13 Best Consumer Discretionary Stocks for the Rest of 2021

Consumer discretionary stocks put in a solid performance through the first six months of 2021. But what's in store for the second half?

While rising concerns over the delta variant of COVID-19 could stall the sector's upside in the short term, the latter half of the year could be even more rewarding than the first. 

In its 2021 Midyear Equity Sector Outlook, Wells Fargo suggests that the sub-sectors that were strongest prior to the pandemic will most likely show leadership after a full reopening.

"We continue to favor internet & direct marketing retail, which was a strong sub-industry going into the pandemic, grew in importance throughout the pandemic, and we expect to exit the pandemic a healthier/stronger industry than most, if not all, consumer sub-industries," Wells Fargo's strategists say. "We also favor discounters, mass-merchants and off-price retailers as we believe they will likely benefit disproportionately from the multiple government stimulus programs."

With this in mind, we have compiled a list of the 13 best consumer discretionary stocks for the second half of 2021. If you're looking for consumer-facing plays to position for more upside through year's end – a time frame that encompasses both the back-to-school and holiday shopping seasons – this list of companies might have something for you.

Data is as of July 27. Dividend yields are calculated by annualizing the most recent payout and dividing by the share price. Analysts' opinions courtesy of S&P Global Market Intelligence. Stocks are listed in alphabetical order.
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  • Market value: $35.0 billion
  • Dividend yield: N/A
  • Analysts' opinion: 10 Strong Buy, 5 Buy, 9 Hold, 2 Sell, 0 Strong Sell

Given the losses Eddie Lampert endured through his investment in Sears, in hindsight, it's more than likely he would still prefer to own AutoZone (AZO, $1,624.95). The billionaire investor made $750 million, or 20 times his initial stake, selling his AZO shares in 2012 for between $500 and $600 apiece. Today, those shares would be worth more than $4.4 billion.

Over the past 10 years – the approximate time since Lampert sold his shares – AZO stock delivered an annualized total return of 18.8%, considerably higher than the broader U.S. market, although substantially less than O'Reilly Automotive (ORLY), the other aftermarket auto parts company on this list of consumer discretionary stocks.

Part of this upside has come as a result of AZO's robust share repurchase program. Since 1998, the company has bought back 149.7 million of its shares at an average price of $169.85 apiece. That's a return on investment of 857%, or compound annual growth of 19%.

At the end of May, AutoZone reported strong fiscal third-quarter 2021 results that included domestic same-store sales growth of 28.9%, a complete turnaround from the 1.0% decline it suffered a year earlier due to COVID-19. AZO finished the quarter with 5,975 U.S. locations, along with 635 in Mexico and another 47 in Brazil.

"AutoZone's fiscal third-quarter comparable increase of 28.9% was meaningfully above the consensus of 15.3%. Further, its same-store sales growth rate exceeded its peers in their respective quarters," UBS analyst Michael Lasser says. "Though, this was likely driven in part by different calendar quarters with AZO's quarter more fully capturing stimulus tailwinds."

Lasser currently rates AutoZone a Buy with a 12-month target price of $1,700.

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Best Buy

  • Market value: $28.6 billion
  • Dividend yield: 2.4%
  • Analysts' opinion: 10 Strong Buy, 4 Buy, 13 Hold, 2 Sell, 1 Strong Sell

Best Buy (BBY, $114.36) reported first-quarter financial results at the end of May. They were very healthy, with revenues of $11.65 billion, 11.5% higher than analysts' consensus estimate of $10.4 billion and 36% more than what the electronics retailer brought in a year earlier.

Online and same-store sales grew 37.2% during the quarter, considerably higher than the 22.4% increase expected by analysts. For the full 2022 fiscal year, Best Buy sees comparable sales growth of 3% to 6%.

On the bottom line, analysts expected $1.39 a share, but Best Buy delivered $2.23. Interestingly, millennials have become BBY's biggest customer demographic. And, equally important, it's attracting more female buyers to its stores and online.

