U.S. stocks have shaken off a lot of bad headlines over the past year. Just consider the gloomy news we've endured:
• China's economy growing at a slower pace
• Energy producers shutting down production, facing bankruptcy
• Terrorist attacks hit several cities in Europe, Middle East
• Europe faces intractable economic problems
• Donald Trump captures GOP nomination
• Employment growth much slower than expected in May
• UK voters opt to leave EU
And that's only a few of the biggest stories. Yet the S&P 500 is up slightly from its year-ago level.
That's not to say the bad news is illusory or irrelevant. Risks abound in today's climate. Economic instability abroad could still tank our market, especially if it harms our economy through reduced demand for our exports or a freezing up of lending, corporate capital expenditures or consumer spending. So while I'm confident that U.S. stocks continue to look attractive, I'm being careful to keep part of my portfolio in high-quality steady-growth and defensive stocks.
Among the best such companies are consumer staples companies, which sell products that folks are going to buy whether the economy is strong or not. Unfortunately, few of the top consumer staples stocks are selling at bargains today -- especially after the Brexit vote, which drove investors to the traditional safety sectors. Case in point: one of my favorite consumer staples stocks is B&G Foods (NYSE: BGS). I recommended the stock in January, and it's up 37% since then (thanks in part to better-than-expected earnings, announced in late April). I continue to love the company's prospects, but given its shares' big run, I wouldn't buy now and I'd consider taking some profits if it moves much higher.
So where to look when consumer staples are overpriced? Let's take a look at consumer discretionary companies, which sell products and services for which purchases can be deferred -- such as cars, major appliances, vacations and leisure items. Many such stocks got caught up in the Brexit selloff; while most have bounced back, some continue to look attractive in an environment when investors are worried about the strength of the economy.
One is Brunswick Corp. (NYSE: BC), a leading global producer of boats and marine engines (brands include Mercury, Mariner, MotorGuide, Bayliner, Sea Ray and Boston Whaler), fitness equipment (Life Fitness, Cybex, Hammer Strength, SCIFIT, Lifecycle), and rec-room products like pool, ping-pong and foosball tables. Marine products account for about 80% of revenue, and that segment is key to the company's prospects.
Thanks to acquisitions, Brunswick has increased market share and stands poised to benefit from the long-term trend of retirees spending more on recreation products in the coming years. Marine sales also have continued to benefit from low fuel prices. Both trends look solid for this summer and the rest of the year, and evidence that home sales are starting to pick up in Florida also bode well for the boating industry.
The stock now trades at only 13.4 times analysts' consensus estimate for 2016 earnings per share and is a good candidate to challenge its 52-week high around $55 in the coming months.
Foot Locker (NYSE: FL), the #1 global retailer of athletic shoes, has more than 3,400 stores in 23 countries -- and that's the problem, in the view of some investors who associate the company with 20th century shopping malls. Yet Foot Locker also has a growing online-sales business that bodes well for its ability to continue to grow sales at a 5% to 7% annual clip in the coming years.
While online sales grow, the company has emphasized an upgraded customer experience in its brick-and-mortar stores, differentiation among different store brands and better locations -- with comparable-store sales rising impressively as a result. The aging of America is actually a plus for Foot Locker, as retirees often invest in sports gear in response to doctor's orders to remain active. And the company's experienced management team has engineered its finances effectively, with low debt and strong cash flow.
Foot Locker trades at only 11.7 times analysts' consensus estimate for 2016 earnings per share, in line with its growth rate. That's an excellent entry point for those who don't own shares.
Risks To Consider: Brunswick and Foot Locker depend on robust consumer spending; an economic slowdown or recession would hurt the stocks.
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