Is It Time to Buy the Dow Jones' 3 Worst Performing Stocks of 2020?

The Dow Jones Industrial Average may have managed to fight its way out of the red and into the black year to date, overcoming a COVID-19-prompted slump in February and March. But not every one of its 30 components has been able to do the same.

The stock prices for Boeing (NYSE:BA), Walgreens Boots Alliance (NASDAQ:WBA), and Chevron (NYSE:CVX) remain underwater for the year so far, by a lot. As of Dec. 7, those names are down about 29%, 26%, and 23% (respectively) since the end of 2019, while the Dow itself is up about 5%.

There are two schools of thought as to how this disparity should be viewed. On the one hand, one could argue these three picks are down for good reasons that haven’t abated yet. On the other hand, the crowd sometimes makes mistakes, holding stocks down that actually deserve to trade at much higher levels.

Some of the headwinds that have blown directly at these three companies this year should abate in 2021. Others won’t. On balance though, these three names offer more upside than not at their present stock prices.

Image source: Getty Images.

A tough 2020

It (almost) goes without saying the coronavirus pandemic is responsible for taking most of this year’s toll on these three tickers, as each of these companies was particularly vulnerable to the pandemic’s effects.

For Boeing, clamp-downs on travel prompted airlines to postpone or outright cancel deliveries of new passenger jets. Unsure of when travel restrictions might ease and demand may be fully restored, the industry only took deliveries of 98 aircraft this year as of the end of September. A year earlier at that time, that number was 301. Of course, a prolonged regulatory grounding of its 787 MAX jet only gave air carriers more time and reason to balk.

Oil giant Chevron was another victim of the pandemic. Mandated and non-mandated shutdowns meant consumers had little reason to drive their vehicles anywhere. As a result, consumer products companies and retailers — save staples like groceries — had fewer goods to deliver. The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates the world consumed 95.3 million barrels of oil per day in October, which is well up from April’s low, but still down 6% from consumption in October of 2019.

As for Walgreens Boots Alliance, although a retailer, it’s also a seller of essentials and a big beneficiary of what consumption was still taking place while the world was trapped in the throes of the pandemic. Its revenue through the year ending in August was up 2% year over year, with relatively steady prescription drug revenue smoothing out any rough revenue edges related to logistical hurdles linked to the coronavirus outbreak. Gross profits and net income both markedly fell in fiscal 2020, however, with the effort to remain operational during the pandemic proven a fairly expensive one. Also weighing on Walgreens’ 2020 performance is Amazon‘s recent (though not surprising) foray into the prescription business with Amazon Pharmacy, which will leverage its 2018 acquisition of PillPack to become a complete online pharmacy and a threat to the industry’s established brick-and-mortar names.

Better days ahead

In this light, this year’s weak performance from these three stocks makes enough sense. Each company already faced unique hurdles. COVID-19 only exacerbated those challenges.

Fear, however, may have exaggerated this year’s weakness for these names at the exact worst possible time.

Take Boeing for instance. Largely lost in the recent noise is that the 737 MAX has been recertified by the FAA for use in the United States. Overseas regulators are nearing the same decision, if they haven’t already. American Airlines has already put the aircraft back into service.  Orders haven’t rematerialized yet in a big way for Boeing, but this is an industry that moves slowly when it comes to committing capital.

Meanwhile, Walgreens CFO James Kehoe is unfazed by Amazon’s entry into the company’s space, rhetorically asking at last month’s Wolfe Healthcare Conference “When you want to get your COVID vaccination, are you going to call Amazon or are you going to call Walgreens or CVS?” Morningstar analyst Julie Utterback agrees that Walgreens’ brick-and-mortar presence keeps it well shielded from Amazon’s entry into the pharmacy landscape, noting its partnerships drive foot traffic from those who don’t want to wait a day or more for their medicine.

And Chevron? While its rebound may take the longest to bear fruit, the prospect of several different viable COVID-19 vaccines being distributed in 2021 sets the stage for a resumption of consumerism that involves not just combustion-powered passenger vehicles, but delivery trucks as well.

Bottom line

Stocks more often than not trade with respect to where their underlying companies are going rather than where they’ve been. Or, as Benjamin Graham put it, “In the short-run, the stock market is a voting machine. Yet, in the long-run, it is a weighing machine.” Those votes reflect the prevailing emotions at any given time. Weights, conversely, reflect actual long-term value.

Believe it or not, this past year’s weakness from the worst of the worst performers among the Dow Jones Industrial Average names has reflected voting rather than weighing. The market’s starting to correct this mistake, not just for the aforementioned Dow stocks, and not just for names that have suffered big losses. Some overbought names are poised to pull back as well.