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2014 Brings New Opportunities, Regardless Of Market Valuation

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My biggest pet peeve regarding common stock investing is how so many people have a tendency to over-generalize this asset class.  Commonly held beliefs such as investing in stocks is risky, or that the stock market is overvalued, or that the fed is driving stock prices, etc., are just a few examples illustrating my point.  In truth, common stocks are as individually different as people are individually different.  When dealing with human beings, most reasonable thinking people would reject prejudicial statements.  Personally, I believe we should have the same attitude about common stocks.

Instead of attempting to put them all in the same basket, I believe it is more rational and prudent to judge each common stock based on its own merits and attributes.  This is why I continuously point out that it is a market of stocks and not a stock market.  All stocks are not the same, therefore, they should not all be painted with the same broad brush.  Consistent with this notion is that it also logically follows that not all investors are the same.  Consequently, with these thoughts in mind, different strokes (stocks) for different folks (different goals, objectives and risk tolerances) is the more appropriate stance.

Moreover, my view of stocks as an asset class which is comprised of a very diverse group of investments persuades my belief that it’s a mistake to try to time the market.

My message is simple, quit worrying about the stock market and the macro, and instead focus on specific individual common stock investments that are capable of meeting your unique and personal goals and objectives.

As I have often previously stated, my personal experience spanning more than four decades of investing has convinced me that good common stock investments are available in all general market environments.  In other words, whether we are in a bear market or a bull market, good long-term common stock investments can be found.  Consequently, it has never made sense to me to avoid a good investment based on pre-judgments or biases about what the overall market may or may not do or did.

As an investor, I look for investments that meet my needs and requirements where and when I can find them.  Therefore, when I see an attractive candidate, I research it as thoroughly as I can and then invest with confidence and conviction.  But perhaps most importantly, I do this without worrying about things that I cannot control or evaluate.  More simply stated, I like facts over opinions.

2013 is Over – 2014 Brings New Opportunities

In the general sense, 2013 was a very profitable year for common stock investors.  One insidious aspect of the generally strong performance of the stock market is how it has led many to believe that stocks have therefore become overvalued.  However, and in truth, there are many stocks that have become overvalued as a result of such strong 2013 performance, but not all stocks.  Admittedly, it is harder to find good stocks that are fairly valued, or better yet, undervalued after such a strong year than it was, for example, in the spring of 2009.  However, I have found what I believe to be numerous candidates of attractively valued common stocks that I also feel are capable of meeting the unique goals and objectives of different types of investors.

This series of articles is offered to reveal just a small sampling of many currently attractive looking common stock investments that my early 2014 research has uncovered.  Each subsequent article will focus on a specific type of common stock, with my ultimate goal of providing common stock research ideas that offer something for everyone.  My primary categories will include stocks for growth, stocks for growth and income, stocks for dividend growth, stocks for current dividend income and semi-cyclical growth and income.  Moreover, each primary category will include subcategories for aggressive, moderate and conservative investors.

Selection Criteria

The primary focus of the selection criteria for this series of articles is valuation.  After such a strong year in the general stock markets, I have become concerned that many people believe that all stocks have become overvalued.  Consequently, I embarked upon a quest to identify as many fairly valued or undervalued companies as I could find.  Therefore, this series of articles will present numerous common stocks of various categories that I believe represent attractively valued candidates worthy of researching deeper in today’s market environment.

However, this series will not include all companies which I identified as fairly valued today.  Additionally, my search placed a premium on consistency and quality.  Therefore, I will only offer those candidates that I believed possess reasonably consistent historical records of earnings growth and/or dividend growth.  In other words, the more consistently each selection was able to grow their business, the better I liked it.  On the other hand, since perfect operating results are rare to nonexistent, I did accept the occasional down or flat year.  Although some may disagree, I place a high value on a solid operating track record and consider it the first step towards giving me confidence that operating excellence may persist going forward.  In simpler terms, I would rather spend my time digging deeper into a proven company over a potential turnaround.

Moreover, since the underlying theme of this series of articles is “something for everyone,” I was not rigid with specific earnings growth rates or dividend yields.  On the other hand, and in the more general sense, I did strive to only offer companies with histories of producing above-average numbers.  Consequently, these attributes vary according to the type of company I will be covering in each specific forthcoming article.

