The so-called Santa Claus rally just happened, capping off a great year for investors and bringing the 2019 calendar year return for the S&P 500 up to 30%. Huzzah!
But not so fast. If one is to apply Warren Buffett's "fearful when others are greedy" principle, now's the time to take a hard look at the portfolio and make some decisions. After all, stocks don't go straight up all the time. However, selling out and going to cash isn't the best of plans, either. Rather, balancing your biggest winners with some value stocks -- especially those that pay dividends -- can be a better alternative to market timing.
1. Starbucks: The king of coffee culture is on top of its game again
Though Starbucks has backed off a bit from record highs (it was up over 50% at one point in 2019), the world's largest coffee chain has had a great year. Shares surged as global same-store sales (which factors for foot traffic and average guest ticket size) increased 5%, helped by Starbucks' mobile app and seasonal drink rotation. Not bad at all for an operation with over 31,000 locations.
Starbucks is the well-established leader in premium coffee culture, but this large-cap stock isn't done growing yet. The company faces a fierce competitor in Luckin Coffee in its second most important market, China. Nevertheless, the 4,000-plus stores there barely scratch the surface of the ultimate potential, and Starbucks plans to increase its locations by some 50% in the next handful of years.
Along the way, investors get treated to a 1.9%-yielding dividend, which includes a 14% payout hike in the autumn of 2019 -- an annual practice of payday raises the company has made a point of emphasis since it started paying a dividend a decade ago. There's likely plenty more income ahead given Starbucks' ability to convert new sales into profits. Free cash flow (money left after basic operating and capital expenses are paid) is up 45% over the last five-year stretch.
Shares are priced at 25.7 times next year's expected earnings, but this high-quality restaurant industry stock is worth paying up for. Brand recognition, emerging market growth, and steady income are a potent force in any portfolio.
2. Comcast: The other American media giant
Disney! Disney! Disney! The iconic entertainment conglomerate put a few exclamation marks at the end of the 2010s by completing its takeover of several Fox assets, launching its proper Netflix competitor, Disney+, and utterly dominating the 2019 box office with six titles each hauling in over $1 billion in global ticket sales and seven of the 10 top-grossing films of the year.
But let's not forget about Comcast, the other big media giant. It doesn't carry the clout Disney does -- its business isn't slanted toward theme parks, but rather toward its far less sexy cable communications operation headed by the Xfinity name. Consumers have varying opinions about Xfinity and its internet and cable services -- some of them involving some strong critical language -- but there's no denying that the segment is incredibly profitable as high-speed internet connections continue to increase by hundreds of thousands every quarter. Shares are up 32% in 2019 as a result.
It shouldn't be forgotten, though, that Comcast was up to some pretty good deal-making of its own in the last decade. Back in 2009, the company announced it would pay a meager $30 billion in cash and assets to General Electric for control of NBCUniversal over the course of a few years. That asset returned $8.6 billion in earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) in 2018 and another $6.8 billion through three quarters of 2019 alone. Suffice to say, the purchase was a steal.
Comcast followed that up by buying British broadcaster Sky for $38.8 billion in 2018. It likely won't go down as quite the same screaming deal as NBCUniversal, but the $2.33 billion in EBITDA so far in 2019 from Sky is respectable. Plus, Comcast is stitching together its own formidable portfolio of entertainment content to launch Peacock, its first entry into the streaming TV industry, in April 2020. Add in a 1.9% dividend yield and an attractive 13.5 price-to-forward-earnings multiple, it all makes for one hot buy of a value stock.
3. Seagate Technology: Value memory chips trading at a value
On to the biggest 2019 winner on this list: Seagate Technology, with a 57% return in 2019. Even after the massive run, this stock trades for just 11.3 times expected earnings and yields a juicy 4.3% dividend. What's up with that?
Seagate has been in a cyclical slump along with other digital memory manufacturers, something that happens every so often for the up-and-down industry. At least according to sector leader Micron, as well as Seagate's management, a bottom for memory chip sales may be close. For its part, Seagate said during its fiscal 2020 first quarter that there could be a year-over-year revenue and earnings-per-share increase in store in Q2. With that expectation being set, recent share price action should be seen as merely a rally from recent multiyear lows registered in 2018.
But here's what makes Seagate so attractive: Its focus on older hard disk drive technology (versus some of its higher-bred, but more expensive, peers) has meant a shallower slump in sales for the company. As a result, Seagate has remained very profitable, reporting $309 million in free cash flow in Q1 on $2.58 billion in sales. That's good for a 12% free cash flow margin, an enviable figure given the yearlong bear market in an industry prone to sharp downturns.
That means Seagate's dividend is on solid footing, and the stock is likely undervalued if sales do in fact recover as expected in 2020. Thus, even after a huge rally in 2019, I'm looking to buy headed into the new year.