As part of its diversity efforts, Best Buy announced in June that it plans to spend no less than $1.2 billion by 2025 on businesses owned by Black, Indigenous and other people of color.

Despite the significant gains in the first quarter, BBY stock is down more than 3% over the past three months on concerns it would have to implement more extensive sales to unload slow-moving merchandise.

But Raymond James analyst Bobby Griffin says the research firm's channel checks point to lower summer promotions for Best Buy, when compared to 2020 levels.

"Consumer demand for electronics remains elevated due to play/learn/work from-home trends and tech spending growing as a percentage of consumers' wallet,'' Griffin says. He maintains an Outperform rating, the equivalent of a Buy, on the consumer discretionary stock.

As BBY continues to figure out where retail is headed post-COVID, it is testing new store models that allocate more space to online order fulfillment and less  to floor space. This experimentation includes store sizes ranging from 15,000 to 30,000 square feet.

Best Buy CEO Corie Barrie continues to do a good job stickhandling the company through a challenging retail environment.

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Domino's Pizza

  • Market value: $19.8 billion
  • Dividend yield: 0.7%
  • Analysts' opinion: 9 Strong Buy, 3 Buy, 17 Hold, 1 Sell, 0 Strong Sell

Bill Ackman's having an exciting year in the markets … at least with Domino's Pizza (DPZ, $538.01).

At the end of the first quarter, Ackman's investment firm, Pershing Square Capital Management, owned 2.04 million DPZ shares of the pizza chain worth $749 million. Today, those shares are worth almost $1.1 billion. Pershing Square sold out of its Starbucks (SBUX) stake to buy Domino's, and it now owns 5.3% of the pizza chain.

Of Pershing Square's seven holdings in its 13F filing at the end of March, DPZ was the smallest of the bunch. Ackman now holds three different restaurant stocks: Domino's, Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) and Restaurant Brands International (QSR).

"We've admired [Domino's] for years, and it was just never cheap enough," Ackman told The Wall Street Journal in May. "Then for about five minutes, it got cheap. I don't know who sold or why, but we started buying around $330 a share, and then it very quickly moved up a lot."

As far as consumer discretionary stocks go, Argus Research is bullish on this one. The firm maintains a Buy rating on DPZ, with a $540 price target. It expects the company to earn $13.34 per share in 2021 and $15.10 per share in 2022, compared to its 2020 earnings per share (EPS) of $12.39.

"Domino's has been spending aggressively on its e-commerce platform, and e-commerce sales now account for more than 70% of U.S. revenue," Argus Research says. "Given the growing popularity of online ordering, we believe that ease-of-use will be a priority for consumers and expect Domino's carryout and delivery businesses to benefit."

Over the trailing 12 months ended March 31, Domino's had free cash flow – or the cash remaining after a company has paid its expenses – of $590 million. Based on a market cap of $19.8 billion, it has a free cash flow yield of 3.0%. That's not value territory, but it's reasonable given the DPZ's healthy growth.  

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  • Market value: $23.4 billion
  • Dividend yield: N/A
  • Analysts' opinion: 12 Strong Buy, 2 Buy, 1 Hold, 0 Sell, 1 Strong Sell

The online crafts marketplace made a big splash in late June when Etsy (ETSY, $199.48) announced that it would buy Elo7 for $217 million. Considered the "Etsy of Brazil," according to CEO Josh Silverman, it represents a major growth initiative for the company.

According to CNBC, less than 10% of Latin Americans regularly buy products through e-commerce. However, despite this lack of penetration, CNBC points to data from research firm Euromonitor, which estimates 2021 revenue for this market to be approximately $29 billion, with annual growth of 26% expected for the foreseeable future.

"Brazil is one of the biggest economies in the world, but its e-commerce sector is still in just the early days of penetration, so we think e-commerce is really poised for growth in Brazil," Silverman told CNBC. "It's really well positioned, we think, to capitalize on it, so we think it's a perfect marriage."