For example, my pure growth stock selections will only include companies with histories of earnings growth greater than 15% per annum, but more importantly, those that are expected to continue growing earnings at rates of 15% a year or better, or at least close to it.  To be even clearer, the growth stock selections did not have to be expected to continue growing at historic rates, but future growth rate estimates had to meet or be near the 15% or better hurdle.  But most importantly, the current P/E ratios had to be aligned with the estimated future growth rate to be included.

Regarding dividend paying stocks, they will be categorized according to the appropriate total return potential within their respective grouping.  Therefore, certain subcategories will focus more on dividend growth while other categories more on capital appreciation.  Therefore, it will be up to each reader to pick and choose those specific candidates that meet their own goals and objectives.  Once again, the underlying idea is to offer something for everyone.  Within each article I will clearly articulate the goals and objectives that I believe each candidate possesses in order to make the process more efficient for the reader.

Sneak Preview

Since a picture is worth 1000 words, what follows is a sneak preview example of the type of company that readers can expect to see in each subsequent article in this series.  Additionally, each article will include several subcategories based on cap size, time in existence, and other fundamental metrics.

Stocks for 2014: Growth Part 2

In part 2 of this series of fairly valued stocks for 2014 I will review companies with significantly above-average historical and forecast earnings growth rates.  Although valuation is important with this category, above-average growth stocks will generally command higher P/E ratios than the average company.

To qualify under my definition of a growth stock, each candidate must possess historical earnings growth in excess of 15% per annum and be expected to continue growing earnings at approximately 15% or better.  Dividends paid, if any, will only be a secondary consideration with this category.  Fair value for this category will be based on the P/E = growth rate formula for valuation.

This category is offered to investors interested in above-average long-term capital appreciation with the willingness to assume the associated risks of investing in this equity class.  The following two growth stocks are offered as a sneak preview example of the types of companies this article will review.

Catamaran Corp (CTRX)

Catamaran Corporation provides pharmacy benefit management (PBM) services and healthcare information technology (HCIT) solutions to the healthcare benefit management industry. The company conducts business in both the United States and Canada.

Since going public in 2006, Catamaran Corp has grown earnings at the explosive rate of just under 40% per annum.  In spite of recent strong earnings performance, Catamaran’s stock price was weak in 2013 relative to its high earnings growth rate.  Although future earnings growth is expected to be lower than Catamaran’s historical rate, future growth is forecast to be higher than its current P/E ratio indicating fair value.

Clearly strong operating performance generates returns significantly greater than the average company.  This provides undeniable evidence that the stock market has little or nothing to do with the performance results of individual companies.

Chicago Bridge & Iron Company (CBI)

Chicago Bridge & Iron Company provides integrated engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) services. The company also licenses major process technology to customers primarily in the energy, petrochemical, and natural resource industries.  This company is a Warren Buffett holding that has produced significant long-term earnings growth in spite of temporary earnings stress during the Great Recession.  Nevertheless, earnings recovered at a very high rate post recession, and stock price followed.

Once again we see returns that are significantly greater than the market in general.  The operating performance of the individual company is considerably more relevant than the stock market in the general sense.

Stocks for 2014: Growth and Income Part 3

In part 3 Growth and Income I will focus on companies providing the opportunity for both above-average capital appreciation, but with a growing dividend component.  Although all stocks in this category will be dividend growth stocks, my primary focus is for those investors seeking an above-average total return from the combination of capital appreciation and dividend growth.  Therefore, names found in this category may not be as appropriate for investors looking to dividends for current income, as they will be more appropriate for those investors desirous of creating wealth with less risk found with non-dividend paying pure growth stocks.

Aflac Inc (AFL)

Aflac Incorporated, through its subsidiary, American Family Life Assurance Company of Columbus, markets and administers supplemental health and life insurance. The company also offers voluntary insurance policies that provide a layer of financial protection against income and asset loss. It conducts insurance business in various 50 states, the District of Columbia, various United States (U.S.) territories, and Japan.

In spite of strong price performance over the past two years, to include Aflac’s price trading near a 52-week high, the stock remains undervalued with a P/E ratio just above 10.  Consequently, I believe Aflac represents a high-quality opportunity for above-average capital appreciation and above-average dividend growth.

