LONDON -- For the last few months I've been working my way through the FTSE 100, working out which stocks I would like to buy. Here are five stocks that have caught my eye.
When I sized up fashion chain Next in early January, I liked the cut of its cloth. Profits had risen 2.3% in 2012 to 625 million pounds, a veritable triumph for a retailer these days. Management had just predicted "subdued but steady" market conditions, but that didn't trouble the market. Next's share price had just soared 50% to 39 pounds over just 12 months. Four months later, it trades at a cool 46 pounds. Over five years, it is up an incredible 269%. Its online Directory business is growing strongly, with sales up 8.9% in the first quarter, helping offset a 2% drop in retail sales, largely due to the icy spring. Next yields just 2.3%, but management recently hiked that by a progressive 17%. This stock rocked in January. If consumer confidence continues to recover, there could be more fun to come. And it's not too expensive, at 15.5 times earnings.
Aberdeen Asset Management
Few publicly quoted companies are directly underpinned by the government in the same way as fund managers, with QE and loose monetary policy turbo-charging stock market growth and company profits. It's been a bumper few years for Aberdeen Asset Management , with the share price up 236% in the last three years, against just 27% for the FTSE 100 as a whole. The success story continues, with its share price instantly rising 9% on publication of its half-year results at the end of April. Highlights included a 25% increase in revenue to 516 million pounds, 37% growth in profits before tax, and a 36% hike in the dividend to 6 pence. Aberdeen is expensive, at 19 times earnings, but I foresee further growth, at least until central bankers turn the taps off.
Back in January, international brewing giant SABMiller struck me as a premium-strength company, trading at a premium price. The global thirst for brands such as Bulmers, Coors, Foster's, Grolsch, Miller, Pilsner Urquell, and Strongbow has been a shot in the arm for the share price, with emerging-market giants putting in ever larger orders. My worry then was that the share price looked a little toppy at 20 times earnings and a yield of just 1.9%. It's even more toppy today, at nearly 26 times earnings, while the yield has sunk to 1.6% (despite a recent 12% hike in the half-year dividend). In April, full-year trading results showed reported group revenue up 10%, despite a slowdown in its largest market, Latin America, where final quarter volumes fell 1%. SABMiller is great company, with a hefty price on its head.
Multinational household goods and pharmaceutical behemoth Reckitt Benckiser is one of those companies that always looks a little expensive (Unilever is another). That's the price you pay for a solid brand, solid growth, and a solid yield. It currently trades at 17.9 and yields 2.8%, below the FTSE 100 average of 3.4%. It's a growing presence in emerging markets, where strong demand for its health and hygiene products has helped fuel double-digit quarterly growth. A strong U.S. flu season also helped. Reckitt Benckiser is a defensive stock that grew 40% over the past 12 months, against 23% for the FTSE 100. It looks like a great long-term buy-and-hold, but if you're looking for a cheap entry point, you may have to be patient.
Cambridge-based ARM Holdings combines big intellectual ideas with low costs, because it outsources the physical manufacturing of its highly prized microchips. Demand for its processors from Apple, Nintendo, Nokia, Samsung, and Sony Ericsson has made this stock a 10-bagger in the last five years, but it costs an ARM and a leg, however, trading at a whopping 72 times earnings. ARM recently posted an analyst-thrashing first-quarter update, but how long can this go on for? A fair bit longer, it seems, thanks to strong sales and fat royalties for its next-generation ARMv8, Mali, and big.LITTLE technology. This is a great British success story, but you have to be brave to buy at this valuation.