The next selection for the newly launched Inflation-Protected Income Growth Portfolio is shipping magnate United Parcel Service (NYSE:UPS). Well known for its iconic brown trucks and its catchy "We love logistics" commercials, UPS delivers for Amazon.com and many other online retailers.
The company has paid a stable or rising dividend every year since 2001. If you ignore the one-time dividend around the time of its 1999 IPO (that got paid in 2000), its dividend has been stable or upward-moving the entire time the company has been publicly traded.
Why it's worth owning in the iPIG Portfolio
To earn a spot in the portfolio, a company has to pass a series of tests related to its dividends, its balance sheet and valuation, and how it fits from a portfolio diversification perspective.
- Payment: The company's annual dividend currently sits at $2.28 a share, a yield of nearly 3.1% based on Wednesday's closing price.
- Growth history: The company has paid stable or higher dividends every year since 2001. While that's a bit light on the growth front, it's not bad for a company that first became available to public shareholders in 1999.
- Reason to believe the growth can continue: With a payout ratio of 64%, the company retains better than a third of its income to reinvest for future growth. Additionally, since the company's cash flow statement indicates that its earnings are covered by cold, hard cash, there's little risk that a near-term cash crunch will derail those plans.
Balance sheet and valuation:
- Balance sheet: A debt-to-equity ratio of 2.0 indicates that the company does use debt, but reasonably, and it hasn't overleveraged itself to the point where a near-term financial hiccup would derail it.
- Valuation: By a discounted cash flow analysis, the company looks to be worth around $74.9 billion, making its recent market price of $70.8 billion look reasonable. Of course, there's some risk involved. In an economic slowdown, for instance, there will likely be less demand to ship stuff around, reducing the need for UPS' services.
The previous picks for the portfolio included:
- An industrial conglomerate
- A generic-pharmaceutical powerhouse
- A provider of staple foods
- An auto parts distributor
- A safety equipment provider
- A high-tech titan
- A toy maker
- An electric utility
...making this shipping company a reasonable fit.
What are the risks?
As the company's primary operation is moving stuff around, it's also very much exposed to the price of fuel -- the more gas and diesel cost, the more UPS' margins are squeezed. UPS also fights a tooth-and-nail battle with FedEx (NYSE:FDX) to win package delivery business, and as long as the United States Postal Service delivers packages, they're in the competitive mix as well.
And while UPS is well known in the U.S., it's also up against some pretty stiff global competition in the other countries where it operates. DHL (Deutsche Post) is an incredibly formidable German competitor, for instance, and many national post offices don't look very favorably on other companies taking away profitable deliveries.
Also, shipping is generally a leading economic indicator -- as it goes, so often goes the overall economy, and economic weakness may show up in the shippers before it appears elsewhere. Still, full-service logistics firms like J.B. Hunt (NASDAQ:JBHT) and freight brokers like C.H. Robinson Worldwide (NASDAQ:CHRW) may feel a slowdown sooner, since they're more exposed to upstream shipping volumes.
What comes next?
When the Fool's disclosure policy allows, I plan to buy UPS stock for the Inflation-Protected Income Growth portfolio, as long as its share price remains below $76. I expect to invest around $1,500 in the selection, giving it a 5% allocation in the portfolio, with 55% of the portfolio still remaining cash. Watch my article feed for details of the next pick, coming soon.