Topics like Europe's financial crisis, China's slowing growth, and fill-in-the-blank, the-sky-is-falling XYZ reason influence headlines daily and drive investor sentiment just as frequently. But sometimes we worry more about risks that could emerge than ones that actually do. Fear can cloud our judgment. On the flip side, greed can lead to shoot-from-the-hip decision-making. How can investors find a clear path?
Focus on the positive
Predictions of future catastrophes are rarely accurate (remember how the world was supposed to end on Dec. 21?). Even though you should be mindful of risks when mapping your financial course, many of them are out of your control. Instead, don't discount underlying trends that are more constructive.
For example, consider the following:
- The U.S. economy has been growing for more than three years and is expected to grow modestly in 2013.
- Corporate balance sheets are healthy. Companies are estimated to have $2.3 trillion in balance sheet cash and short-term securities.
- Corporate earnings results remain strong for many companies.
Focus on strengthening your portfolio by investing in companies that'll make waves by charting their own course. Companies that have a unique strategy, own a disruptive technology, or harness a competitive edge will be better equipped to grow despite market uncertainty. Of course, some companies are better positioned than others.
Let's take a look at a few.
Brave new world
Companies identify new markets for existing products by expanding geographically. For instance, condiment king H.J. Heinz (NYSE: HNZ ) currently holds 60% U.S. market share with its Heinz ketchup, of which it sells 650 million bottles and 11 billion food-service packets annually. But the company continues to make strides in emerging markets, with over 20% of sales currently from these high-growth markets. The company expects sales growth from developing markets like China, India, and Russia . In fact, Russia is the world's third-largest ketchup-consuming market, in which Heinz has a leading position.
Unilever (NYSE: UL ) has also been successful launching existing goods in new markets. For instance, its Tresemme products recently rolled out in Brazil, Indonesia, and India. The company's Magnum ice cream bars have been well received in the Philippines and the U.S. -- the world's largest ice cream market -- following their recent rollouts. Unilever enjoyed nearly 7% total sales growth in 2012, comprising growth in both volume and price. Unilever returned 30% to shareholders during the past two years.
Navigating changing tides
Companies also grow by entering a new segment of an existing market. For example, global population growth and increasing living standards in developing countries are fueling food demand. Meanwhile, a decline in farmland acreage requires increasing crop yields. Already a leading crop seed company, conglomerate DuPont's (NYSE: DD ) recent acquisition of Danisco will widen the company's presence in food and nutrition.
Meanwhile, Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA ) is providing more services to small and midsize business customers. Small businesses with fewer than 20 employees account for 85% of the company's business services revenue, and midsize businesses represent 15% of this segment's revenue. A huge growth driver for Comcast, business services revenues grew 41% in 2011 and 53% in 2012. The company is also entering the home security and automation markets.
Another company that's changing course is EOG Resources (NYSE: EOG ) . With ongoing weak natural gas prices, EOG has been shifting its production focus to crude oil from natural gas. EOG was one of the first companies to invest in oil shale, the primary growth driver for the latest surge in domestic oil production. EOG has major interests in some of the most abundant U.S. oil shale plays, including the Bakken, Permian Basin, and Eagle Ford.
Stay the course
These five companies are proactively implementing strategies to help them navigate changing markets. Sure, surprises will undeniably emerge. Just remember to focus on what you can control -- the diversification and quality of the investments you own and your reactions to surprises.
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