Consumer staples stocks are often considered slow-growth investments that are owned for stability and income. The COVID-19 crisis also turned many of those stocks into safe havens this year as consumers stocked up on essential supplies.
But as the year ends and the market starts looking toward a post-pandemic world, investors might be wondering if they should still hold on to these defensive darlings. Let's take a closer look at three top consumer staples plays -- Clorox ( CLX 1.01% ), Kimberly Clark ( KMB 1.96% ), and Procter & Gamble ( PG 1.78% ) -- and see if they're still worth buying in December.
Clorox's stock rose about 30% this year as shoppers stocked up on bleach, disinfecting wipes, and other cleaning products during the crisis. That demand buoyed its health and wellness division, which also sells professional cleaning products, vitamins, and other health supplements.
Clorox's health and wellness revenue rose 14% to $2.75 billion in fiscal 2020 and accounted for 41% of its top line. Its other two businesses -- its household (bags, wraps, grilling, cat litter) and lifestyle (food, water filtration, personal care) segments -- grew at much slower rates. Its total revenue and earnings rose 8% and 16%, respectively, for the full year.
Demand for Clorox's cleaning products remained robust in the first quarter, which ended on Sept. 30. Its health and wellness revenue rose another 28% year-over-year, is total revenue grew 27%, and its earnings more than doubled. For the full year, it expects its revenue to rise 5%-9%, and for its earnings to grow 5%-8%.
Those estimates indicate Clorox's growth should remain stable even as demand for its cleaning products cools off, but the stock isn't cheap at 27 times forward earnings. However, its forward yield of 2.2% should limit Clorox's downside potential, and it could still be a good defensive stock if the current recession deepens.
Kimberly Clark's sales remained flat and its adjusted earnings only rose 4% in fiscal 2019. But in the first nine months of 2020, its sales rose 3% year-over-year (with 6% organic sales growth), and its adjusted earnings jumped 14% as shoppers stocked up on its toilet paper and other paper-based products during the pandemic.
The growth of its personal care and consumer tissue businesses, which generated 84% of its revenue in the first nine months, easily offset the pandemic-induced weakness of its KC-Professional business. For the full year, it expects its sales to rise 2%-3%, its organic sales to improve 5%, and its adjusted earnings to grow 9%-11%.
Kimberly Clark's growth will likely decelerate after the pandemic ends, but it's currently executing a restructuring plan to cut costs, divest weaker brands, and pursue new growth initiatives. That plan, which was launched in 2018, should conclude next year.
Kimberly Clark is growing slower than Clorox and its stock stayed nearly flat this year, but it only trades at 17 times forward earnings, and pays a higher forward yield of 3.1%. That low valuation and high yield make it a solid defensive stock for uncertain times -- even if panicked shoppers stop hoarding toilet paper.
Procter & Gamble
Procter & Gamble is much larger and better diversified than Clorox and Kimberly Clark. It sells a wide of range of well-known brands, including Pampers, Tide, Bounty, Charmin, Gillette, Tampax, and Crest.
Sales from all of P&G's product segments -- except grooming -- grew in fiscal 2020, which ended in June, and its total and organic sales rose 5% and 6%, respectively. Its core earnings grew 13%.
In the first quarter of 2021, P&G's net and organic sales grew 9% and its core EPS rose 19%. Sales rose across all of its business segments, led by pandemic tailwinds for the fabric & home care and healthcare segments, and the grooming business recovered with the launch of new dry shave and sensitive skin products.
For the full year, P&G expects its net sales to rise 3%-4%, its organic sales to grow 4%-5%, and its core EPS to increase 5%-8%. P&G's stock looks fundamentally similar to Clorox's at 26 times forward earnings with a forward yield of 2.3%, but it's arguably a safer investment because it owns a more diverse mix of brands. P&G's stock only advanced about 10% this year, but it should remain stable after the pandemic passes.
Think defensive for December
Investors will likely pivot away from stay-at-home growth stocks as vaccines are approved and people return to work and school. Some of that money should flow into defensive consumer staples stocks, which could be well-insulated from the pandemic's economic aftershocks.
Clorox, Kimberly Clark, and P&G all fit that description, and it could be a good idea to park some of your profits in these defensive stocks in December -- especially if you're concerned about the looming economic uncertainties on the horizon.