If you're in your 40s, you have as many as 25 years before you quit the workforce. But at the same time, you have serious responsibilities, such as raising children and paying a mortgage. That's why Enterprise Products Partners L.P. (NYSE:EPD) and Hormel Foods Corp. (NYSE:HRL) should be on your short list. Although they're in vastly different industries, they're among the best-run companies in their respective sectors, and their outlooks call for slow and steady growth. They're the kind of companies that let you worry about the other things going on in your life as they continue to grow their businesses through thick and thin.
Enterprise Products Partners is one of the largest oil and natural gas midstream partnerships in the United States. It basically helps to move these commodities from where they're drilled to where they finally get used. It does that with a vast portfolio of pipelines, storage facilities, processing plants, and even a fleet of ships.
But unlike an oil driller, Enterprise's business is largely fee-based. That means its top and bottom lines are more dependent on demand for oil and gas than on the price of oil and gas. As long as these fuels are moving through its system, Enterprise is going to collect a toll. For example, when oil crashed from over $100 a barrel in mid-2014 to around $30 a barrel at the low point, Enterprise's gross margin trended sideways, holding at a little over $5 billion. Its results didn't fall off a cliff, as those of most of the major oil drillers did.
That said, while it's definitely focused on growth, Enterprise is fairly conservative. Its growth just happens to be slow, steady, and deliberate. That's what has allowed the partnership to increase its distribution for 20 consecutive years with around a 5% annualized growth rate. The goal is to keep that pace up, backed by roughly $8.4 billion worth of expansion projects through 2019.
With around a 6.2% yield, this slow and steady grower will reward you well for owning it. And if you reinvest those growing distributions, relying on compounding to work its magic, your nest egg is likely to expand at a healthy clip.
Next up is Hormel, the maker of Spam. But that's not the only thing Hormel does. It's a major player in the protein space, focused on value-added pork and turkey products. It owns the Skippy and Justin's nut-butter brands. And it has a collection of newer brands, such as Wholly Guacamole and Muscle Milk, that resonate well with current food trends. It even has a sizable footprint in the food-distribution business.
The food industry has been weak of late, as consumer tastes shift from pre-packaged foods toward fresh foods. So it shouldn't be too surprising that Hormel's top line grew only about 2% between 2014 and 2016. However, that period included the sale of older, less profitable businesses at Hormel and investments in new assets, such as last year's acquisition of the Justin's brand. These are the types of shifts that allowed Hormel to expand its gross margin from 16.8% in 2014 to 22.6% last year.
So even during a rough patch, this food company was working hard to improve its business. Earnings, meanwhile, expanded from $1.12 a share to $1.64, with the dividend posting a nearly 20% annualized growth rate over the past three years. For reference, the dividend has been increased annually for more than five decades. The yield is relatively modest at about 2%, but that's actually on the high side for this company.
As for the future, Hormel is currently looking to expand internationally where it's still a relatively small player, and it's trying to find some good acquisition targets. With debt at just 5% or so of the capital structure, it has the financial wherewithal to back up its growth goals. Don't expect anything transformational -- just bolt-on deals. But that's exactly what you'd expect from Hormel. Meanwhile, you can let that fast-growing dividend reinvest and compound for the next 25 years until you're ready to start using the income stream to pay for your retirement.
Neither Hormel nor Enterprise is going to shock you by making some crazy business decision. If slow and steady wins the race, then these two are winners, providing the cornerstone of a diversified portfolio that allows you to spend your precious time where it matters most. It's probably enough to check on these conservatively run companies a couple of times a year.
Add in decades' worth of annual dividend increases, and you're getting paid to just stick around and watch them build real businesses year after year. Sure, you're young enough to buy a highflier or two, but you only want to do that if your core portfolio rests on strong names like Hormel and Enterprise.