LONDON -- In the spring of 2011, I bought into Reckitt Benckiser (LSE:RB) (NASDAQOTH:RBGLY), attracted by its strong dividend history, reasonable valuation, and its then-high yield of 3.8% or so, which was comfortably ahead of the FTSE All-Share's average of 3%.
Later in the summer, I doubled my holding when the share price dipped following the news that longtime chief executive Bart Brecht was stepping down after 12 years at the helm.
Today, I'm up 45% -- and Reckitt Benckiser's shares are trading at very close to an all-time high, reached in late March. Put another way, over the past 12 months, the company's shares have risen 30%, while the FTSE 100 is up just 12%.
The investment thesis now, though, is rather different.
Today, Reckitt Benckiser's forecast yield stands at 3.1%, well below the FTSE 100's 3.6%, and the company's prospective price-earnings (P/E) ratio of around 18 makes the share rather pricier than the market average.
So is it time to sell and put the proceeds to work elsewhere, in a share that is offering a more attractive yield than the market as a whole?
Certainly, the market itself may be feeling that the company is now fully valued: Over the past month, for instance, the FTSE 100 has enjoyed a rare period of outperformance vs. Reckitt Benckiser.
And given the distinctly un-racy line of business that the company is in -- primarily cleaning products and pharmaceuticals -- it's difficult to imagine that the present rating of 18 or so is going to increase much more.
Yet -- ironically for me and many other investors -- those un-racy products are a distinct part of Reckitt Benckiser's charm, providing a strongly defensive buffer against recession and adversity.
And what products they are: 19 global "power brands" embracing the health, hygiene, and household markets and accounting for 70% of revenues. Vanish, Lysol, Finish, Brasso, Scholl, Cillit Bang, Dettol, and Woolite are household staples -- plus popular prescription and over-the-counter drugs and treatments such as Gaviscon, Strepsils, Clearasil, Veet, Nurofen, Durex, and Bonjela.
Which is why, of course, I'm in two minds about selling. Particularly after this week's strong first quarter results, which saw sales up 7% on a year ago.
Follow the money
Of course, whether those results, the current share price, and the company's present lofty valuation combine to make Reckitt Benckiser a buy or a sell is something that only you can decide.
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Malcolm Wheatley owns shares in Reckitt Benckiser, but in no other companies mentioned here. The Motley Fool recommends Reckitt Benckiser. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.