"Big brand" companies are appealing long-term investments because they have well-established brands, robust cash flow, and wide competitive moats. That's why these stocks usually rebound from nasty bear markets, while lesser-known brands with weaker cash flows wither. I personally own several big brand stocks, and today I'll discuss two of my favorite long-term plays: Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS) and AT&T (NYSE:T).
Disney is best known for its theme parks and cartoons, but its sprawling media empire also includes Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, ABC, ESPN, and the Disney Channels. Disney's theme park and movie businesses are posting robust growth, but cord-cutting has hurt is cable subscriber numbers in recent years. Those fears caused Disney to slump 14% over the past 12 months, but it remains up about 190% over the past five years.
Disney is trying to allay fears about its media business, which generated almost half its operating income in the first nine months of 2016, with new investments and partnerships. It recently acquired a 33% stake in Major League Baseball's BAMTech streaming unit to serve as the foundation for a new stand-alone over-the-top platform for ESPN, and announced that AT&T will bundle its main cable channels into its DIRECTV Now packages. Many streaming-only "skinny bundles," which include a smaller set of channels at lower prices, also include Disney's cable channels.
Disney still has plenty of ways to diversify away from cable TV. Its future growth in theme parks, supported by the recent opening of Shanghai Disney Resort and the upcoming opening of Star Wars Land at its domestic theme parks, could offset softness in its media business. Its film business, which is firing on all cylinders with "cinematic universes" for its Marvel and Star Wars characters, is built to provide reliable box office returns for years.
Analysts expect the House of Mouse's revenue to grow 7% this year and 4% next year, while earnings are expected to improve 12% this year and 5% next year. Those forecasts reflect concerns about Disney's cable business, but the stock remains fairly cheap at 16 times earnings, which is lower than the industry average of 19 for diversified entertainment companies.
Telecom giant AT&T has hiked its payout annually for over three decades. It currently pays a forward yield of 4.9%, and spent 67% of its free cash flow on dividends over the past 12 months. In previous years, AT&T was a slow-growth stock with a price which barely budged.
Yet the stock rallied almost 20% over the past 12 months due to two main factors. First, low interest rates caused many investors to flock to high-yielding dividend stocks like AT&T. Second, AT&T's $49 billion acquisition of DIRECTV turned it into the biggest pay TV provider in America and boosted its free cash flow 60% to $15.9 billion last year. AT&T's FCF has continued to grow this year, with 17% year-over-year growth in the first quarter and 8% growth in the second.
AT&T also sold a large portion of its slower-growth wireline services to Frontier Communications to invest more heavily in its higher-growth wireless business. To simultaneously grow DIRECTV and its wireless business, AT&T started offering wireless users unlimited data plans if they signed up for DIRECTV. It also launched streaming DIRECTV video bundles for its mobile users. AT&T is also expanding beyond mobile devices by selling wireless plans for smart homes, drones, and connected cars. It partnered with Intel to develop autonomous 4G drones, and is working with Ford to connect "at least" 10 million cars within the next five years.
Analysts expect AT&T's revenue to rise 12% this year and 2% next year. Earnings are expected to grow 5% this year and 6% next year. Its top-line slowdown could be caused by the saturation of the wireless market amid rising competition from smaller rivals like T-Mobile, which recently launched unlimited data, talk, and text plans for all its customers. Nonetheless, AT&T remains a solid dividend stock with a P/E of 17 -- much lower than the industry average of 25 for domestic telcos.
Are these big-brand stocks right for you?
I originally bought Disney and AT&T at lower prices, but I wouldn't hesitate to add more shares of both companies today. Disney's year-long swoon has cooled off its multiples to more attractive levels, and AT&T's 4.9% yield remains one of the safest income investments in the market today.