Let me be clear: No one knows with any level of certainly when the next recession is going to happen. No one. But that doesn’t stop strategists at big banks or talking heads on financial news outlets from trying to make predictions. And particularly as of late, concerns including higher inflation, the Fed’s policies, and the ongoing pandemic are all complicating things more for investors.
There is one course of action, however, that you can take to position your portfolio for whatever happens next in the economy or the stock market. I’m talking about looking at recession-proof stocks, which perform well in both good and bad times. Here are two resilient retailers you might want to consider.
Winning the discount store battle
With sales of $33.7 billion over the past 12 months, Dollar General (NYSE:DG) is the largest discount-store chain in the U.S. The Tennessee-based business has over 17,683 general merchandise stores that sell snacks, beauty products, cleaning supplies, apparel and more with prices primarily less than $5. The business experienced a surge during the pandemic but in the most recent quarter, sales were essentially flat when faced with a tough year-ago comparison.
Since Dollar General’s prices are so low, it does well in downturned economic times as people try to save money. During the Great Recession, revenue didn’t decline, as the company’s value proposition for budget-conscious customers strengthened. Fiscal 2020 was Dollar General’s 31st straight year of same-store sales (or comps) growth. The stock has been a historical winner, too, beating the S&P 500 over the past three-, five-, and 10-year time frames.
A remarkable 75% of Dollar General’s stores are in towns with fewer than 20,000 people, providing the business with a location-based advantage. This strategy doesn’t make financial sense for many big-box retailers, which often leaves Dollar General as the primary shopping outlet in these rural communities. Choosing these areas to build its stores, averaging 7,400 square feet in size, is also cheaper. It’s no wonder the company’s net income has soared 336% over the past decade.
Management still has plans to add new stores at a fast clip, with 1,050 openings scheduled for this fiscal year alone. Dollar General also pays a dividend, has been a perennial share repurchaser, and trades for a reasonable 21 times forward earnings. Add this discount retailer to your shopping bag if you’re worried about a looming recession.
A booming auto parts chain
Another top-notch recession-proof business to consider is O’Reilly Automotive (NASDAQ:ORLY). Operating in a boring sector of the economy, this company thrived during the pandemic as consumers increased their spending on auto repairs. And the momentum is still strong. In the most recent quarter, comps jumped 9.9%. And this was after growing 16.2% in the second quarter of 2020.
During 2008 and 2009, O’Reilly’s sales increased 41.8% and 35.5%, respectively, as consumers held off purchasing new cars and instead invested in extending the life of the automobiles they already owned. But even in prosperous economic times, people tend to drive more on average, raising wear and tear on vehicles and supporting demand for the chain’s products.
O’Reilly’s competitive advantage stems from a robust distribution network, which is strengthened by over 5,700 stores in the U.S. Customers are not only do-it-yourselfers, but also auto mechanics that need parts as quickly as possible to run their businesses. This is the main reason the company has defended itself against the threat of e-commerce. “Last quarter, about three-quarters of our online sales were pick up in store or ship to store,” CEO Greg Johnson said on the earnings call, demonstrating the immediacy of product need.
Having reduced the outstanding share count by half since 2011, O’Reilly directs any cash flow left after reinvesting in the business toward buybacks, boosting investor returns. What’s more, a forward price-to-earnings ratio of 22 for such a high-quality company seems to make the stock a no-brainer.
There will always be fears on investors’ minds at any point in time. The best protection against this is to seek out exceptional stocks that have proven business models in any macroeconomic climate. That being said, it doesn’t get much better than Dollar General and O’Reilly.
This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis — even one of our own — helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.