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As we prepare to ring in the new year, it might pay to ponder stocks that could excel in 2010 and beyond. Amid a sea of struggling, unprofitable, or overly indebted consumer-oriented companies like Borders (Nasdaq: BGP ) or Crocs (Nasdaq: CROX ) , Costco (Nasdaq: COST ) stands out as a golden retailer. That's why it's my nominee for the Best Stock for 2010.
A stock for good times and bad
In 2009, economic difficulties were foremost on many folks' minds. Lots of consumers remained deep in debt, and worse, many found themselves unemployed. Stocks like Nordstrom (NYSE: JWN ) and Saks suddenly took on an added element of risk, beyond the already high level of retail competition. Without the bubbly excesses of past years to sustain a culture of spending sprees, the pool of potential customers seeking expensive wares at full price dried up. That could remain the case for quite some time.
Costco is a defensive stock because it provides high-quality merchandise at low prices. Stocking up on inexpensive bulk items fits well with a penny-pinching mentality that's bound to continue in 2010. Alongside its industrial-sized jars of mayonnaise, Costco has always been good at offering a scattering of luxury brands at similarly rock-bottom prices. The scavenger-hunt mentality the company fosters -- some items may not be available on shoppers' next trip -- helps encourage customers to grab good stuff dirt cheap while they can. Thanks to its emphasis on low prices and good customer service, Costco is built for resilience in good times and bad.
Costco also has strong, exemplary management in CEO Jim Sinegal. He's well-known for his firm belief that happy employees yield happy customers. Costco's workers receive good pay by retail standards, along with excellent benefits.
Meanwhile, Sinegal himself is modestly paid -- a refreshing distinction compared to, say, the CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch (NYSE: ANF ) , who is exceedingly well-compensated despite his company's recent lack of operational performance. (Last week, I gave 10 reasons why that retailer's been very, very naughty, despite its major run-up this year.)
Sinegal shows a true passion for his career at Costco, doing things many retail CEOs wouldn't consider, including answering his own telephone and touring Costco warehouses around the country. True long-term shareholders should want a CEO like Sinegal on their team.
Quality for 2010
Granted, Costco trades at a premium to comparable big-box discounters like Target (NYSE: TGT ) and Wal-Mart Stores (NYSE: WMT ) . It changes hands at more than 24 times trailing earnings, compared to Wal-Mart's 16 and Target's P/E of 17.
However, as pricey as Costco shares may seem at the moment, I'd argue that a premium price is justifiable for stock in a high-quality company that you intend to hold for the long term. Costco is certainly one of Wall Street's best, given its great management and its emphasis on customer service. Our CAPS community gives Costco an impressive four-star rating, and I'll bet most of us know at least one rabidly loyal Costco customer. Last but not least, Costco has a dividend yield of 1.2% to sweeten the deal for investors.
In these trying times, I'd rather invest in high-quality companies that do things right, rather than seemingly "cheap" companies that do a heck of a lot of things wrong. There are many ways to become a terrible investor; ignoring a company's quality seems like one of them to me.
Now it's time for you to make your voice heard. Vote in the poll below, and let us know whether you think Costco's the best stock for 2010.
Which is the best stock for 2010? See all 13 candidates here.