By Brian Feroldi
The global trade war is in full swing and economists are increasingly worried about the possibility of the U.S. entering a recession. What's an investor to do? One answer is to buy stocks from industries that are naturally recession-resistant, such as the healthcare industry.
But which healthcare stocks, in particular, are a smart buy right now? Here's why my top choices are Healthcare Services Group (NASDAQ: HCSG), Abiomed (NASDAQ: ABMD), and Livongo Health (NASDAQ: LVGO).
Image source: Getty Images.
1. A beaten-down dividend monster
Healthcare Services Group is a leading provider of housekeeping, laundry, and food services to the healthcare industry. Its customers are nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, and hospitals located in the U.S.
This is a Steady Eddie business that has performed extremely well for investors over the long haul. However, the stock has been sold off hard recently, which makes sense when you look at the company's recent quarterly numbers. Sales dropped 8%, margins were down, and earnings per share dropped 31%.
What's going on? A few of its customers had trouble paying their bills on time. Healthcare Services Group decided to renegotiate contracts with a few of its customers in response and to change its business practices to make sure that it will never have to deal with collections problems again.
The transition has put a temporary halt on the company's growth rate, but Wall Street believes that the bottom line will start to expand again starting in 2019. Meanwhile, management recently boosted its quarterly dividend for the 65th time in a row, which should give investors confidence that this business can easily handle the short-term stress.
Healthcare Services Group isn't a go-go growth stock, but it is a dependable cash cow with a dividend yield of 3.3% and it trades for just 18 times forward earnings. That makes it a great stock for income-seeking investors to get to know.
2. A former Wall Street darling
Abiomed is a medical device maker that is focused on heart recovery. It sells a family of tiny heart pumps that are used to help keep a patient's blood flowing after a heart attack or during high-risk surgery.
Abiomed's revenue and profits have grown at a breakneck speed for years as it works to displace an outdated technology. In response, Wall Street fell in love with this company's growth story and bid up shares to an incredible valuation.
That's when the wheels started to fall off the bus.
Abiomed's stock has now been in free fall for the better part of 18 months. Part of the drop is explainable by a former nosebleed valuation -- shares briefly traded for more than 30 times sales and about 170 times earnings -- but the drop recently accelerated after Abiomed's growth slowed and management cut its guidance.
Is this the beginning of the end? Doubtful. The company is still recovering from a confusing letter that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration sent to healthcare providers in February that made it seem as if Abiomed's technology was being recalled. The FDA has since released another letter to restate that Abiomed's technology is both safe and effective, but getting that message out will take time.
The goods news is that Abiomed is still highly profitable, holds a near-monopolistic competitive position, has a pipeline full of potential, and is still growing at a double-digit rate. That's an attractive combination for a stock that trades at around 36 times next year's earnings estimates.
3. Bringing down the cost of care
The odds are good that you've never heard of Livongo Health. This newly public company is focused on helping people who live with chronic conditions such as diabetes, obesity, depression, and hypertension to live better and healthier lives.
Livongo uses technology and real-time coaching to make it easier for people with chronic diseases to manage their condition. Livongo provides patients with real-time feedback and round-the-clock coaching that encourages them to eat healthier, take their medication on time, check their vitals, and make more optimal health choices.
Livongo calls these little interventions "health nudges," and it has the data to prove that they lead to better health outcomes and lower costs. For example, the average user of its Livongo for diabetes services saves $1,908 per year in medical expenses. That level of savings leads to a 3.7-fold return on investment in just one year and helps explain why employers, hospitals, insurers, government entities are flocking to the platform.
Livongo for diabetes is already a huge success -- 192,000 members have signed up -- but that's still just a fraction of the 30 million Americans who have diabetes. That alone gives Livongo a huge runway for growth, but Livongo has already introduced other services that can help with hypertension, prediabetes, weight management, and behavioral health, too. In other words, the long-term growth potential of this business is enormous.
Offsetting that potential is the fact that Livongo Health is currently trading for 22 times trailing sales. That's a pricey valuation, but I believe the opportunity ahead is so vast that it may be a great time for forward-thinking investors to open up a small starter position.
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Brian Feroldi owns shares of Abiomed. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Abiomed. The Motley Fool owns shares of Livongo Health Inc. The Motley Fool recommends Healthcare Services Group. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.
The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.