in the longer run, I’m confident in the upswing. This is a company that’s going to give customers exactly what they need at a price they can afford.
Dollar General (DG)
While several publicly traded companies suffered a bloody month of August, Dollar General (NYES:DG) went completely against the grain. Last month, DG stock gained a little over 18%. Even in September, Dollar General has so far returned nearly 4%.
And on a year-to-date basis, DG stock has veritably skyrocketed, up over 51%. Even better for stakeholders, the surge in market value appears fundamentally justified.
As with Dollar Tree, Dollar General increased its earnings and revenue expectations for the year. Also, the discount retailer experienced an unexpectedly strong lift in same-store sales. That it was also able to beat expectations for its most recent earnings report gave investors little choice: it was time to buy into DG shares, which has proven to be among the most resilient of discount retail stocks.
Of course, with such massive enthusiasm, I think waiting a little bit for a discount (ironically enough) on DG stock is wise. But if you do see a dip, the longer-term narrative is very intriguing, especially in a recession.
Normally, most folks wouldn’t consider Kroger (NYSE:KR) as a name among discount retail stocks to buy. As one of the top grocers in the country, Kroger offers a wide variety of products, including premium labels. Plus, I can’t help but notice that some of their stores are located in very swanky neighborhoods.
That said, if we fall into an economic slump, KR stock will act like a discount retailer. Primarily, I say this because Kroger will almost surely soak up demand from the restaurant industry. While restaurants won’t fade entirely, customers become more cost-conscious in a downturn. There’s no point in spending on sometimes outrageous premiums when you can enjoy good food from home. Undeniably, this is a positive for KR stock.
Further, Kroger has its own in-house food and beverages brands. Sure, you can call this high-level knockoffs. But I must admit that Kroger-branded products are very tasty. For instance, I buy their potato chips, which are cheaper, larger sized, and taste just as good as the competition. In a recession, that is the formula for success, which is why you should consider KR stock.
Five Below (FIVE)
Although the concept of discount retail stocks to buy during a market decline makes sense, I must concede one thing: at the consumer level, most discount retailers are depressing affairs. However, Five Below (NASDAQ:FIVE) has completely changed perceptions about thrift shops. With its bright, bold colors and compelling marketing campaigns, FIVE stock has serious potential.
Part of that comes from its core demographics. According to the company’s website, Five Below is the only retailer dedicated to teens and tweens. Of course, that usually entails opening up their parents’ wallets. Typically, this endeavor results in the usual teen-parent conflict. But with prices so low – everything is between $1 to $5 – this is a rare area of consensus, supporting the case for FIVE stock.
Furthermore, I’m very impressed with the company’s holistic approach to their marketing and branding message. Not only do they have comprehensive social media coverage, but they’re actively engaging their accounts. For instance, their YouTube channel features celebrity guests that incorporate Five Below-sold products into the media presentations. That kind of smart thinking will probably see FIVE stock perform well in rough economic waters.
Ross Stores (ROST)
At first glance, Ross Stores (NASDAQ:ROST) seems like an anomaly among the apparel-based retail stocks. Just take a look at well-known apparel makers, such as Gap (NYSE:GPS) or Guess (NYSE:GES). Their shares have incurred significant volatility, marked by bouts of extreme wildness. In sharp contrast, ROST stock has enjoyed a relatively stable move northward.
But in the context of the current economic uncertainty, I’m not surprised that ROST stock has performed well this year. Even with the U.S.-China trade war threatening to hike apparel prices, the reality is that people need clothes. And while Ross will certainly take a hit to their margins, other non-discount retailers will suffer worse.
With that said, I think you can make a tactical argument not to dive too deeply right now. Currently, ROST stock is sitting on over 35% YTD. If the broader markets get jittery, ROST is liable for a correction. Still, in the long run, I’d pay very close attention to this name if economic conditions don’t improve.
Ollie’s Bargain Outlet (OLLI)
A few years back when I started writing about Ollie’s Bargain Outlet (NASDAQ:OLLI), it was on a roll. Growth was meteoric, which drove up the market value of OLLI stock. When you consider that shares were priced under $20 for much of 2015, this is one of the most explosive retail stocks.
But in recent weeks, explosive has a different connotation. Now, investors are no longer considering Ollie’s as one of the stocks to buy, but instead to dump. Late last month, the company released its Q2 earnings report, and the news wasn’t encouraging.
Although the discount retailer reported double-digit sales growth, it witnessed a deceleration of same-store sales. Management blamed it on new store introductions’ cannibalization effect. However, Wall Street saw the decline as Ollie’s inability to perform under a strained environment. As a result, investors pummeled OLLI stock.
Possibly heading into a recession, I understand why investors are nervous. However, let’s keep in mind that the retailer is called Ollie’s Bargain Outlet, not Olivier’s Chateau of Overpriced European Trinkets. If we have a downturn, OLLI stock has the potential to outperform. And sure enough, it’s now on a steep discount.
Big Lots (BIG)
Big-box retailer Big Lots (NYSE:BIG) probably hasn’t been included in a list of retail stocks to buy for some time. Frankly, that’s for good reason. In January of last year, the markets priced BIG stock into the stratosphere at over $60. Today, shares are trading hands for less than $25.
Unfortunately, Big Lots consistently delivered poor earnings results throughout 2018. Not only that, management cut guidance, which exacerbated the issue. Throw in an executive shuffle with a new CEO, and the retailer looked more frazzled than confident about tackling a new challenge. As a result, BIG stock took it on the chin.
As it stands, BIG stock is easily one of the most speculative retail stocks available. However, I can’t help but feel a recession could actually help turn things around. Big Lots has many of the same characteristics of popular Costco (NASDAQ:COST). The one exception, of course, is that Big Lots has no membership dues, and their rewards program is also free.
As of this writing, Josh Enomoto did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.