Defensive Stocks For 2013

By Will Ashworth | December 21, 2012 AAA

Investopedia defines defensive stocks as those that provide a constant dividend and stable earnings regardless of the state of the overall stock market. The consumer staples and utilities sectors are usually considered when getting defensive. Looking ahead, I've got several stocks to get you through any bumps in the road. Here are my defensive stocks to own in 2013.

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Avon Products (NYSE:AVP)
This past year was a long one for Avon's former CEO Andrea Jung. First, she was replaced as CEO in April by Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) executive Sheri McCoy after 13 years at the helm; then she announced she would step down as Chairman at the end of 2012. Jung's tumultuous history at the company had come to an end. Her replacement faces the arduous task of rebuilding its business and brand, which has taken a serious hit over the Justice Department and SEC's joint investigation of Avon's bribery of foreign officials. McCoy has to put this in the rearview mirror if she has any hope of moving the stock price higher. In the past five years, Avon's stock has lost over 60% of its value. If its business continues to deteriorate, it could be forced to cut the dividend, something shareholders have come to expect. In order to avoid that possibility, Avon announced December 12 that it was reducing its global workforce by 1,500 people. In addition, it will exit the markets in Vietnam and South Korea in order to consolidate its resources in higher priority countries. The moves will cost the company as much as $90 million to implement as part of its larger goal to find $400 million in annual cost savings by 2015. McCoy put it best explaining the decisions were necessary in order to first stabilize the company and then return it to a profitable growth. I see Avon's stock bouncing back in 2013 as further cost savings are found.

SEE: Turnaround Stocks: U-Turn To High Returns

Kimberly-Clark (NYSE:KMB)
As we move into 2013, the maker of Huggies diapers and Kleenex tissues has had a very good year. It expects adjusted earnings per share (EPS) of at least $5.15 in 2012, higher than originally estimated due to lower commodity costs. If not for significant currency exchange costs, 2012 would have been a home run. As it was, its gross and operating margins in every division increased year over year. This year it's decided to exit the diaper business in Western and Central Europe after more than 20 years working hard to deliver sustainable, profitable growth. Unfortunately, it's been unable to do so. Exiting the market allows it to focus on its growing diaper markets in China, Brazil and Russia. Kimberly-Clark increased its dividend by 6% in 2012 to $2.96 a share, the 40th consecutive year to do so. Currently yielding approximately 3.5%, it offers one of the best dividends in the consumer packaged goods industry. In the past eight years it has reduced its share count by 21% or 107 million shares, which has led to increased earnings per share. Shareholders have achieved a total return of 123% between July 2003 and August 2012, much higher than the S&P 500 at 74%, and in line with the Consumer Staples Index at 126%. As it continues to deliver revenue growth along with reduced operating costs in 2013 and beyond, its dividend will be nice to have when the going gets tough.

SEE: Why Dividends Matter

Lancaster Colony (Nasdaq:LANC)
The specialty foods manufacturer has delivered positive total returns in seven of the last 11 years. Most importantly, in the down years of which there were four, the average annual decline was just 7.6% with 2008 the worst of the bunch off by 10.8%, 26 percentage-points better than the S&P 500. With a dividend yield around 2%, this is the ultimate defensive stock. Lancaster Colony succumbed to the fiscal cliff pressure late in the year announcing a $5 per share special dividend for shareholders of record as of December 10. I'm not fond of corporations acting as tax advisers but I'm willing to let it pass given its consistent record of profitability and cash flow generation. I wouldn't expect the same thing at the end of 2013. It was a one-time occurrence. However, at the same time it announced a special dividend, it also announced it was raising its quarterly dividend for the 50th consecutive year, making it one of only 16 American companies to meet the half-century milestone. With its glassware and candle segment turning profitable in 2013, it now has two business segments generating profitable growth. This will be reflected in its stock price in 2013.

The Bottom Line
Of the three stock picks only Avon Products should give you pause. That being said, I truly believe CEO Sheri McCoy will get it back on the rails in 2013.

At the time of writing, Will Ashworth did not own any shares in any company mentioned in this article.

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