You May Consider These Companies Immoral, but Their Returns Are Unparalleled

Altria, Diageo, and Las Vegas Sands may be considered sin stocks by some, but their historic performances and opportunities for growth are hard to find elsewhere.

Jan 27, 2014 at 2:37PM

Ethical investing is always a touchy subject, and tobacco companies like Altria (NYSE:MO) always seem to be the poster children for "evil investments." Still, aside from the ethics of investing, so called "sin stocks" like Altria, Diageo (NYSE:DEO), and Las Vegas Sands (NYSE:LVS) are growing at rapid rates, and their shareholders are reaping the benefits.

Evil tobacco but attractive yield
Altria, which owns Philip Morris USA and holds a near 30% stake in global brewing giant SABMiller, could be called an unethical investment, or sin stock. However, for some investors the value and returns on offer here could be too much to pass up.

For example, due to accounting principles and going by current earnings figures, if you invest in Altria you are buying a stake in SABMiller for only 6.5 times the company's trailing earnings. I have explained this in full here.

What's more, Altria is more diversified than many of its tobacco sector peers. Indeed, during Altria's recently reported fiscal third quarter, its revenue came to a total of $6.5 billion before excise taxes. Of that, $5.8 billion, or 89%, came from "smokeable" products and $500 million came from smokeless products, around 8% of revenue. Meanwhile, wine contributed $150 million, or 2% of revenue.

Altria looks attractive from a financial-metric standpoint as well. The most important of these metrics is the company's impressive dividend history. According to DividendChannel.com, an investment in the company during the past 10 years would have returned just less than 20% annually if the dividends were reinvested; this is a return you'd be hard pressed to find anywhere else. At present, the company offers a 5.1% yield. 

A rapidly growing market
The market for alcoholic beverages has remained fairly robust during the past five or so years despite the economic environment, and Diageo, the biggest listed beverage company in the world, has benefited from this.

Diageo's growth strategy over the past decade has been to acquire competitors around the globe that are established within their home markets. In addition, the company has also built up a strong beverage-distribution network, especially within its home country, the UK.

Furthermore, Diageo's acquisition strategy has led it to acquire some of the most valuable alcohol brands in the UK and around the world, with names such as Guinness, Smirnoff, and Johnnie Walker filling its beverage cabinet. Diageo's ownership of Johnnie Walker puts it in a prime position to ride the increasing global demand for Scotch. According to Diageo CEO Paul Walsh, two billion consumers will be able to afford Diageo's brands in the next 20 years; this is an impressive number. 

Additionally, sales of Scotch whiskey have exploded during the past few years according to data from the United Kingdom's Revenue and Customs department. The value of Scotch exports from the UK has increased 87% during the last 10 years. What's more, this trend appears set to continue with Scotch exports up 11% year-over-year for the first half of 2013, and many projections suggest that Scotch sales are going to rise at an annual clip of 3% for the next decade.

Diageo's Scotch sales have expanded 50% during the past five years alone, and the company plans a GBP 1 billion ($1.6 billion) investment over the next few years to meet rising demand for the spirit.

Las Vegas Sands
Remember the saying "the house always wins?" Well, that's great news if you're a casino shareholder. Las Vegas Sands is one of the world's premier casino operators with locations in Las Vegas, Macau, Singapore, and Pennsylvania. It's not going to stop there--Las Vegas Sands is growing rapidly, in the right locations of course. The company recently cancelled plans to build a $30 billion project in Spain which included six casinos, 12 hotels, and many shops. The plan was cancelled as the Spanish refused to meet the demands of Las Vegas Sands' management, including lower gambling tax rates and future changes in government policy. 

Now, the company is focusing on expansion within Japan and Korea. According to Forbes, Japan is the world's third-largest economy and it could become the world's second-largest gambling hub, subject to casino legalization. Still, inside of Macau Las Vegas Sands has more casinos than any other US-based company. Specifically, the company operates through four properties in Macau, compared with one each for MGM Resorts and Wynn Resorts. 

In summation
To some these three investments may seem unethical, but all three companies are well placed for future growth and offer some impressive returns. For example, Diageo's prediction that two billion customers will be able to afford its brands within the next 20 years may sound like nonsense, but there is definitely potential there. What's more, Las Vegas Sands' expansion drive in Asia opens the company up to some of the biggest gambling markets in the world, and growth is likely to follow.

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Fool contributor Rupert Hargreaves owns shares of Altria Group. The Motley Fool recommends Diageo plc (ADR). Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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