Among consumer discretionary stocks, Etsy is certainly compelling, at least according to the pros. Jefferies analysts John Colantuoni and Brent Thill have a Buy rating on ETSY, with a target price of $245. The latter represents expected upside of 22.8% over the next 12 months or so. 

"We believe the market under-appreciates how small ETSY's $10 billion in GMS [gross merchandise sales] is relative to a roughly $2 trillion addressable market, providing a long runway for growth as the only scaled pure-play marketplace for unique and handmade goods," they say. In addition, they expect visits to Etsy's site and app grew by 25% year-over-year in the second quarter.

The analysts believe that with its industry-leading growth combined with future margin expansion, Etsy's "attractive long-term story remains intact." 

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  • Market value: $260.3 billion
  • Dividend yield: 0.7%
  • Analysts' opinion: 18 Buy, 8 Buy, 3 Hold, 1 Sell, 1 Strong Sell

Nike (NKE, $164.57) remains on a roll in 2021, up 16.7% for the year to date. While it trails the broader U.S. market so far this year, the consumer discretionary stock is more than likely taking a slight pause before its next leg up. NKE has delivered a 10-year annualized total return of 22.7% for its shareholders.

A big part of Nike's recent success has been the conscious decision to pursue more direct-to-consumer (DTC) business to better engage with the end customer. Over the past decade, Nike grew DTC revenue from its namesake brand to 39% overall in fiscal 2021 from 16% in 2011.

However, the company's pivot to DTC in June 2017 accelerated its online and brick-and-mortar business plans, and it hasn't looked back.

"The future of sport will be decided by the company that obsesses the needs of the evolving consumer," Mark Parker, Nike's then-CEO said in June 2017.  "Through the Consumer Direct Offense, we're getting even more aggressive in the digital marketplace, targeting key markets and delivering product faster than ever."

Argus Research analyst John Staszak recently raised his target price for NKE to $182 from $174. He estimates that Nike will generate earnings of $4.40 per share this fiscal year and $5.00 in 2023. For the sake of comparison, the company brought in EPS of $3.56 in fiscal 2021.

"Over the long term, we expect growth at Nike to be driven by the Jordan Brand, which represents more than 12% of sales; continued innovation; expanding e-commerce sales, and renewed growth in China," Staszak says.

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O'Reilly Automotive

  • Market value: $43.0 billion
  • Dividend yield: N/A
  • Analysts' opinion: 10 Strong Buy, 4 Buy, 10 Hold, 0 Sell, 1 Strong Sell

When it comes to consumer discretionary stocks, the pros are fairly bullish toward O'Reilly Automotive (ORLY, $616.47). Wells Fargo recently upped its target price on the shares by 10% to $660. The firm also gives the automotive parts retailer an Overweight (Buy) rating.

Additionally, UBS analyst Michael Lasser believes ORLY will continue to gain market share as it benefits from a very healthy auto aftermarket sector. Specifically, as commuting hours increase as more people return to the office, "it should be a tailwind for the O'Reilly Automotive auto aftermarket. This is in contrast to other retail sub-sectors (home improvement, home furnishings and sporting goods), which could see headwinds as workers go back to office," Lasser says. 

Thanks to improving margins and share repurchases, O'Reilly ought to be able to generate double-digit earnings per share growth for an extended period. Lasser has a Buy rating on ORLY stock, as well as a $680 target price.

In the first quarter ended March 31, O'Reilly repurchased 1.5 million shares at an average price of $450.65 per share. Based on current prices, that's a return on investment of 36.8%.

For the full year in fiscal 2021, O'Reilly estimates its free cash flow will be $1.25 billion at the midpoint of its guidance. In terms of same-store sales, it expects an increase of 1% to 3% from the year prior.