In spite of low valuation over the past several years, Aflac’s strong earnings growth and dividend growth have rewarded shareholders with above-average results.

Qualcomm Inc (QCOM)

Qualcomm Incorporated designs, develops, manufactures, and markets digital communications products and services.  The company develops and commercializes a digital communication technology called CDMA (code division multiple access). It owns significant intellectual property applicable to products that implement any version of CDMA, including patents, patent applications, and trade secrets. It also develops and commercializes OFDMA (orthogonal frequency division multiple access)-based technologies for which it owns substantial intellectual property.

Qualcomm appears to represent an opportunity for investors to achieve above-average total returns from the combination of above-average capital appreciation and future dividend growth.  Moreover, today’s valuation appears reasonable given the company’s prospects for future growth.

In spite of less than typical low current valuation, long-term shareholders in Qualcomm Inc have been rewarded with above-average total returns.  Both capital appreciation and total cumulative dividends have almost been double the returns from the S&P 500.

Stocks for 2014: Dividend Growth Part 4

Although this category will review companies with very similar characteristics to what will be reviewed in part 3, here the focus will be more on current yield, and to a lesser extent, capital appreciation.  Therefore, this category is offered to investors requiring a higher current yield while still being provided with the opportunity for attractive capital appreciation.

Chevron Corp (CVX)

Chevron Corporation, through its subsidiaries, engages in integrated petroleum, chemicals, mining, power generation, and energy services operations.  One sector that is comprised of several blue-chip dividend standouts that the market has historically undervalued is oil and gas.  Chevron represents one example that can be purchased at a below-market P/E ratio with an above-average yield while simultaneously offering growth in both categories that is significantly higher than the average company.

Although capital appreciation from Chevron Corp has been superior to the S&P 500, the focal point here should be on total dividends paid.  In other words, big oil companies like Chevron Corp have historically generated significantly more total income than the average company.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT)

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. operates retail stores in various formats worldwide. The company operates through three segments, including Wal-Mart U.S.; Wal-Mart International; and Sam’s Club.  After many years when Wal-Mart’s stock price was overvalued causing poor shareholder returns, the company’s stock price came into fair value in 2006.  Since that time stock price and dividends have both correlated to and been reflective of the company’s consistent operating excellence.

When Wal-Mart can be purchased at a reasonable valuation like it can today, shareholders could rationally expect attractive long-term performance.  Wal-Mart’s long history of consistent earnings and dividend growth provide an unparalleled track record among its peers.

Stocks for 2014: Current Dividend Income Part 5

The primary focus of this category will be on above-average yield available from equities.  Although dividend growth will be a secondary consideration to current yield, investors seeking yield will find opportunities for moderate capital appreciation with some of these candidates.

Kinder Morgan Energy Partners (KMP)

Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, L.P. operates as a pipeline transportation and energy storage company in North America. Kinder Morgan G.P., Inc. (KMI) serves as a general partner of the company.  The company’s pipelines transport natural gas, refined petroleum products, crude oil, carbon dioxide (CO2) and other products, and its terminals store petroleum products and chemicals, as well as handle such products as ethanol, coal, petroleum coke, and steel. The company also produces and transports CO2 for enhanced oil recovery projects in North America.

Although MLPs like Kinder Morgan Energy Partners may be moderately problematic investments for qualified retirement accounts, it’s hard to overlook the high yield and above-average long-term growth rates.  Consequently, I believe that MLPs and REITs provide opportunities for those investors seeking high current yield.  However, I feel it’s especially important to focus on fair valuation due to the technically higher risks these types of equities may possess.

The most salient feature of Kinder Morgan’s long-term historical performance is its substantial dividend income stream.  On the other hand, capital appreciation has also been significantly superior to the average company.

Altria Group Inc (MO)

Altria Group, Inc., through its subsidiaries, engages in the manufacture and sale of cigarettes, smokeless products, and wine in the United States and internationally.  Although I am not enamored with Altria’s business, it is hard to argue with its long-term superior performance.  The following graph only reviews Altria Group since the company spun-off several divisions.

Altria provides high current yield and superior total cumulative dividends paid.  Furthermore, capital appreciation has also exceeded the S&P 500.

