The recent COVID-19 outbreak has reminded us all of the appeal of consumer staples stocks. Consumer staples are household products that people use in both good economic times and bad. Not only has the prospect of a global recession increased the appeal of these steady stocks, but various news outlets are even reporting stories of hoarding, with reports of typical household items being completely sold out at certain retailers in some areas.
Over this 11-year bull market, consumer staples haven't seemed especially appealing, with low growth, decent but not super-exciting dividends, and price-to-earnings ratios in the low to mid 20s. However, they're looking much more appealing now, especially since U.S. Treasury rates have plummeted, with the 10-year Treasury note yielding a mere 0.95% as of this writing.
Here are three names that should see increased sales this quarter and that should help get your portfolio to the other side of the crisis.
According to recent news reports, for some strange reason, people appear to be broadly stocking up on toilet paper, even though toilet paper doesn't prevent coronavirus.
Regardless of the logic, toilet paper hoarding could be a positive for a couple of companies, including Kimberly-Clark (KMB 1.80%), which manufacturers the Cottonelle toilet paper brand. But that's just one of many paper-based products Kimberly-Clark makes to help people clean up at home. Other brands include Kleenex tissues, Depends pads, Huggie's diapers, and Scott's paper towels, among others.
The $46 billion market cap company also has a fairly reasonable valuation by consumer staples standards, with a P/E ratio of just 21.5 and a dividend yield of 3.5%. Kimberly-Clark didn't exactly shoot the lights out last year, with just 4% organic sales growth and zero growth after currency headwinds. The good news is, even though growth was relatively tepid, Kimberly-Clark expanded its margins.
That was thanks to the results of its 2018 global restructuring plan, which achieved $300 million of its targeted $500 million to $550 million in cost savings, expected to be reached by the end of 2021. Moreover, on the recent earnings release, management projected increased operating cash flow and earnings for 2020, with 5% earnings growth on 2% organic sales growth.
Steady growth, higher margins, and a 3%-plus dividend is sounding pretty good right now.
Procter & Gamble
The largest consumer staples company in the world is Procter & Gamble (PG 1.44%). This $280 billion market cap behemoth is home to many familiar brands across a wide range of household products. These include Pampers diapers, Tide detergent, Comet cleaners, Bounce dryer sheets, Head & Shoulders shampoo, Crest toothpaste, and a number of other familiar household brands.
Procter & Gamble's stock currently yields about 2.8% and trades at about 22.8 times 2020 projected earnings. Of the consumer staples companies, Procter & Gamble has been a growth standout over the past year. Last quarter, organic sales grew 5%, with nine of its 10 overall categories experiencing growth, indicating broad-based strength. Procter & Gamble is not only growing both volume and sales, it's also expanding margins in the process. On a constant-currency basis, earnings per share surged a whopping 15% last quarter. In late January, management felt confident enough to raise its guidance for the fiscal year.
Barring any unforeseen supply disruptions, there shouldn't be any demand headwinds for Procter & Gamble's products. After all, consumers may begin to use more toilet paper, diapers, toothpaste, shampoo, and cleaning products going forward.
Procter and Gamble's outsized growth, financial strength, and nice 2.8% yield could make for an especially good safety stock in these trying times.
It's probably no surprise that Clorox (CLX 0.46%) has outperformed during this recent downturn. After all, the company sells its extremely popular namesake disinfectant wipes and bleaches as well as Pine Sol cleansers. In addition to cleaning, Clorox also has several other mid-sized product categories such as grilling, trash, and lifestyle products like water filters and lip balm.
Given its association with its namesake disinfecting wipes brand, Clorox stock has surged recently, which makes it more expensive than the previous two stocks. Its dividend currently yields 2.7%, and its stock trades at a high 26.4 P/E ratio. That's a pretty pricey valuation for a company that's only projected to grow between 0% and 2% this fiscal year, with no earnings leverage, either. Management forecasts increased investments would cause a 1% to 3% EPS decline for the year ending in June.
Still, there's reason to believe a more-stay-at-home economy could benefit Clorox beyond management's recent projections. Its two "problem" categories recently have been grilling and trash, as competition from private labels and others had eaten away at its category-leading brands. Yet if the coronavirus pandemic lasts into the spring and summer, more people may decide to grill at home instead of going out to eat. By staying home, they'll also need more trash bags. And obviously, everyone will be cleaning surfaces a lot more with Clorox's cleansers and wipes.
That may not help it win against the competition, but it could lift Clorox's overall product categories in the weeks and months ahead. If it does, it's possible Clorox could very well justify its current higher valuation.