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Seeking Stocks With the Right Stuff

By Alyce Lomax – Updated Apr 7, 2017 at 6:09PM

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Here's some do-good grist for the ethical investing mill.

This article is part of our Rising Star Portfolio series.

The real-money portfolio I'm managing for has from its inception focused on stocks that do well by doing good in various ways. Traditionally, socially responsible investing often involved screening out the most egregious "baddies," but today, it's far easier to screen in ethical, socially responsible companies that can turn good profits while returning good to the world.

One solid source of do-good stock ideas is the Ethisphere Institute's annual list of most ethical companies; the 2012 honorees were released last week. Let's take a look at some stock ideas.

Don't sacrifice growth for good
A quick glance at the list yields some familiar names. Whole Foods Market, PepsiCo, Starbucks, Costco, and Waste Management already reside in this portfolio, in fact.

Granted, Ethisphere has awarded its brownie points to a few stocks I wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole at the moment. As much as I'm trying to screen in for socially responsible factors, I'm also looking for potential growth and positive returns.

Here's an example of a stock I consider an untouchable. Best Buy's (NYSE: BBY) not only having a hard time growing recently, there's a good argument that it's actually being killed in the current economic environment. Worse, Best Buy faces myriad competitors, not least of which is (Amazon's another stock in this portfolio.) Best Buy recently jumped from its lows this year, but buyer beware.

The same goes for Safeway (NYSE: SWY), another company Ethisphere highlighted; it's simply not a contender for this portfolio. Whole Foods and Wegmans, another grocer Ethisphere lauded, pose formidable competition for a conventional and extremely mature grocer such as Safeway.

Although ethical attributes are admirable, we don't have to give up heady growth in sales and profits to have a positive portfolio.

Diversification ideas
That said, the list contains plenty of interesting possibilities that deserve further research.

Take Fluor (NYSE: FLR), which offers engineering and construction services to a wide range of industries such as oil and gas, and also offers its service to governmental bodies like the U.S. Department of Energy. Fluor now marks the sixth year Ethisphere has lauded its ethical business practices. The company's commitment to sustainability reads: "Succeed today without compromising tomorrow."

Automotive supplier Johnson Controls (NYSE: JCI) also struck me as an interesting possibility. Although it's best known for lead-acid batteries, it's also moved into solutions for green buildings and vehicles. Last year, Johnson Controls unveiled the biggest advanced energy storage research and development center in North America, and Johnson Controls was one of the first companies to adhere to the United Nations Global Reporting Initiative 10 years ago. Its headquarters also won the coveted LEED platinum rating from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Still, nobody's perfect, right? China recently accused Johnson Controls of lead poisoning that struck 49 children in Shanghai. Although Johnson Controls denies the allegations, Shanghai's environmental regulator has pointed to Johnson Controls as a major lead emitter in the region. Obviously, that situation bears watching while weighing Johnson Controls.

These days, banks and financial companies haven't gotten the best rep for their ethical behavior, but here's a U.S. bank that made the list: Old National Bank (NYSE: ONB).

In a recent interview, President and CEO Robert Jones said his bank's growth relies on sticking to its "basic strategy, which we are a basic community bank. We focus on raising deposits in our core markets and lending them in those same markets. We are not very sexy, we are not very exotic and we like the spread that comes from that strategy, so we are going to stay to that strategy that we have had for the last seven years."

Doing good, doing well, and well worth watching
I'm not nearly ready to pull the trigger on any of these ideas yet, but they're all appealing for my watchlist. In particular, these would infuse additional industry diversification, all while keeping the ethical philosophy intact in this portfolio. However, any commitment to buy will depend on competitive strength, valuation, and growth possibilities.

Do you have any thoughts on these stocks, or other favorite sustainable or ethical stock ideas? Share them in the comments box below.

Alyce Lomax owns shares of Whole Foods and Starbucks. The Motley Fool owns shares of Starbucks, Waste Management,, Best Buy, Costco, PepsiCo, and Whole Foods. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of PepsiCo, Whole Foods, Starbucks, Waste Management,, and Costco; writing a covered strangle position on Waste Management; writing covered calls on Starbucks; and creating a diagonal call position on PepsiCo. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.


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