When it comes to investing, I want to have my cake and eat it too.
While I love to find companies that rise when the markets do, I especially love stocks that buck the trend when the markets tumble. Investing is about finding opportunities that can deliver strong returns come rain or shine.
During the housing boom several years ago, I found a company that was on fire. Amid the frenzy of homebuilding and house-flipping, this company's products were selling left and right.
As the housing market collapsed amid the Great Recession, this company's distribution network and sticky customer base helped it weather the storm. In 2008, as the S&P 500 tumbled 37%, this company's stock was up 5.3%
This company makes and distributes paints, coatings and related products to markets around the world. It is the dominant player in the U.S. paint market, with a more than 30% market share, and it has a growing international presence. Its products are sold under leading brand names such as Dutch Boy, Krylon and Thompson's Water Seal.
Perhaps most impressively, this company has a 34-year streak of dividend increases, a testament to its remarkable performance through good economies and bad.
If you haven't guessed, the company I'm talking about is Sherwin-Williams (NYSE: SHW).
Sherwin-Williams products can be found on the shelves of two-thirds of all U.S. retailers that sell paint- or coating-related products. The depth of the company's brand and product portfolios has allowed it to develop strong brand recognition, making it a name of choice among consumers.
In addition to its network of nearly 3,400 company-owned stores, Sherwin-Williams uses some third-party retailers. This captive distribution network is one of its largest competitive advantages, allowing it to rely less on big-box retailers and more on the relationships it develops with its customers.
With the recovery in the U.S. construction market and existing-home sales well underway, Sherwin-Williams has seen its pricing power increase along with demand. The company also maintains a focus on product innovation, which helps differentiate itself from rivals in a very competitive market.
Sherwin-Williams also has substantial international growth potential, as foreign sales account for less than 20% of total revenue. In November 2012, it bought Mexico's leading paint company, Consorcio, opening the door to expansion in those markets.
In January, Sherwin-Williams reported strong results. Adjusted earnings (excluding one-time items) came in at $6.64 a share for the year, up 56.8% from 2011. This impressive growth was driven by increases in paint sales volume and price: For the year, net sales increased 8.8% to $9.53 billion.
For 2013, Sherwin-Williams expects net sales to increase by a mid-single-digit percentage. It is estimating earnings per share in the range of $7.45 to $7.55.
Risks to consider: Because many of Sherwin-Williams' customers are in the residential and commercial construction sectors, the demand for paint products can be quite cyclical. Raw material prices can also fluctuate, potentially squeezing margins. Additionally, if we see another downturn in the economy, consumers may turn to big-box retailers like Home Depot (NYSE: HD) and Lowe's (NYSE: LOW) to save money.
Action to take --> Sherwin-Williams pays a dividend of about 1% and is a good buy up to $185 per share. Last year, it announced a 7% increase to its dividend, marking the 34th consecutive year of dividend growth. My price target during the next 12 months on this company is $215, representing about 25% upside potential.