In just a single hour, you do a lot of things you barely think about. Switching a light on or off, glancing at a clock, shifting in your seat. Thank goodness we don't have to expend lots of mental energy on such tasks!
Likewise, there are lots of companies that do things for you that you don't have to think about. You might not even know their names, because they're not the type of consumer-oriented businesses that spend big money on trying to sell you their specific brands of stuff. But they do contribute to your everyday life, whether you're aware of them or not.
Three companies whose products you've probably used in the past 24 hours -- and that you may even be using right now -- are Littelfuse (NASDAQ:LFUS), Corning (NYSE:GLW), and Kinder Morgan (NYSE:KMI). Here's what they do, why they're important, and how you can use that knowledge to your advantage as an investor.
Sparks flying everywhere
In my house, you can't turn on the microwave and the coffee maker at the same time without both shutting off. Thankfully, we don't find ourselves in the same situation as Ralphie's parents in the movie A Christmas Story, where plugging in one too many lights causes sparks and flames to erupt from the outlet, requiring a trip to the basement to replace a (disposable) electrical fuse. We don't have that worry thanks to decades of advances in circuit breakers, fuses, and other electrical components, of which Littelfuse is a leading manufacturer.
With the increasing ubiquity of smart devices and digital interfaces, specialized electrical components are finding their way into a wider range of products. But most pieces of complex machinery also need such devices to safeguard their systems. Components made by Littelfuse can be found in such diverse locations as grain silos, oil wells, water treatment plants, and telecom towers.
Looking closer to home for consumers, Littelfuse is a major source of fuses for automobiles. It counts all the major automakers as customers, which has caused it some headaches recently, as tariffs on vehicles and a slowdown in the Chinese auto market have slowed the growth of that business line. Littelfuse is also seeing increased competition in China from local manufacturers.
Investors may want to wait and see how these global issues play out before taking a chance on Littelfuse, but it's definitely a stock to keep on your watch list.
Glass flying everywhere
If you've heard of Corning at all, you probably know it as the maker of "shatterproof" Corningware dishes. But interestingly, the glass manufacturer doesn't manufacture its namesake product anymore, having sold the brand (along with another popular product, Pyrex) in 1998.
Today, Corning's products are found in a wide array of products that you use every day. It's a leading producer of fiber optic internet and telecom cables, especially those suitable for 5G. Its display technologies segment manufactures screens for televisions and laptops. It also manufactures the shatter-resistant Gorilla Glass that's used in so many touchscreens, as well as in automotive applications. Each time you drop your Apple iPhone and the screen doesn't crack, you have Corning in part to thank.
While some industry trends -- like the rapid build-out of 5G networks and the trend toward larger TV screens -- benefit Corning, it too is suffering due to the current macroeconomic environment. Automobiles, flat-screen TVs, and consumer electronic devices of all kinds are getting caught up in Washington's trade conflicts. Meanwhile, consumers aren't upgrading their smartphones and other devices as often as they used to. If a recession hits, sales of TVs, cars, and electronics will likely be among the first to take a hit, which would have a disproportionate effect on the glassmaker.
Corning is another stock to keep on your radar as you wait to see how the international trade issues shake out.
Flames flying everywhere
Back in the frontier days, the only way to keep your log cabin warm in the winter was to go out and get some wood -- probably by chopping down a tree and cutting it up into firewood -- and toss it onto the fire or into the stove. But if the chimney flue or stovepipe got clogged, or if some oil accidentally dripped into the flames, your log cabin might become a very large pile of firewood.
Today, a majority of U.S. homes are heated with cheap and reliable natural gas. But, like firewood, that fuel doesn't bring itself inside. Instead, it's transported through a nationwide network of pipelines that are operated by midstream energy companies. Among them is Kinder Morgan: It operates the largest natural gas pipeline network in the country, one that it's continually expanding through new infrastructure projects.
Because Kinder neither produces gas nor sells it to consumers, it's somewhat immune to the price fluctuations of the energy market. Instead, Kinder operates under a tollbooth model: Companies pay it based on how much natural gas they send through its pipelines. With 91% of Kinder's cash flow coming from reliable fee-based or regulated revenue, it's a model of consistency, which allows it to steadily fund a dividend that currently yields about 4.7%.
Kinder Morgan's steady cash flow and growth prospects make it a compelling prospect for dividend investors.
Money flying everywhere
Although Littelfuse, Corning, and Kinder Morgan aren't household names, you probably use their products and services every day -- or you know someone who does.
These kinds of stocks may not be as exciting as some others, but having under-the-radar stocks in offbeat industries on your watch list can not only help you diversify your portfolio, but tune you in to opportunities that other investors are missing. And that can be a great way to make money.