Stocks for 2014: Semi-cyclical Growth and Income Part 6

This category will cover companies with moderate and occasional cyclicality with their earnings records.  However, I have placed a premium on consistent dividend growth in spite of the occasional earnings cycles.   In other words, to be included in this category, semi-cyclical companies have to have produced consistent records of dividend payments and/or growth.

Deere & Company (NYSE:DE)

Deere & Company manufactures construction equipment and forestry equipment worldwide. The company’s operations are categorized into three segments: Agriculture and Turf, Construction and Forestry, and Financial Services.  Notwithstanding the semi-cyclical nature of Deer & Co’s earnings history, the company’s dividend record has been consistent.  Moreover, history supports the argument that the best time to invest in semi-cyclicals is when investor sentiment is poor, as it is now.

Although long-term investors need to be prepared for the occasional cyclical nature of Deere’s business and the accompanying price volatility, long-term results have been worth the stress.  In the long-run, both capital appreciation and total dividends paid have greatly exceeded the average company.

Overvalued Common Stock Examples

I feel that one of the best ways to illustrate the principle that it is a market of stocks and not a stock market is by contrast.  Yes, the market has had a great run since the spring of 2009.  And yes, there are many stocks that have become overvalued as a result, but not all stocks, as the examples above illustrate.  Nevertheless, I offer the following examples of two of my favorite companies on the planet that alas I consider have moved into dangerous overvaluation territory.

One of the most insidious aspects of dangerous overvaluation is how it can lure people into a false sense of overconfidence.  Typically it is momentum that takes a stock from fairly valued into overvalued territory.  Attracted by great short-term performance, more and more investors will pile in which further drives the stock upward.  However, it has been my experience that once price gets too far above a level that its fundamentals support, the risk of owning it becomes great.  At some point, the music will stop, and when it does, price normally comes tumbling down.  Moreover, this usually happens without warning and when overconfidence is at its highest level.

Nike Inc (NYSE:NKE)

Nike, Inc. engages in the design, development, and marketing of footwear, apparel, equipment, accessories, and services for men, women, and kids worldwide.  Nike is clearly a company that has produced strong and consistent long-term earnings and dividend growth.  However, considering that this fiscal year’s earnings are expected to be down, I find it hard to reconcile its recent price performance.

Illinois Tool Works Inc. (NYSE:ITW)

Illinois Tool Works Inc engages in manufacturing a range of industrial products and equipment. The company has operations in 58 countries.  Illinois Tool Works is a company that I have owned for a long time.  In spite of the occasional cyclicality, I consider this an extremely high-quality company with a solid long-term dividend record.  Mr. Market seems to agree with me, considering that it has routinely applied a quality premium to its share price.  However, current price has not only exceeded what I consider to be its earnings justified fundamental value, but it has also exceeded its typical historical premium valuation.

Summary and Conclusions

The primary thesis of this series of articles is to illustrate that attractive common stocks of all categories are available, even though the market has had a strong run over the past 5 years.  However, it’s important to point out that I will be presenting a prescreened list of companies that appear attractive based on valuation and growth potential.  On the other hand, this does not imply that every candidate that will be presented will be a good long or short-term investment.

Consequently, it is imperative that any and all of these candidates be carefully and thoroughly researched prior to investment.  The primary objective of this effort should be to validate the future earnings prospects of each company.  I take this position based on many years of experience that support the principle that in the long run, fundamentals matter more than short-term price volatility.  In other words, if you can find a great business that is on sale because of emotional bias or opinion, where the underlying fundamentals are healthy and strong, in the long run price will move into alignment.  More simply stated, I trust fundamentals over short run price movements.  I look forward to publishing this series and I am hopeful that the reader will tune in.

Disclosure:  Long AFL, ITW, DE, CVX, WMT and MO at the time of writing.

Disclaimer: The opinions in this document are for informational and educational purposes only and should not be construed as a recommendation to buy or sell the stocks mentioned or to solicit transactions or clients. Past performance of the companies discussed may not continue and the companies may not achieve the earnings growth as predicted. The information in this document is believed to be accurate, but under no circumstances should a person act upon the information contained within. We do not recommend that anyone act upon any investment information without first consulting an investment advisor as to the suitability of such investments for his specific situation.

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