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Rock-Solid Demand to Drive U.S. Economy in 2021: 5 Top Picks

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Wall Street has performed impressively in the first seven months of this year after finishing an astonishing 2020 despite the global outbreak of coronavirus. Yet, several market participants are concerned about whether stock markets will maintain momentum in the rest of 2021.

The continued spread of the highly infectious Delta string of COVID-19, mounting inflationary pressure and the high valuation of stocks — as the three major stock indexes are hovering around their all-time highs — compelled a section of economists and financial researchers to talk about market corrections.  

Moreover, these experts are also wondering that the U.S. economic recovery may have reached its peak. As the fiscal stimulus is gradually fading out, investors are looking for the next catalyst to drive the economy. At this stage, a close look into the U.S. economy reveals that the driver is endogenous — it is rock-solid aggregate demand.

Robust Consumer Spending

The U.S. GDP exceeded the pre-pandemic level in second-quarter 2021. A section of economists and financial experts were skeptical that the U.S. economy can reach the pre-pandemic level the earliest in fourth-quarter 2021 or first-quarter 2022. This happened predominantly due to robust consumer spending that accounts for nearly 70% of the GDP.

The core personal consumption expenditure (excluding volatile food and energy items) jumped 6% in the second quarter from an upwardly revised 2.7% in the previous quarter. Moreover, personal consumption returned to the positive territory with a gain of 1% in June after declining 0.1% in May.

The Institute of Supply Management reported that the U.S. manufacturing PMI decreased 59.5% in July from 60.6% in June. This happened for three consecutive months although the overall PMI expanded in the last 14 months.   

However, the drop in the manufacturing index is solely due to supply-side bottlenecks. The report said, "Business Survey Committee panelists reported that their companies and suppliers continue to struggle to meet increasing demand levels." A similar study conducted by the IHS Markit reported that the U.S. manufacturing PMI hit a record-high 63.4% in July, mainly due to strong demand.

The personal savings of Americans are around an astonishing $2 trillion. The sky-high savings are allowing people to indulge in their demands that were pent up during lockdowns and in turn compelling businesses to expand their scale of operations.

U.S. businesses across sizes are expanding their scale of operations and hiring more despite soaring wages and salaries to cater to robust demand. The National Federation of Independent Business Small Business Optimism Index rose 2.9 points in June to reach a pandemic-era high of 102.5.

The Conference Board reported that the consumer confidence index increased to 129.1 in the month, marking its highest level since February 2020. Spending intentions picked up last month, with a larger percentage of consumers saying that they planned to purchase homes, automobiles, and major appliances in the coming months.

Consumer expenditure is likely to remain firm as we are entering the holiday sales season. This should drive the U.S. economy and consequently, Wall Street will be benefited although occasional fluctuations will remain.

Our Top Picks  

We have narrowed down our search to five corporate behemoths (market capital > $100 billion) as these companies have globally established business models and worldwide acknowledged brand value. These stocks have strong growth potential for the rest of 2021 and have witnessed positive earnings estimate revisions within the last 7 days indicating the market is expecting these companies to do strong business in the rest of this year.

These stocks have provided better returns than the benchmark S&P 500 Index in the past three months. Each of our picks carries either a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy) or 2 (Buy). You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank stocks here.

The chart below shows the price performance of our five picks in the past three months.

Zacks Investment Research
Image Source: Zacks Investment Research

Apple Inc.'s (AAPL - Free Report) Services and Wearables businesses are expected to drive top-line growth in fiscal 2021 and beyond. Although Apple’s business primarily runs around its flagship iPhone, the Services portfolio has emerged as the company’s new cash cow. Its focus on autonomous vehicles and augmented reality/virtual reality technologies presents growth opportunity in the long haul.

This Zacks Rank#1 company has an expected earnings growth rate of 2% for next year (ending September 2022) after an estimated 70.4% growth in the current year (ending September 2021). The Zacks Consensus Estimate for earnings next year improved 6.1% over the last 7 days.

Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD - Free Report) is riding on robust performance from the Computing and Graphics, and Enterprise Embedded and Semi-Custom segments. It is benefiting from strong sales of its Ryzen and EPYC server processors, owing to the increasing proliferation of AI and Machine Learning (ML) in industries like cloud gaming and the supercomputing domain.

Moreover, the growing clout of 7 nanometer (nm) products in the data center vertical, driven by work-from-home and online learning trends, is a key catalyst. Management raised its 2021 guidance for revenues and gross margin on the back of strong growth across all businesses.

This Zacks Rank#1 company has an expected earnings growth rate of 93.8% for the current year. The Zacks Consensus Estimate for current-year earnings improved 15.2% over the last 7 days.

Microsoft Corp. (MSFT - Free Report) is introducing new and improved Surface devices that could encourage enterprises to stick with Windows as they move toward BYOD and cloud computing. Microsoft’s advantages in this respect are two-fold.

First, the company has a very large installed base of Office users. Most legacy data are based on Office, so enterprises are usually reluctant to use other productivity solutions. Second, the BYOD model is dependent on security and cloud integration, both of which are Microsoft’s strengths. As a result, Microsoft has been largely successful at retaining enterprise customers, which holds promise.

This Zacks Rank#2 company has an expected earnings growth rate of 7.9% for the current year (ending June 2022). The Zacks Consensus Estimate for current-year earnings improved 3.5% over the last 7 days.

NIKE Inc. (NKE - Free Report) provided strong guidance for fiscal 2022 and set long-term targets for fiscal 2025, driven by the momentum in its business as it comes out of the pandemic. For fiscal 2022, the company anticipates revenue growth in the low double digits, surpassing $50 billion, driven by strong customer demand across its operating segments.

The company expects to benefit from robust digital growth, scaling NIKE-owned physical retail concepts and growing with partners. This Zacks Rank#2 company has an expected earnings growth rate of 20.8% for the current year (ending May 2022). The Zacks Consensus Estimate for current-year earnings improved 0.5% over the last 7 days.

Qualcomm Inc. (QCOM - Free Report) is well-positioned to benefit from solid 5G traction with greater visibility to meet its long-term revenue targets. For calendar-year 2021, 5G handsets are expected to witness 150% year-over-year growth at the midpoint to about 450-550 units.

Qualcomm has raised the bar for driverless cars with the launch of the first-of-its-kind automotive platform — Snapdragon Ride — which enables automakers to transform their vehicles into self-driving cars using AI.

This Zacks Rank#2 company has an expected earnings growth rate of 11.2% for next year (ending September 2022). The Zacks Consensus Estimate for next-year earnings has improved 6.4% over the last 7 days.

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