Recession-Proof Stocks: Procter & Gamble

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Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG  ) : This Ohio giant finds its way into every home. Do you use a disposable razor? Do you brush your teeth? If so, I'd say there's a three-out-of-four chance you use one of P&G's products, based on the company's market share in these categories. Now, if the economy goes into recession, will you change your brand of razor or toothpaste? No? Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I rest my case.

P&G is an absolute tank, a stalwart among stalwarts. The numbers are pretty eloquent: 23 billion-dollar brands and a leader in seven of the 12 categories it competes in globally. Its closest competitor leads in just two.

P&G will roll right through a recession
I don't see any reason to be concerned about the impact of a recession on Procter & Gamble. It's been around since 1837, and it's survived the Great Depression, inflation, multiple recessions, and even war. P&G is simply one of those stocks that cannot be stopped. It's made millionaires out of investors who have been patient (but be warned: My timescale is measured in years and decades, not months). I can't put it any better than TMFOrangeblood, one of the top-ranked players in Motley Fool CAPS:

Buy world-class consumer goods companies, reinvest the dividends, and then wait 30 years. Sounds boring, but that's a simplified version of Jeremy Siegel's advice for long-term wealth. PG is among the best of the best, and will anchor my portfolio for decades.

He's absolutely right. In The Future for Investors, professor Jeremy Siegel of Wharton Business School identifies a number of sectors that have produced good long-term results that many investors may not expect. Companies that produce well-known consumer staples are prominent among them.

Just how well has P&G done over the long term? Since 1970, the stock has returned 13.2% on an annualized basis, inclusive of dividends. On that basis, I don't know what to call P&G other than a growth stock: That figure is more than 5 full percentage points ahead of the equivalent return for IBM (NYSE: IBM  ) , at 8.1% annualized.

Cheaper than it's been in almost 15 years!
Of course, you don't want to pay more than a fair price, even for an outstanding company. Paying too much, after all, is a sure way to earn subpar returns. With that in mind, something caught my eye as I was going through the company's numbers. At 18.20, the stock's current price-to-trailing-12-month earnings ratio is lower than it's been in almost 15 years. If you had purchased the stock the last time its P/E dipped that low -- and that was sometime around August 1993 -- you'd be sitting on annualized returns of around 14.4%. That's a solid return by any standard, but it's remarkable for a company that's now worth almost $200 billion. By comparison, the S&P 500's annualized return over the same period was around just 7.5%.

Let me be clear, though: This lone observation is not sufficient basis for making an investment.

Where will growth come from over the next 30 years?
Perhaps you think the qualifier "for a company now worth almost $200 billion" contains the seeds of P&G's underperformance. Don't you believe it. Along with some other blue chips, such as Colgate-Palmolive (NYSE: CL  ) , Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO  ) , PepsiCo (NYSE: PEP  ) , and Philip Morris International (NYSE: PM  ) , P&G is among the best-positioned companies in the world to take advantage of the surging demand for products of its type in emerging economies.

Enough said about this compounding machine. If you're convinced of P&G's potential to ride out the recession with flying colors, go over to CAPS and rate the stock "outperform." If not, show your contempt for my pitch by rating it "underperform" instead. I won't hold it against you -- diversity protects the integrity of the market mechanism!

More branded-consumer-goods Foolishness:

Alex Dumortier, CFA, has a particular fondness for Procter & Gamble, since it provided him with his first practical illustration of value investing. He has no beneficial interest in any of the companies mentioned in this article. Coca-Cola is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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