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Tickers in this Article: HI, MATW, HRB, JTX, INTU, HRC
These days, there is no shortage of concern over either a prolonged deflationary depression or hyperinflationary disaster, depending on which one you've picked to worry about. Given this worrisome environment, it can be easy for investors to forget what has worked so well for many of the world's wealthiest investors – find and buy good businesses selling on the cheap.

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Even for those who believe that the worst of our troubles are over, it is rather difficult to argue that we are set to begin a new boom era; real economic growth will likely be slower over the next decade than it was in years past. In these up-hill economic conditions, it is more important than ever to ensure that you own companies that have the best chance of maintaining stable revenues to weather the storm.

In that regard, I shamelessly fall back on the oldest of cliches: in this world nothing is certain except death and taxes. Since I prefer to avoid the relentlessly boring world of taxes whenever possible, let's look at a company in the death business.

Head for the Hillenbrand
Hillenbrand Inc. (NYSE:HI) owns and operates the Batesville Casket Company, which it purchased way back in 1906. It competes against such publicly-traded rivals as Matthews International Corporation (Nasdaq:MATW), and produces and distributes coffins, cremation containers and urns, and funeral home display fixtures. HI even offers services such as website development and hosting for funeral homes.

An upbeat line of work, I know, but there are few companies out there that have a more reliable supply of future customers than Hillenbrand. After all, sooner or later we will all end up in a coffin, urn or other post-mortem container of our choice, which has to be made by Batesville or one of its competitors. (For more, see Demographic Trends And The Implications For Investment.)

Guaranteed Demand
In case this strikes you as too obvious to mention, consider that in many countries there are detailed burial laws prohibiting the do-it-yourself approach, and legally requiring deceased persons to be processed through the proper channels. This is not so when it comes to other industries with seemingly guaranteed demand, such as food production, where consumers can freely engage in vegetable gardening, for example, if they so choose. Or for another example, there are no laws stopping current customers of tax preparation firms such as H&R Block (NYSE:HRB), Jackson Hewitt (NYSE:JTX) and Intuit (Nasdaq:INTU), from buckling down and doing their taxes entirely by themselves next year.

Add into the equation the reality that cultural pressures typically give Hillenbrand and their distributors the ability to pass on cost increases to end-user consumers with little difficulty, and you have an industry that is by all accounts poised to produce consistent revenues for many years to come. And of course, we can't forget about the legions of baby boomers poised to enter their golden years, making the years ahead even more of a sure thing for companies like Hillenbrand. (For related reading, see Where Top Down Meets Bottom Up.)

The Financials Speak for Themselves
Everybody knows that the past year has seen some extraordinarily difficult economic conditions, but you wouldn't know it from looking at Hillenbrand's last four quarterly earnings statements.

In its most recently filed quarterly financial statement (for the period ending March 31, 2009), the company reported $170.8 million of revenue. In the three quarters immediately prior, its top-line sales came in at $166.5, $158.8 and $165 million. All this during a year when seemingly every business in existence has endured substantial difficulty maintaining usual sales volumes.

The company has consistently earned a positive bottom-line net income in each of those quarters as well. And in its most recently filed quarter, it managed to bring in over $25 million in free cash flow. Given its roughly 62 million shares outstanding, that equates to more than 40 cents per share, which is not bad at all for a stock currently trading in the $16 range.

Spinoff May Have Spooked Some Investors
But before you write this company off as yet another boring value play, consider that its current corporate entity was created via a spinoff from former parent company Hillenbrand Industries Inc, which is now Hill-Rom Holdings (NYSE: HRC). This spinoff was completed in April 2008, so it's possible Hillenbrand has been the victim of indiscriminate institutional selling and a general lack of interest since then, depressing its share price.

The Final Word
There are a lot of realities in the world of finance that are counter-intuitive, and one of them is that some of the most eye-popping gains out there can paradoxically be generated by the most boring, old-economy businesses imaginable. With virtually guaranteed demand, strong product pricing power, demographic benefits and a potential boost from its recent spin-off, Hillenbrand may very well turn out to be one of those overlooked and underpriced gems. (For more, see Finding Solid Buy-And-Hold Stocks and Finding Undiscovered Stocks.)

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