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Pool Corporation

  • Market value: $18.9 billion
  • Dividend yield: 0.7%
  • Analysts' opinion: 4 Strong Buy, 1 Buy, 5 Hold, 0 Sell, 0 Strong Sell

Arguably, one of the best consumer discretionary stocks to own in the summertime is Pool Corporation (POOL, $471.87), the world's largest wholesale distributor of swimming pool supplies. The company operates more than 400 sales centers in the U.S., Canada, Europe and Australia. 

In Q1 2021, Pool Corp.'s sales grew by 57% year-over-year to $1.1 billion, a record for the company. Sales were much higher due to elevated demand for residential pool products. It's incredible what a pandemic will do for pool supplies sales.

Even more impressive was the 263% increase in operating income to $129.0 million and an operating margin of 12.2%, 690 basis points (a basis point is one-one hundredth of a percentage point) higher than a year earlier. As for its full-year guidance, it now expects $12.23 in EPS at the midpoint of its outlook, considerably higher than the previous estimate of $9.37.

Pool Corp. appeared at the 44th Annual Nasdaq Investor Conference in June. It pointed out that despite its growth, the industry was still very fragmented, providing it with a significant runway of growth organically, as well as through acquisitions.

Although COVID-19 provided a growth surge for POOL, the reality is that 58% of its revenue is non-discretionary maintenance and minor repair products. In any market, these revenues are unlikely to disappear. At least not if you want to sell your home.

With climate change expected to raise summer temperatures in the coming years, the demand for pools and pool products is unlikely to disappear. Furthermore, with population growth over the next two decades expected to be highest in the U.S. South and West regions – where Pool Corp.'s presence is greatest – the company is ideal for servicing this growth.

In most years, shareholders can expect approximately $200 million in sales growth along with stable gross profit and operating margins.

It's easy to understand why POOL stock has achieved an annualized total return of 33.7% over the past 10 years.

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  • Market value: $148.5 billion
  • Dividend yield: 1.4%
  • Analysts' opinion: 14 Strong Buy, 5 Buy, 13 Hold, 1 Sell, 0 Strong Sell

Starbucks (SBUX, $126.03) stock has a year-to-date total return of 17.8%, slightly outpacing the S&P 500 Index over the same time frame.

And the coffee chain has been one of the best consumer discretionary stocks to own in recent years. Over the past three years, it has had an annualized total return of 35.9%, almost double the performance of the broader U.S. market. 

In its fiscal third quarter report, Starbucks reported U.S. same-store sales growth of 83% on a year-over-year basis, with comparable sales up 73% on a global scale. The company also reported record adjusted EPS of $1.01 on revenues of $5.4 billion (+92% from the year prior).

Oppenheimer analyst Brian Bittner is optimistic about SBUX going forward, too. The company's "impressive" results in the June quarter occurred despite relative weakness overseas, which he believes "will inevitably improve as COVID impacts dissipate," he says. "We believe undeniable tailwinds have entered the business and can sustainably power the financial model." Bittner has an Outperform (Buy) rating on the stock.

Investment management firm Wedgewood Partners, which has a 4.5% stake in SBUX, believes the company will continue to take market share in China while generating gains in the U.S. through higher productivity, as it recently stated in its Q2 2021 letter to shareholders. 

"Starbucks has opened over 1,000 net new stores over the past 12 months in its international market, primarily in China where it grew its footprint by a double-digit percentage, despite the various obstacles posed by the pandemic," the firm wrote. "Starbucks will continue to distance itself from competitors and will experience solid growth in the nascent Chinese market while optimizing its more mature U.S. market to drive productivity gains."

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  • Market value: $127.8 billion
  • Dividend yield: 1.4%
  • Analysts' opinion: 16 Strong Buy, 6 Buy, 6 Hold, 0 Sell, 1 Strong Sell

Target's (TGT, $258.36) resurgence since CEO Brian Cornell introduced a three-year turnaround plan in February 2017 has been nothing short of remarkable.

One of Cornell's major initiatives was to let aging private label brands such as Mossimo and Merona die, replacing them with more than 30 new ones over the past five years. Four of them generate more than $2 billion annually, with another six delivering a billion or more in sales. The most recently launched is TGT's activewear line, All in Motion, which went live in January 2020.

