Tragic though the global pandemic is, it’s also been a boon to many companies. The question their shareholders now face is whether to continue buying, retain what they have or start selling. I’m a long-term investor and don’t sell often. So what would I do with three UK shares that thrived in 2020? For a start, I’d only buy one!
Bike and car parts retailer Halfords (LSE: HFD) was a huge beneficiary of the push to exercise during lockdowns. With movement restricted and most shops and all leisure facilities closed, what could be better than peddling the misery away? Sales duly rocketed, followed by its share price.
The company, which also operates auto repair centres, releases its latest set of full-year numbers next month. While the inevitably good numbers should push the shares higher, a cautious outlook could do the opposite. After all, trading may be about to get tougher as the UK prepares to fully unlock.
Halfords faces two problems: those with bikes won’t be in a hurry to replace them and people now want to spend their money on things they’ve been itching to do. On top of this, it still presents as a pretty unexceptional company without last year’s unexpected tailwind. Margins are low. Returns on capital — what it makes on the money it invests in itself — are also very average.
I wouldn’t buy and might even sell some if I needed cash to invest in what I see as a better growth pick.
Another company that’s done well out of the pandemic has been online domestic appliance seller AO World (LSE: AO). In fact, it was one of the best-performing UK shares last year. The share price rocketed from 57p a pop in April 2020 to 411p a share by 31 December.
Since then, however, we’ve seen sentiment turn. I don’t think this is surprising. CEO John Roberts is confident that AO will “continue to be a double-digit growth business in the year ahead,” but the market seems to think otherwise. On 29 times earnings, the stock also looks pretty expensive for a company with no discernible moat or market-leading position. Will customers remain loyal? I’m sceptical.
Prior to Covid-19, AO was a loss-making, ‘jam tomorrow’ stock. Without evidence that it can continue to thrive in normal market conditions, I’d be taking some profit here if I hadn’t already started doing so.
Multiple UK lockdowns have also been kind to online musical instrument seller Gear4music (LSE: G4M). Over the last year, the share price has leapt 225%! The question now is whether this momentum can be sustained after the company reports to the market on 22 June.
Like Halfords, Gear4music faces some tough comparisons going forward. While playing music can be a lifelong pursuit, one has to wonder whether people have all the guitars, drums and trumpets they need for now. G4M’s small-cap status also means it’s more susceptible to big share price moves compared to the average FTSE 100 juggernaut. If investors get nervous, the party could be (temporarily) over.
But the long-term growth prospects are surely excellent thanks to the gradual reduction of independent musical instrument retailers on the high street. For this reason, I’d be happy to hold this UK share. If the shares fall back next month, I’d back up the truck and buy too.