After a strong rebound from the pandemic last year, the economy is slowing down, inflation is still at multi-decade highs, and interest rates are going up. Many stocks have been clobbered this year as a result. As of this writing, the S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite are down a respective 10% and 17% so far in 2022.
Market turmoil doesn't have to keep you up at night, though. When the going gets tough, don't get fancy. Invest in tried-and-true businesses that are still growing at a healthy pace. Alphabet (NASDAQ: GOOGL)(NASDAQ: GOOG), Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN), and Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) aren't the most exciting stocks these days, but these three top tech stocks are great buys right now. Here's why.
1. Alphabet: Deep pockets are a safe haven in uncertain times
Let's start our discussion of the tech titan frenemies with Alphabet, parent to ubiquitous internet search engine Google. Some 80% of Alphabet's revenue is still tied to advertising of some sort, and 70% of that advertising revenue comes specifically from Google Search ads. Advertising is sensitive to macroeconomic economic health. In tough times, many businesses cut marketing spending. The market has thus been worrying that Alphabet's empire could be headed for a decline if a recession hits this year or next.
But Alphabet has been through a couple of recessions (2008 and 2020), and its Search ads are flexible. It's easy for businesses to turn those ads off and back on again. If a recession does hit, any downturn in ad spending would be very short-lived for Alphabet. And in the meantime, the company has proven its resiliency even in the face of sharp economic slowdown. Google advertising revenue was up 11.6% year over year in Q2 2022 to $56.3 billion.
Digital ad services are also very profitable, and Alphabet has been using these margins to invest in new businesses (like Google Cloud and self-driving car start-up Waymo) that have the potential to be big someday. But even after supporting these up-and-coming segments, Alphabet still has room to return lots of excess cash to shareholders. It has repurchased $28.5 billion worth of its own stock through the first half of 2022 (1.9% of the company's current enterprise value).
This return of cash creates a nice cushion for Alphabet shareholders during turbulent times, and there's plenty of room for the company to keep rewarding owners of its stock. The company had $125 billion in cash and short-term investments on its balance sheet at the end of June (plus another $30.7 billion in long-term investments), offset by debt of only $14.7 billion. In terms of cash net of debt, that doesn't only make Alphabet the deepest-pocketed tech giant, but one of the wealthiest organizations on the planet. Trading for 23 times enterprise value to trailing 12-month free cash flow, Alphabet is a fantastic buy right now.
2. Amazon: The cloud is an unstoppable force
After a two-decade run of rapid growth, e-commerce is finally taking a breather. In the first two years of the pandemic, online shopping activity boomed. Now households are making more in-person trips to the store again. That hasn't been great news for Amazon. The company's "product sales" segment fell 2% year over year through the first half of 2022, led by declines in its online store (and partially offset by healthy increases in its physical stores, like Whole Foods).
This big slowdown in e-commerce led to a massive drop in the stock earlier this year. At one point, Amazon was down well over 40% from its all-time highs set late in 2021. Shares are back on the mend, though, thanks in no small part to Amazon Web Services (AWS), the massive cloud computing segment. In fact, AWS has been one of the primary reasons to be invested in Amazon for some years. Why? Because though AWS accounted for just a fraction of Amazon's total revenue, it generates most of the e-commerce leader's operating profit. During the first half of this year, AWS made up just 16% of sales, but it generated all of the total operating profit (while product sales generated an operating loss).
Granted, this doesn't mean Amazon's online selling juggernaut is worthless. On the contrary, shopping is a sticky experience that has led to other revenue lines for the company -- like its TV streaming service Prime Video, or a burgeoning online advertising business that hauled in almost $8.8 billion in revenue in Q2 2022 alone, up 18% from the year prior.
Nevertheless, AWS is an incredible business model that helped pioneer cloud computing in the first place, and it continues to rapidly expand. AWS sales jumped 33% in Q2. The cloud is rapidly overtaking traditional IT infrastructure in the wake of the pandemic, and is expected to hit $1 trillion in annual spending by the end of this decade. AWS is at the forefront of this movement, and should remain so for years to come. Amazon is currently operating in the red on a free cash flow basis as it spends to support more cloud and other business growth. However, while the stock is still down, it's far from out. Amazon will turn profitable again at some point. The company also had $61 billion in cash and short-term investments, offset by debt of $49 billion, and currently has an enterprise value of $1.5 trillion. This rock-solid business is a fantastic buy right now after receiving more than its fair share of market punishment.
3. Apple: The iPhone goes slow and steady to win the race
Apple fans, specifically fans of the iPhone, are a unique bunch of consumers. While the global smartphone industry is poised for a big pullback the second half of this year (after a strong two-year run from 5G network device upgrades), Apple sees very little disruption to iPhone demand at this juncture. It's a testament to how powerful the Apple brand is as iPhone adoption continues apace, especially in emerging markets like Indonesia, Vietnam, and India.
Through the first three quarters of Apple's fiscal year 2022 (the fiscal year ends Sept. 24), iPhone sales were a staggering $163 billion -- up 6.5% from last year. It's a slow and steady pace compared to times past, but nonetheless an impressive number. The iPhone business is sizable enough to offset weakness in other areas (like Mac and iPad sales), and is highly profitable. Apple used those margins (plus a little cash off the balance sheet, which had $179 billion in cash and investments and $120 billion in debt) to return $28 billion to shareholders via dividends and share repurchases last quarter alone.
Though Apple isn't the highest growth tech giant anymore, there's a lot to like about its scale. The company now has many hundreds of millions of actively used devices around the globe, and it keeps tight control over its ecosystem of hardware and software. Thus, Apple can gradually release new features to the iPhone to generate incremental revenue growth -- primarily from its services segment. These services (like the App Store and digital payments) hauled in $19.6 billion in sales last quarter, a 12% year-over-year increase.
With other device sales losing steam this year, Apple is still chugging along at a healthy pace. It's proof that this $2.8 trillion enterprise behemoth is still worthy of a prominent place in investors' portfolios. Apple stock currently trades for 26 times enterprise value to trailing 12-month free cash flow. It's a premium price tag, but worth every penny during uncertain times.
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John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Nicholas Rossolillo and his clients have positions in Alphabet (C shares), Amazon, and Apple. The Motley Fool has positions in and recommends Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares), Amazon, and Apple. The Motley Fool recommends the following options: long March 2023 $120 calls on Apple and short March 2023 $130 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.