Recession-Proof Stocks: Philip Morris International

Looking for more juicy dividend stocks to weather a recession? Check out our special series on recession-proof stocks.

Here's a news flash: Recessions slaughter stocks. Bank stocks, consumer stocks, transportations stocks, tech stocks … it doesn't seem as though anything except energy and gold are spared these days. And some are starting to whisper "bubble watch" on even those sectors.

What do you do?
Looking for a time-tested way to make it out of a recession with your portfolio intact? Revert to the basics: Ditch speculation (or anything that resembles "guesswork"), don't try to time the bottom, don't put all of your eggs in one market, and, most importantly, make sure your investments reward you with the four letters that elude so many investors: C-A-S-H.

To that end, you might consider a stock that's more likely than not to keep zipping ahead as the U.S. economy tanks: Philip Morris International (NYSE: PM  ) .

The Marlboro Man stretches his legs
The most attractive part of newly independent Philip Morris International (PMI) is, well, the international part. If you can look past the ethical issues of investing in cigarette companies, PMI has something the tobacco industry hasn't seen in a while: huge growth potential. PMI is the market leader in 11 of the top 30 international tobacco markets, and it's making headway in some of the world's fastest-growing markets, including China, India, Brazil, and Vietnam -- countries whose people smoke like chimneys and whose economies aren't besieged by a subprime glut.

That exclusive international exposure sets PMI apart from nearly every company that lay investors would feel comfortable investing in. Sure, there are plenty of great international stocks out there, but it's a rarity to find one with a product and a brand name that are so familiar and ingrained in American culture. Besides taking advantage of international growth, PMI is removed from domestic class action lawsuits that have resulted in years-long drawn-out fights for former PMI parent Altria Group (NYSE: MO  ) and Reynolds American (NYSE: RAI  ) .

And how about the valuation side? No complaints there, either. At $51 per share, PMI trades at around 16 times projected 2008 earnings. Since 2003, net income has grown at an 11% clip, and management expects long-term earnings-per-share growth of between 10% and 12%. Throw in a 3.6% dividend yield and a $13 billion share-repurchase campaign, and you've got yourself a cash-generating machine Scrooge McDuck would envy.

Adding fuel to PMI's potential is the weak-dollar argument. As the price of oil imports soars and our trade deficit balloons, the value of the dollar is almost certain to continue its downward spiral. That's a pain in the rear for domestic companies that rely on imports -- not to mention consumers facing sticker shock at the pump -- but it can be great news for companies such as PMI that conduct some of their business in foreign currencies. As times get tough and the future of the global economy gradually becomes less vibrant than before, those are all characteristics that will serve you well

All right … what's the catch?
Like most investment pitches that promise the world, there's a catch. Operating outside the U.S. gives PMI what may look like phenomenal growth potential, but competition for that growth isn't hard to find. International tobacco companies such as Imperial Tobacco Group (NYSE: ITY  ) and British American Tobacco (AMEX: BTI  ) all want a piece of the action. In China, perhaps the one international market people are the giddiest over, a nationalized company called China National Tobacco exercises overwhelming control, although PMI is slowly starting to nudge its way in.

Foolish final thoughts
Consumers are sluggish, unemployment is gaining, inflation is rising, and credit markets are bloodied … recessions just aren't fun. The best stocks to help you bounce out of the recessionary blues will be those that are removed from the U.S. economy, are tried and true, have strong brand recognition, and reward patient shareholders with dividends and buybacks. Philip Morris International fits squarely into all of these categories.

So what do you think about PMI's future? Our 110,000-member CAPS community gives it a pristine five-star rating, and we'd love to get your opinion, too. Come and join us at CAPS, and tell us what you think.

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Fool contributor Morgan Housel owns shares of Philip Morris International and Altria Group but none of the other companies mentioned in this article. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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  • Report this Comment On June 30, 2008, at 9:16 PM, Ozcutty wrote:

    Couldn't agree more, i'm long pm. If the commodity boom turns to a bust and we have a global recession (highly likely) PM is one of the very few safe places to put your money. Profit up 27% in the 1st qtr and huge buybacks just getting started. I can't believe none of the Motley fool newsletters are recommending this stock.

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