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LONDON -- If you haven't used this year's ISA allowance, you've only got a few weeks left before the 5 April deadline.
Your annual tax-efficient ISA allowance is issued on a 'use it or lose it' basis, so don't squander it. You can save up to £11,280 in the current tax year, and put the lot into stocks and shares. To find out more about ISAs, click here.
Only way is up?
I have good reason to raise a glass to Diageo, the world's largest spirits maker.
I've held its shares for several years and, during that time, its performance has gone from strength to strength. The shares are up 84% over three years, 66% over two years, and 30% over the last 12 months. I would love to stuff my portfolio with steady, solid growth stocks like this one, but how long can Diageo's success continue?
I'll drink to that
The most recent figures show Diageo enjoying a strong final six months of 2012, with sales up 5%, to £6 billion.
Yet, it wasn't all high spirits. Sales in recession-hit Europe, which account for roughly 28% of Diageo's total sales, fell 2% (and 19% in southern Europe).
Fortunately, Diageo has fantastic global diversification, and underlying sales in the U.S., which accounts for roughly one-third of group sales, rose 5%, fueled by the success of U.S. premium brands Ketel One vodka and Bulleit bourbon.
Diageo also enjoyed strong growth in Turkey, Russia, and other emerging markets, which now make up around 40% of net sales. The group aims to generate roughly half of its earnings from Asia, Latin America, and Africa by 2015.
The group's recent progress makes this FTSE 100 member a great way to play the emerging-market story from the comfort of your home stock market. It also means you don't have to worry about all those knotty corporate-governance issues, which come with the territory if you are investing directly in places such as China.
The world likes a drink, and Diageo is the world's largest spirits producer. But could drinking attitudes be changing in the West?
In the U.K., alcohol sales peaked in 2004, and have since fallen 13%, according to the British Beer and Pubs Association.
Drinking rates among young people are also falling steadily, according to a new NHS survey.
If the trend continues, our clean-living kids could pose a threat to alcohol company profits, just as the healthier lifestyles have knocked tobacco sales. Or, more likely, could we all start boozing again when the economy picks up?
Premium brands, premium price
But these are long-term issues. Right now, Diageo has billions of emerging-market consumers to aim at. It has a nicely diversified business, both in terms of geographical spread and type of product, and a handsome 21.6% operating margin.
The firm's recent acquisition strategy has been successful, too, adding £300 million to net sales in the past six months. Europe aside, which Diageo can't do much about, management has done most things right.
The downside is that recent strong growth has left Diageo's shares trading on a yield of just 2.2%, well below the FTSE 100 average of 3.2%.
But that dividend is covered 2.2 times, which does give scope for future increases. Management also has a progressive dividend policy, recently hiking the interim dividend by 9%.
The share is also trading on pricey P/E of 22, against the current market average of 14. That, of course, is the price of success. Forecast earnings-per-share growth looks a little more modest at 9% and 11% in the years to June 2013 and 2014, respectively.
Diageo isn't the cheapest stock on the index, but that's the price you pay for strong management, strong products, and strong emerging-market growth prospects.
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