Even with the Fed bumping rates twice in 2016, and multiple rate hikes likely at some point this year, interest rates remain at some of the lowest levels in decades. And those low rates are good for business in a lot of different ways.
If you're looking for companies that can capitalize on today's low rates, our contributors suggest taking a closer look at Ulta Beauty Inc (NASDAQ:ULTA), Welltower Inc (NYSE:WELL), and Meritage Homes Corp (NYSE:MTH). These are three very different companies, each benefiting from low rates in different ways. Keep reading to learn what they offer, and why our contributors think they could be ideal for your portfolio.
More than just another pretty face
Rich Duprey (Ulta Salon): Although companies in the consumer discretionary sector don't immediately spring to mind when thinking about who would benefit from a low interest environment, but keeping more money in the pockets of consumers induces them to spend more. One area where they're increasingly spending their money is on cosmetics and beauty-care products, with NPD Group saying more than a quarter of consumers are willing to pay up for premium body-care items.
No other beauty or personal-care company has the potential to reap the benefit from this trend than Ulta Salon, which in 25 years has grown to become the top national beauty-care retailer, offering more than 20,000 products from over 500 vendors at almost 1,000 stores. And though it's not completely immune to the threat of e-commerce, it is largely resistant to the trend because most consumers seem to want to be able to touch and try the product before buying. It also has its own e-commerce site that's witnessing 40% year-over-year growth.
Ulta's competitive advantage is that it gives its customers instant feedback on items they're considering purchasing from a team of beauty-care specialists working in a salon setting.
Ulta is taking advantage of the growth environment we're in -- Grand View Research estimates skincare products are expected to grow at a 10% compounded annual growth rate through 2025 -- and expects to grow comparable sales at double-digit rates with EPS growing in the high 20% range. A persistent, low-interest environment will only continue to help Ulta Salon.
Borrowing for health reasons
Keith Speights (Welltower): Companies that borrow a lot of money for their operations benefit from lower interest rates. Welltower is a great example. It's the nation's oldest real estate investment trust (REIT) focusing exclusively on healthcare -- and the largest as well. Welltower owns over 1,400 properties in the U.S., Canada, and the United Kingdom.
Welltower stands to benefit from a couple of major trends. First, Americans are aging. The U.S. Census Bureau projects the number of U.S. citizens age 85 and older will double over the next two decades. Second, there is a significant push to move healthcare to lower-cost settings, including senior housing alternatives such as assisted living and independent living communities.
Low interest rates help Welltower finance expansion into new properties more cost effectively. The company specifically plans to focus on increasing its premium private-pay healthcare properties, which tend to be more profitable. Although Welltower's stock hasn't produced huge gains in recent years, this shift to a primarily private-pay strategy along with improving its balance sheet should help the company's future prospects.
Income-seeking investors will especially like Welltower's dividend yield of 5.28%. The company recently announced its 183rd consecutive quarterly dividend.
This beaten-down homebuilder is on sale right now
Jason Hall (Meritage Homes): One of the best places for consumers to benefit from the current interest rate environment is on a mortgage, and Meritage Homes is in an excellent position to take advantage of this. The company, a top-10 builder in the U.S., has recently begun focusing more of its building efforts on the first-time homeowner market, and the timing couldn't be better as millennials start buying homes in larger numbers.
Meritage's recent fourth-quarter and full-year 2016 financial results left the market a little disappointed, particularly with a shrinking backlog of orders and a caution from management about first-half 2017 results thanks to the timing of opening new communities for sale. As of this writing, Meritage shares are down about 9% from their high so far this year and are trading for less than 10 times last year's earnings.
That's a lot of negative sentiment baked into the company's share price, and it has created a nice opportunity for investors. The bottom line is that the housing market is quite healthy, and Meritage's efforts to aggressively grow its entry-level homes business, combined with the current rate environment and an acceleration of millennials entering the housing market, make this an excellent time to buy shares of this solid company.