Morningstar's Goldsborough: Consumer Staples Represent a Contrarian Play

Friday, 21 Feb 2014 11:38 AM

By Michael Kling

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With healthy dividends, high-quality stocks and reasonable valuations, the consumer staples sector offers a contrarian play, according to Morningstar analyst Robert Goldsborough.

The sector features a price-to-fair-value ratio of 0.97, one of the lowest of any sector, Goldsborough writes. The S&P 500 index has a price/fair value of 1.03.

Editor’s Note: These 38 Dates Are Key to Bagging $313,038

Slowing consumer spending in emerging markets, rising interest rates and volatility in foreign currencies have hurt the sector. The good news is that the bad news is already priced in, leaving opportunities for contrarian investors, Goldsborough asserts.

He sees several upsides for the sector.

"Consumer spending in emerging markets could rebound after its recent period of weakness. And we believe investors have a certain amount of downside protection, given the inherent quality bias in consumer staples companies and their strong dividends," he said, noting the broad consumer staple ETFs offer dividend yields of 2.4 percent to 2.8 percent, versus the S&P 500's 2.3 percent.

The sector should perform well in this stage of the business cycle. It's one of the few areas that do well in both late-cycle expansions and recessions.

The analyst cites the Consumer Staples Select Sector ETF (XLP). The fund has been less volatile than the overall market since it holds Wal-Mart and other usually stable, large retailers and lacks more volatile auto-related stocks.

Procter & Gamble, the ETF's largest holding at 13.5 percent of assets, has had problems, including an overly aggressive expansion into emerging markets. However, Morningstar is more optimistic about the firm, saying the company is now concentrating on its largest developing markets.

The Vanguard Staples ETF, with just 40 stocks, is less liquid but offers a low expense ratio. The iShares US Consumer Goods is similar but lacks major retailers and holds some auto manufacturers and apparel companies.

David Fabian, managing partner at FMD Capital Management, notes that Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola and Philip Morris make up over 31 percent of XLP's holdings. All three have had troubles during the last six months, he writes for Nasdaq.

"If you have been holding this ETF or similar consumer staples stocks for a long period of time and expect this is just a short-term blip then you should continue to hold the position," Fabian advises. "On the other hand, if you have been unimpressed with the recent results and are considering making a switch you may be better off choosing a different fund to rotate into."

The First Trust Consumer Staples AlphaDEX Fund has outperformed the market in the past five years.

Editor’s Note: These 38 Dates Are Key to Bagging $313,038


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