Many commentators, analysts, and economists are convinced that the U.S. will enter a recession next year. Given the strength of the labor market and of corporate balance sheets, along with the onshoring phenomenon and the many jobs that the energy transition is creating, I have my doubts as to whether a recession is on the way. Still, I can certainly understand investors’ desire to find recession-proof growth stocks to buy.
Such equities can come in a few different forms. Pharmaceutical stocks rely primarily on governments and health insurers for their revenue, neither of which is overly affected by recessions. As a result, the shares of successful drugmakers can soar in good times and bad.
Then there are the companies that become more popular with some consumers during recessions. Also known as “trade-down” stocks, fast food chains and deep-discount retailers fall into this category.
Finally, there are companies that sell products that most consumers, companies and governments will find necessary even during recessions, such as energy and cybersecurity.
Here are seven stocks to buy regardless of where the economy is headed.
Eli Lilly (LLY)
The broader market may be in the bear’s grips, but pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly’s (NYSE:LLY) isn’t. Shares are up 34% over the past year. The company has many successful drugs that treat ailments such as diabetes, psoriasis and breast cancer. But perhaps the one that holds the most promise is the company’s potential obesity drug.
Tirzepatide, which is marketed as Mounjaro, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat diabetes back in May after clinical data showed it lowered blood sugar levels and led to weight loss. The market for diabetes treatment is large, but the market for a successful weight loss treatment could be astronomical. Eli Lily is currently conducting studies on Mounjaro as a weight-loss treatment.
UBS analyst Colin Bristow upgraded LLY stock to a “buy” from “neutral” based on the potential of Mounjaro. Per Barron’s:
Bristow’s thesis is simple: Treating 1.6 million Americans annually would equate to $20 billion in U.S. sales. And that is still less than 2% of the estimated obese population in the U.S., he said. Usage is likely to be higher partly because the drug has strong trial results and a favorable position in terms of competition, he said, noting that management said on an earnings call that demand is robust.
It’s possible Eli Lilly has one of the most lucrative drugs of all time on its hands. I don’t expect the stock to have any problem continuing to outperform.
A few weeks ago, I identified McDonald’s (NYSE:MCD) as a stock that will benefit from the “trade-down” phenomenon during a recession. MCD “is a good defensive stock because many working-class and middle-class families will start eating there instead of more expensive restaurants if the economy turns south,” I wrote.
I’m far from the only one bullish on the fast food chain.
On Aug. 26, CNBC’s Jim Cramer said he sees shares hitting the $300 level, which is about 20% above the current share price. And he’s not even the most optimistic of the bunch. Tigress Financial Partners analyst Ivan Feinseth recently upped his price target to $320, implying nearly 30% upside. Per The Fly, Feinseth said McDonald’s “reinvests its cash flow in new growth initiatives and enhances shareholder returns through ongoing dividend increases and share repurchases.”
Anecdotally, I remember that, in the 1990s and early 2000s, many members of Generation X and Generation Y with whom I was acquainted refused to eat McDonald’s food. But since around 2009, I’ve noticed that the company’s offerings have become accepted by more people in those generations, and the chain is popular among millennials. When I go to McDonald’s restaurants, they are often quite crowded.
Also noteworthy is that, during the second quarter, McDonald’s global comparable sales soared 9.7% year over year.
MCD stock is up 3% over the past year compared with a loss of 13% for the S&P 500. I believe shares will continue to perform well in both good and bad economic times.
GSK (NYSE:GSK), formerly GlaxoSmithKline, has more than 100 approved products across 80-plus markets, along with a promising pipeline with more than 60 drugs and vaccines in development.
GSK has seen great success with its blockbuster shingles vaccine Shingrix, which provides more than eight years of protection against the virus, according to the company. Speaking at a recent industry conference, Roger Connor, president of GSK Vaccines, said that 33 million Americans have received at least one dose of Shingrix. But with 120 million people in the U.S. over the age of 50, and thus recommended to get the vaccine, Connor said the company is “still only scratching the surface” of the available market in the U.S. Meanwhile, GSK is distributing Shingrix in 24 countries and plans to raise that number to 35 by 2024, according to Connor.
On the oncology front, GSK has two very promising drugs. The first is Zejula for ovarian cancer. Earlier this month, GSK released positive results from a Phase 3 trial. The company said it “maintained a clinically significant risk reduction of progression or death of 48% compared to placebo” after a median time period of 3.5 years among patients with HRD biomarkers.