Fast forward to 2021. Business is booming. Target reported Q1 2021 results that were much higher than analyst estimates.

Target's revenue in the first quarter grew by 23% year-over-year to $24.2 billion, 11% higher than the consensus estimate of $21.8 billion. Analysts expected earnings of $2.25 per share. Instead, the retailer delivered earnings of $3.69 per share, up 525% from the year prior.

As a result of its strong growth over the past 15 months, Target has gained $10 billion in market share thanks in part to same-store sales growth of 18% and digital comparable sales growth of 50% in the first quarter of 2021.

In 2021, the company will invest $4 billion to make the Target customer experience better than it already is. As part of this expense, stores continue to get remodeled to accommodate the permanent curbside pickup.

"Target is using its 1,900 stores within 10 miles of most U.S. consumers to offer fast easy fulfillment of digital orders while maintaining profitability as digital sales grow," says Chris Graja, an analyst at Argus Research. "We believe that increasing engagement with shoppers at a time when technology and shopping behavior are changing rapidly could be a good indicator of future customer loyalty." Graja has a Buy rating on TGT with a $265 price target.

Additionally, Target's data shows that people who shop in-store and online spend four times as much as the shopper who only buys in-store and 10 times more than the person who only shops online. 

As such, TGT is one of the best consumer discretionary stocks to have on the radar going forward.

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Tractor Supply

  • Market value: $21.2 billion
  • Dividend yield: 1.1%
  • Analysts' opinion: 10 Strong Buy, 4 Buy, 17 Hold, 0 Sell, 0 Strong Sell

Tractor Supply (TSCO, $184.36) is on fire in 2021, up 31.1% year-to-date, nearly double the broader U.S. market. Unlike some consumer discretionary stocks that start strong but lose their momentum, the operator of 1,955 rural lifestyle retail stores across the U.S. looks like it's got the stuff to keep going through December and into 2022.

Tractor Supply reported strong Q2 2021 results on July 19 that included net sales up 13.4% to $3.6 billion, same-store sales growth of 10.5% and a 10% increase in earnings to $3.19 per share.

As a result, the company raised its full-year guidance for earnings per share to $7.85 at the midpoint, up from $7.23 previously. As for same-store sales, its guidance calls for 12% growth at the midpoint, double its previous forecast. 

"With a resilient business model, ongoing market share growth and strategic investments to transform the Company, we are excited about the significant opportunities ahead of us and remain committed to disciplined financial returns and sustained profitable growth," stated CEO Hal Lawton in Tractor Supply's Q2 2021 press release.

The company invested heavily in store remodels, new technology and new store openings in the first half of 2021. As a result, its free cash flow was considerably lower than in the same period a year earlier.

It plans to make $550 million at the midpoint in capital expenditures in 2021, up $50 million from its previous guidance. The forecast includes approximately 80 new Tractor Supply stores and 10 Petsense stores, the company's specialty pet store operation.

Raymond James analysts think there's more growth in store for this consumer discretionary stock, and rate it a Strong Buy with a $215 price target. "We believe investors are likely to favor Tractor Supply's increasingly more resilient and consistent business model following the COVID-19 challenge in addition to a best-in-breed story with accelerating long-term expectations," they say. 

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TJX Companies

  • Market value: $82.6 billion
  • Dividend yield: 1.5%
  • Analysts' opinion: 15 Strong Buy, 6 Buy, 5 Hold, 1 Sell, 0 Strong Sell

Once the darling of retail, TJX Companies (TJX, $68.45) hasn't performed nearly as well over the past five years, underperforming its fellow consumer discretionary stocks and the entire U.S. market over this period. It sold off sharply in the second quarter of 2021, and is now up just 0.2% for the year to date.

At the end of May, TJX reinstated its share repurchase program. The company plans to buy back up to $1.25 billion of its stock through the end of January 2022. It currently has $3.0 billion left on its existing share repurchase program.

