On Wednesday evening, as measured by the S&P 500 futures contract, we officially entered a bear market. That’s right, the stock market has now fallen 20% since its recent all-time highs.
And bad headlines are piling up all over the place. Famous actors like Tom Hanks have gotten the coronavirus from China. The NBA has suspended its regular season. The number of cases and deaths in the Seattle area is soaring. And the political response to the virus has failed to inspire much confidence.
With all that in mind, we should expect plenty more volatility ahead. There are plenty of cheap stocks out there, but don’t expect everything to bounce back overnight. In fact, even after the steep declines over the past month, there are still plenty of stocks you should avoid.
Here are seven stocks to sell now before their declines accelerate.
Stocks to Sell: Occidental Petroleum (OXY)
Saudi Arabia started a major price war for crude oil last weekend. In doing so, the nation caused an absolute bloodbath in the oil and gas sector. Crude oil itself fell 30%, and many oil and gas companies lost half their value, or more.
While some small firms absolutely imploded, Occidental Petroleum (NYSE:OXY) was the largest loser among the well-known oil companies. Its shares fell 50% on Monday. On Tuesday, the company announced it was slashing its quarterly dividend from 79 cents to just 11 cents per share. It also reined in most of its growth plans in an effort to tackle its huge debt.
Occidental stock rose Tuesday, but resumed its fall on Wednesday, as it slumped another 18%. The market is right in this case. It may seem appealing to buy Occidental stock at $10 when it so recently traded around $50. But make no mistake, this company bet the farm on its expensive purchase of Anadarko Petroleum. That might have paid off in a $60 oil world, but at $30, the company will struggle to merely fend off its creditors.
Don’t fall for a value trap. Stick to oil and gas companies that can make robust cash flow even at $30 per barrel of crude oil. Unfortunately, that’s not Occidental at this point.
I expect to see the dividend totally eliminated. Also, Occidental’s board of directors should fire CEO Vicki Hollub, who oversaw the disastrous Anadarko deal. At that point, maybe Occidental could start to turn things around, oil prices permitting. But for now, the stock is a clear sell.
Tesla Motors (TSLA)
There’s another side effect to plunging oil prices: Cheaper prices will set the electric vehicle revolution back ages. In the 1970s, for example, as the price of oil soared, green technologies took off. There was a hot market for all sorts of clean energy ideas and companies. But most of these fizzled out in the 1980s as the price of oil slumped from $40 to less than half that level.
Simply put, if gasoline is really cheap, people have far less incentive to pay more for electric vehicles. Tesla and other EV makers like to demonstrate how much money you could save switching to electric. In a $4-a-gallon-of-gasoline world, these comparisons were flattering. But $25-$30 oil, on the other hand, translates to roughly $1.50 per gallon of gas for much of the United States.
Gas is already down to $1.85 in the Midwest, and experts say it will fall under $2 nationally later this month. The last time gas prices were this low, in the late 1990s, we saw a record boom in sport utility vehicle (SUV) sales.
This applies to the higher-end as well. Luxury cars tend to guzzle gas in order to get high performance. That’s been expensive in recent years, making Tesla’s most pricey models a solid alternative. The math won’t be so favorable anymore.
In addition to that, you also have the fact that Tesla stock remains sharply higher for the year. Amazingly enough, Tesla is still up 40% year-to-date. In a major market selloff, people tend to dump whatever stocks they still have gains in. If the market takes another leg lower, look for investors, particularly ones with margin problems, to dump Tesla stock in order to raise cash.
Royal Caribbean Cruises (RCL)
Yes, I know this is a trendy turnaround pick. Everyone wants to buy when there is “blood in the streets” and what could possible be more appropriate than a cruise line company at this point? The logic makes sense in the abstract.
Unfortunately, I fear that traders rushing into the cruise line stocks will soon be feeling seasick. Why’s that? Liquidity, or in this case, the lack of it. The cruise ship companies have heavily mortgaged balance sheets. In recent years, during the economic boom, instead of paying down debt, they’ve bought back lots of stock and issued fat dividends to shareholders. All seemed well.
Now, however, the problems are coming home to roost. Royal Caribbean has just a few hundred million dollars of cash and equivalents as of the last reporting period. That’s against $8 billion of debt. It has new ship orders that will require more funds. It also has received several billion dollars of “unearned revenues” which is largely customer payments for cruises that were supposed to happen in the future. Customers are now begging for refunds on these, but, as noted above, Royal Caribbean already used that cash elsewhere.
This leaves the company in a major pickle. Sure, the business will come back eventually. But Royal Caribbean needs money — and lots of it — right now. It doesn’t have the luxury of waiting for a strong 2021 to turn things around.
Many folks are hoping for a government recuse for travel companies, which would presumably include the cruise liners. But think twice before banking on that. The cruise companies have established their headquarters outside of the U.S. to avoid paying tax. Royal Caribbean is incorporated in Liberia, for example. In a bailout scenario, it’d be particularly hard for the government to justify saving these firms given this.