The second drug is Dostarlimab, sold under the brand name Jemperli, which has been approved to treat mismatch repair-deficient recurrent or advanced solid tumors. These are most often associated with endometrial, colorectal and other gastrointestinal cancers.
As I wrote recently, a small study showed that 100% of the 12 rectal cancer patients who completed treatment with Dostarlimab went into remission. This success rate is extremely unusual for a cancer drug. Larger studies are obviously needed, but the potential for a highly effective cancer treatment is a good reason for investors to keep their eye on GSK stock.
Dollar Tree (DLTR)
So-called “dollar store” operators always get a lot of attention when the economy is struggling, for obvious reasons. There are actually two of them on today’s list of stocks to buy, the first being Dollar Tree (NASDAQ:DLTR).
Shares are up 62% over the past year despite a sharp sell-off over the past month following the release of the company’s second-quarter results. Revenue increased nearly 7% year over year to $6.8 billion, while same-store sales increased 7.5%. And earnings of $1.60 per share beat analyst estimates by a penny. However, management reduced its guidance for the full year, citing a focus on offering more competitive pricing at its Family Dollar stores.
Despite its reduced outlook, Dollar Tree has felt the love from analysts. On Sept. 6, JPMorgan’s Matthew Boss reiterated his “overweight” rating and raised his price target for shares to $176 from $171. Boss noted that the stock looks undervalued based on its historical forward price-to-earnings ratio.
Meanwhile, Truist analyst Scot Ciccarelli said the post-earnings sell-off looks overdone. And despite lowering his price target to $168 from $178, he recommended investors be “aggressive buyers” of DLTR stock.
Dollar General (DG)
Dollar General (NYSE:DG) CEO Todd Vasos made headlines earlier this month when he said that more of the retailer’s customers have been higher-earning individuals who make between $75,000 and $100,000 a year. These middle-income and wealthier shoppers are feeling the sting of inflation as well and looking to cut costs.
Wall Street analysts have been beating the drums for DG stock. Citing solid Q1 and Q2 results, Deutsche Bank analyst Krisztina Katai called it “one of the few stable retailers in a rocky retail backdrop.”
Meanwhile, Morgan Stanley analyst Simeon Gutman called DG his “preferred stock in the Dollar Store space” and upped his price target to $270 from $250. The new target implies 12% upside from current levels. Per The Fly: “The company’s 10.5% EPS growth suggest[s] Dollar General is benefiting from the macro backdrop, including from trade down, while execution on initiatives and solid margin control reinforce what he sees as safety in his estimates, Gutman tells investors.”
Dollar General’s shares are up significantly less than Dollar Tree’s over the past year at around 9%. But this underperformance could mean shares have more room to run. They certainly look undervalued, trading at just 1.6 times sales.
Cheniere Energy (LNG)
Cheniere Energy (NYSE:LNG) is the top U.S. liquefied natural gas exporter. As I wrote in a previous column, it is extremely well-positioned to benefit from sky-high natural gas prices in Europe. Although the eurozone is almost certainly heading for a recession, energy demand is not likely to be affected much and could very well rise as the region looks to transition to electric vehicles.
Also boding well for investors, the company recently said it expects to generate over $20 billion of available cash through 2026 and distributable cash flow of more than $20 per share on a run-rate basis.
Cheniere continues to add new infrastructure that will allow it to export much more liquefied natural gas over the long term. Despite its strong positive catalysts and the 90% gain in LNG stock over the past 12 months, shares have a forward P/E ratio of just 10.8.
Given the huge legal bills and negative publicity that large-scale cybersecurity attacks bring, most companies are unlikely to cut their cybersecurity budgets much, if at all, during a recession. Uber (NYSE:UBER) was the latest big company to get hacked. Meanwhile, governments, which as I noted previously, are largely immune to recessions, are also spending a great deal of money on cybersecurity.
This makes Fortinet (NASDAQ:FTNT) a good stock to buy for investors who are looking for names that can thrive during economic downturns.
On Sept. 17, MKM Partners analyst Catharine Trebnick initiated coverage of FTNT stock with a “buy” rating and a $70 price target. That’s 44% above the current share price. Trebnick notes that Fortinet has a number of competitive advantages, including the ability to monitor network traffic across multiple devices. She forecasts its billings could reach $10 billion by 2025.
While FTNT stock is down 19% over the past year, shares are unlikely to remain in a downtrend for much longer.
On the date of publication, Larry Ramer did not hold (either directly or indirectly) any positions in the securities mentioned in this article. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer, subject to the InvestorPlace.com Publishing Guidelines.