When it comes to defensive stock selection, no sector performs quite like the consumer staples. These companies can be relied on to sell their wares through thick and thin, good times and bad. And very often, it's these same companies that pay investors the best dividends. The following three consumer staple stocks now appear priced to perfection. If it's fundamentals you're after, you won't be disappointed. (For more, see Cyclical Versus Non-Cyclical Stocks.)
IN PICTURES: Eight Ways To Survive A Market Downturn
Consumer staples are generally widely followed companies that perform best in the middle-to-end of the economic cycle. They include, but are not limited to, food, beverage, tobacco, alcohol, as well as discount and other household items that are deemed necessities, like toiletries. The consumer staple sector also has the following important characteristics: it has an extremely low correlation to, and experiences less overall volatility than, the overall market.
Eat Up, Clean Up and Wipe Up
Kellogg's (NYSE:K) is a household name with much to offer investors. With a P/E ratio of 14.50, a dividend yield of 3.11%, and gains of nearly 25% in just the last two months, you've got more than just a bowlful of mush. Kellogg's recently issued $750 million in 7 year debt at a very competitive 4.45% rate, and ratings agency Fitch confirmed them at A- grade. Kellogg's strong debt rating reflects its leading market share and powerful brand position in the cereal and convenience food market.
Unilever (NYSE:UL) is another global corporate giant operating in the food, personal and home care product market. The stock carries a mere 11.44 P/E multiple and pays a healthy 4.90% annual dividend. The stock jumped 38% in just 10 weeks, powered in part by strong earnings in emerging markets and a recently unveiled corporate strategy geared to more fully exploit those markets. Unilever carries a diverse product line that includes everything from Ben & Jerry's ice cream to Dove soap. (For more, see Using Consumer Spending As A Market Indicator.)
Institutional Buyers Indicate Confidence
Kimberly Clark (NYSE:KMB) is a world supplier of branded health and hygiene products. The company's shares have appreciated almost twenty percent in recent weeks and still sport a friendly 4.69% dividend. The stock sells for a multiple of only 12.79x trailing earnings. Kimberly Clark has a massive institutional following as well. Nearly three quarters of the outstanding shares are owned by professionals - a vastly greater number than say, Unilever, whose institutional interest currently sits at a mere 3%. KMB also recently announced a new, innovative product line called Scott Naturals. Meant to appeal to a growing "green" consciousness, this line of bath tissue, towels, napkins and flushable wipes products promises environmental friendliness without sacrificing quality.
They may not have the pomp or pizzazz of high-flying tech stocks but steady dividends and predictable growth are on offer from the best of the consumer staples. And after the most recent market mayhem, many investors might even prefer this "boring" corner of the investment world. (Read more in our related article A Guide To Consumer Staples.)