And TJX feels it can capture additional market share in the future. That, in turn, will help generate greater cash flow, some of which can be used for more share repurchases and dividends. 

In the trailing 12 months ended May 1, TJX had $6.7 billion in free cash flow. Based on a market cap of $82.6 billion, it has a free cash flow yield of 8.1%. That's value territory.

Argus Research analyst Chris Graja is "very bullish" on TJX stock, and maintains a Buy rating with a $78 target price – representing expected upside of 14% over the next 12 months or so.

"We expect TJX to recover and benefit as it acquires merchandise from overstocked retailers and vendors," says Graja. "The company should also have the chance to pick up attractive store locations with so many other retailers going out of business," Argus stated in its note to clients.

One short-term risk to TJX is if the delta variant forces stores to be shut down in the U.S. However, the fact that the company has resumed its share purchases suggests TJX management is confident that won't happen.  

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Ulta Beauty

  • Market value: $18.5 billion
  • Dividend yield: N/A
  • Analysts' opinion: 12 Strong Buy, 6 Buy, 12 Hold, 1 Sell, 0 Strong Sell

As if COVID-19 wasn't challenging enough, Ulta Beauty (ULTA, $337.52) is also contending with an organized crime theft ring. On July 10, thieves robbed an Ulta store in the town of Patchogue on Long Island. They made off with $3,500 of merchandise. Ulta stores in Suffolk County have been robbed more than 25 times in 2021.

A global pandemic and string of thefts has done little to slow ULTA, though. In its first quarter, the company reported record quarterly results that included net sales of $1.9 billion – up 65% from 2020 and 11% from 2019. More importantly, Ulta returned to profitability in the quarter, generating $230 million in profit compared to a loss of $78.5 million a year earlier. 

This also marked the last full three-month financial period for former CEO Mary Dillon, who stepped down from the post in June after eight years at the helm, and is now executive chair for the specialty beauty retailer.  Dillon passed the torch to Dave Kimbell, who was president at Ulta until taking the top job.

Raymond James analyst Olivia Tong recently upgraded Ulta to Outperform (Buy) from Market Perform (Hold). Her target price for the stock is $395.

"While we anticipate a recovery in its biggest product category, cosmetics, skin care has become a bigger growth driver of late – a positive in our view – as we believe it offers more substantial and sustainable growth long-term," says Tong.

As soon as life gets back to normal, it is likely Ulta's leadership position in retail will shine brightly once more.

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VF Corp.

  • Market value: $32.7 billion
  • Dividend yield: 2.4%
  • Analysts' opinion: 9 Strong Buy, 7 Buy, 5 Hold, 3 Sell, 0 Strong Sell

In December 2020, VF Corp. (VFC, $83.36) acquired Supreme, a global streetwear brand, for $2.1 billion. The brand has revenues of over $500 million, with more than 60% of those sales online. Growing its sales between 8% and 10% annually, it has operating margins in line with Vans at more than 20%. VF believes it can grow Supreme into a $1 billion brand over time.

The purchase of Supreme aligns with the apparel conglomerate's plan to fully optimize its Vans, The North Face, Timberland, Dickies and Supreme brands to be more digital-centric. And as part of this shift, VFC at the end of April agreed to sell nine workwear brands to Redwood Capital Investments. 

Since then, VF stock has badly underperformed the markets, down 6.5% over the past three months.

In May, it reported reasonably strong fiscal fourth-quarter results from a revenue perspective – sales were $2.58 billion in the quarter, $80 million higher than analyst estimates – but earnings per share were 27 cents, two cents shy of the consensus.

In fiscal 2022, VF expects revenues of $11.8 billion, which includes $600 million from Supreme. On the bottom line, it's projecting earnings per share of $3.05 with a $0.25 contribution from Supreme.

Despite a challenging year for the company, VF generated $1 billion in free cash flow in 2021. Moreover, investors can expect it to deliver more than that in 2022.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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