1 Stock to Avoid No Matter What, and 1 Worth Adding to Your Portfolio

The stock market has been wobbly this year. The S&P 500 index gained 18.5% in the first seven months of 2023 but has dropped back to a year-to-date increase of just 9.6% since then. The retreat has made no-brainer buys out of some top-quality stocks, but there are some I still wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole. An ebbing tide may uncover some hidden treasures, but not every sinking ship can be rescued.

Let’s take a look at one fantastic company whose stock looks deeply undervalued right now and another that truly belongs in Wall Street’s bargain bin — and should be left there.

The undervalued stock to buy in November: American Tower

Cell tower and communications infrastructure specialist American Tower (AMT 4.51%) looks incredibly cheap right now. I mean that in a good way, like finding a luxury-brand jacket in a yard sale. The pockets are full of cash, too.

The stock is down by 17% in 2023, including a 6% dip since the end of July. In a longer perspective, American Tower shares are trading at prices not seen since February 2019. That’s nearly five years’ worth of stalled chart squiggles, missing out on a 52% gain in the S&P 500 over the same period.

In the meantime, American Tower’s robust business just kept growing. Top-line sales are up by 47% in five years. Free cash flow took a dip in 2022 due to slower prepayments from major customers — understandable amid an inflation-flavored economic crisis. The diminished cash flow was still positive to the tune of $1.8 billion in that softer year — and closer to $3 billion per year in the other reporting periods.

So, American Tower runs an ultra-reliable business tied to multiyear contracts, and its services should be in demand as long as wireless broadcasting and networking are a thing — in other words, essentially forever.

Yet, the stock has been treading water for five years while the business continued growing. It’s a no-brainer buy in my book, and we haven’t even talked about the generous dividend yield of 3.6% yet. It is to be expected from a real estate investment trust (REIT), which has to distribute at least 90% of its taxable income in the form of dividends to skip paying income taxes.

As this cash machine grows, American Tower will keep growing its dividend payouts and stuff billions of dollars straight into shareholders’ pockets. And I think it’s a good idea to lock in this juicy dividend yield at today’s undervalued share price.

The risky stock to avoid no matter what: Norwegian Cruise Lines

You know that old adage about buying the most affordable home in the best neighborhood you can afford? You can apply that idea to investments as well — or flip it around to find stocks you should avoid.

In this example, the cruise line industry strikes me as a sector to avoid in the long run, and Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCLH 1.07%) is arguably the worst idea in that uncalled-for market. This stock is down by 41% since the end of July, undermined by weak guidance in two earnings reports.

First, the cruise sector has been struggling as a whole since the coronavirus crisis kept every ship anchored in 2020. To escape that brutal downturn, they financed their operations with uncomfortable combinations of expensive debt and dilutive stock sales. The best of the best will struggle with these decisions for years to come, especially since annual rates on variable-interest loans have skyrocketed over the last two years.

And Norwegian is absolutely not the best investment in this struggling industry. With less than $700 million in cash balanced against $12.6 billion of long-term debt, the company is buckling under the debt load. That wouldn’t be so bad if Norwegian generated cash profits, as Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Lines are doing again after a long period of red ink. But this underperformer burned $356 million of free cash in the third quarter.

Long story short, I think the cruise industry is full of falling knives that will leave your fingers scarred in the long run if you try to catch them at a low price. And Norwegian Cruise Lines looks more dangerous than its larger and more cash-efficient rivals. I don’t recommend investing your hard-earned cash in this risky stock.

Anders Bylund has positions in American Tower. The Motley Fool has positions in and recommends American Tower. The Motley Fool recommends Carnival Corp. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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