American Airlines (AAL)
Similarly, if you want to bet on a travel turnaround, there are much better options than the airlines. Like the cruise ship companies, you face a huge liquidity squeeze. The airlines owe billions on aircraft leases that are hard to wiggle out of even if there is no demand for air travel for a period. They have high fixed costs, including thousands of unionized employees. And their profit margins are razor-thin even in the best of times. If, say 10% of folks decide not to travel for a year due to the virus, it could easily flip the whole industry into a net loss-making position.
American Airlines (NASDAQ:AAL) is looking particularly shaky. In fact, its credit default swaps (CDS) — which sophisticated investors use to bet on bankruptcy, have shot up in price over the past week. American Airlines’ CDS are the second most expensive of a whole bunch of troubled companies, meaning investors are even more fearful of the company’s future than embattled firms such as Royal Caribbean Cruises and Boeing (NYSE:BA). Its CDS are also twice as expensive as rival United Airlines (NASDAQ:UAL). If any airline is going to fail, there’s a decent chance that it will be American.
Air travel, on its own, remains a good industry. It is growing much faster than international GDP. Particularly in emerging markets, many folks are just becoming accustomed to flying, and the runway is long for future growth. But there are far safer ways to play it, such as owning airport operators, aircraft parts manufacturers or airline ticketing software services.
All these stocks are getting pounded at the moment as well. Unlike airlines, however, the risk of these ancillary air-related companies going to zero is far lower. If a business can get by a couple of quarters with sharply lower revenues, it will survive and the stock will rebound sooner or later. The airlines, however, can end up virtually insolvent in a shockingly short period. Just look at what happened after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, for example.
A lot of investors, seeing the market carnage, have been doubling down on tech-focused growth stocks. That’s a reasonable assumption. The current market problems are in “old economy” sectors such as travel and energy. Besides, to a marginal degree, the quarantines are probably causing consumers to get used to spending more money online instead of in physical stores and restaurants. Digital seems like a safe harbor.
Beware though, many of these stocks were at sky-high valuations coming into this selloff and are still expensive. And they could get clocked on the next round of earnings reports.
I’ve heard estimates that close to 30% of Facebook’s (NASDAQ:FB) advertising, for example, comes from things that the virus could easily disrupt. Think ads for hotels, flights, conferences, music and sporting events. At the end of the day, tech giants are still facilitating a ton of online commerce that is currently grinding to a halt.
Twilio (NYSE:TWLO) is particularly vulnerable. Yes, the stock is already down to 52-week lows. But if we get a major advertising slowdown, Twilio stock could go far lower. The company didn’t even reach profitability during the good times. Expect IT budgets among Twilio’s customers to get slashed the longer this current economic slowdown persists.
Given Twilio’s underwhelming financials, a big revenue miss could clobber the stock.
I’ve seen a few people saying Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) is a great buying opportunity on this selloff. And at first glance, that makes sense. Once the virus is over, everything goes back to normal and Starbucks’ sales surge back to usual levels. Right?
That may be true. But don’t overlook sentiment. Starbucks is likely going to be announcing tons more store closures in coming days and weeks. On Wednesday, for example, it announced the shutdown of all its stores in Italy for the time being. What happens when countries where it has more of a presence (to say nothing of the U.S.) go offline?
If Starbucks really were a cheap stock, we’d be having a different discussion. But this was priced for perfection up until recently, and you had to be a big believer in its China strategy for the valuation to make sense.
If, say, Luckin Coffee (NASDAQ:LK) ends up dominating the coffee market in China, I’d argue that the Starbucks stock price was significantly overvalued a few months ago. Now, with more store closures coming and a terrible earnings report coming up, there’s no reason to fight the tide here.
Starbucks stock should get cheaper in coming weeks. It’s still at 26 times forward earnings after all. That’s a fair price in a normal world. It’s hardly a bargain given current events, however.
Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD)
I apologize in advance to any Canadian readers. I know your banking shares are considered to be sacrosanct, and that their dividend safety is beyond reproach. That may still be true. But in the short run, if you’re looking for something that could get decimated, Canadian banks are at the top of the list.
They share many of the same problems plaguing American banks at the moment. Namely, slowing economic activity and plunging interest rates. Traders have been fleeing financial stocks over the past month as the prospect of slumping interest rates has everyone panicking over falling profits.
With Canada, the same applies, but there are loan loss concerns in addition to the interest rate issue. That’s why the big Canadian firms such as Toronto-Dominion Bank (NYSE:TD) are stocks to sell right now.
Don’t forget that Canada is a massive energy producer. Admittedly, the U.S. is as well, but it’s largely limited to a few specific states such as Texas. The national American banks don’t have significant energy exposure. Canada’s economy, by contrast, is heavily reliant on crude. Leave crude at $30 for a few years and Canadian production will slump. That will lead to massive job losses, particularly in Calgary, and strain consumers’ finances at a time when the Canadian economy was already soft and the housing market there has started to slide.
There’s a lot of cheap banking shares out there. As such, you can easily pass on the Canadian financials for the time being.
Ian Bezek has written more than 1,000 articles for InvestorPlace.com and Seeking Alpha. He also worked as a Junior Analyst for Kerrisdale Capital, a $300 million New York City-based hedge fund. You can reach him on Twitter at @irbezek. At the time of this writing, he owned FB stock.