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5 Sin Stocks to Play Defense - views
BALTIMORE (Stockpickr) -- We've all heard that the best defense is a good offense. That Sun Tzu-esque strategy may be sage wisdom for some fields, but certainly not for investing.
As an investor, the best defense is a good defense. And the best offense is a good defense too.
That's not one of those platitudes that flows all-to-freely in the investing world. It's backed up by stock market research. According to data collected by Cambria Investment Management CIO Mebane Faber, missing the best and worst days of the year with a defensive market posture actually outperforms a buy-and-hold approach.
So today, we're going defensive with five "sin stocks."
Don't let the name fool you; sin stock companies aren't in the business of burning down old folks' homes. Instead, alcohol, tobacco, gambling, and weapons firms are all classical examples of sin stocks. So, what makes sin stocks so attractive when anxiety ratchets higher?
For starters, sin stocks tend to be businesses that provide a stress outlet for consumers. As a result, recession resistant revenues and sticky customer bases are the norm. The devil's in the details with sin stocks; because these firms generally sport wide economic moats and deeper margins than traditional consumer plays, sin stocks benefit from an extra qualitative boost that you can't find in any other group right now. That's not to say that sin stocks are recession-proof -- they're not. But they are certainly recession-resistant, which is more than an offense-centered investment strategy can offer.
Here's a look at five sin stocks that could outperform in this market.
Philip Morris International
Tobacco giant Philip Morris International (PM) is the quintessential blue chip sin stock -- with a twist. The big difference for PM is that the firm earns every dollar it makes in every currency except the dollar; it's the second-largest tobacco firm in the world, with more than 28% of the ex-U.S. global market. That lack of U.S. exposure is by design.
In 2008, Altria (MO) spun off PM, effectively taking its most attractive business and chopping it off from is U.S. operations. While the U.S. market for tobacco products is rife with regulation and demographic shifts are turning away from smoking, international tobacco sales are up -- especially in emerging markets. The firm's brands include flagship Marlboro as well as second-tier names like L&M, Parliament and Chesterfield.
Like its growth-challenged former parent, Philip Morris International pays out a hefty dividend right now: 3.7% at last count. That hefty cash chute to shareholders gives PM a decidedly defensive bent, even if it's exposed to the volatility in foreign markets. Since PM earns its money in foreign currencies and reports to shareholders in dollars, the strong dollar has been a challenge for profitability. While that's not likely to change in the immediate term, PM has shown that it can perform at a high level against a strong dollar. More important, a dollar reversal would be a huge shot in the arm for PM's earnings.
For sin stock investors, there are plenty of beer brewing stocks worth raising a glass to. But today, I'm highlighting one of the smallest: Boston Beer (SAM). Boston Beer owns just 1% of the U.S. beer market, a number that demonstrates just how concentrated beer market share is here -- that tiny share makes it the fourth-largest brewer in the country.
But while SAM lacks the scale seen at the macrobrewers, it boasts the distinction of being the biggest craft brewer. Put another way, it's the biggest name in the fastest-growing segment of the alcoholic beverage market. In addition to the firm's well-known Samuel Adams beer labels, the firm has introduced newer niche names such as Twisted Tea and Angry Orchard cider, products that have been gaining traction. SAM's tiny share of the U.S. market provides considerable room for market growth, especially as consumers continue to expect more from their beer.
An abundance of seasonal specialty beers have historically been a big sales driver for Boston Beer, since it means that buyers are likely to pick up multiple varieties from the cooler. On the financial side of things, a net cash position of $2.40 per share gives SAM plenty of wherewithal to keep spending money on breweries and distribution infrastructure.
Gaming company Wynn Resorts (WYNN) is having a strong year in 2013 shares have rallied more than 21% year-to-date, besting even the S&P 500's impressive performance. But that performance is thanks to more than just the roll of the dice; Wynn's deep economic moat makes it a best-in-breed gambling name for 2013.
Wynn operates luxury casino resorts in Las Vegas and in China. While the firm's name may be synonymous with Vegas, its profits aren't. Instead, around 70% of revenues actually come from Macau, the high-end Chinese gambling district. Macau is Wynn's crown jewel in large part because the firm is one of the few that's been granted a gaming license from the government. Wynn has two properties in Macau, with a third on the way.
The black clouds over Wynn's Vegas operations appear to be clearing too. Despite oversupply for casino resorts in the gambling haven, the fact that Wynn operates two of the newer five-star properties on the strip has helped the firm to grab onto some of the biggest VIP business as the town rebounds.
Even though most investors don't think of Boeing (BA) as a sin stock, the $77 billion aerospace giant really is -- at least in part. Because around half of Boeing's business comes from the defense sector, it meets the criteria to join the other names on this list. Besides a hefty defense portfolio, Boeing is one of the largest airliner manufacturers in the world.
The 787 Dreamliner has made things "interesting" for Boeing investors in 2013. The temporary grounding of the fleet earlier this year due to battery fires was a major concern earlier in the year, but so far the operational problems with the new airframe have been pretty standard. Small issues are common for new aircraft platforms, and as long as they don't become big problems, they're unlikely to hurt 787 orders. Less conspicuous offerings, such as the introduction of a next generation 737 with new, more efficient engines, should be huge sales drivers in 2013 as airlines continue to focus on cutting their biggest cost, fuel.
The airplane business helps take some of the weight off of Boeing's defense arm. Despite the fact that BA holds some very lucrative government contracts, the ongoing budget battle means that there's still a real risk in those revenues. In the meantime, a $392 billion backlog should keep Boeing's performance attractive in the mid-term.
Distiller Beam (BEAM) is the company behind Jim Beam and Maker's Mark bourbon, Sauza tequila, Pinnacle vodka, and Cruzan rum. If BEAM's ticker may seem newer, that's because it is. The firm went public fall 2011 as a split-off from what was then known as Fortune Brands.
Beam means bourbon. Just like Boston Beer's craft beer line has built an attractive moat around its business, Beam's small-batch bourbon unit provides exposure to a high growth niche spirit market. The combination of niche offerings and mass market labels like the eponymous Jim Beam offer investors an attractive combination. That same small-batch approach could spill over to the firm's other liquor brands in a very positive way; Beam already has a winning model to copy, after all.
The spin-off from Fortune made Beam a pure-play liquor stock, but it also saddled the firm with a hefty amount of debt, a vestige of the combined firm. Despite that challenge, Beam has established much more attractive debt targets for the future, and it has the cash flow generation to actually execute on them. Strong financial health for Beam should help emphasize the industry tailwinds pushing at its back in 2013.
To see all of these sin stock trades in action, check out The Sin Stocks 2013 Portfolio on Stockpickr.
-- Written by Jonas Elmerraji in Baltimore.
At the time of publication, author had no positions in stocks mentioned.
Jonas Elmerraji, CMT, is a senior market analyst at Agora Financial in Baltimore and a contributor to TheStreet. Before that, he managed a portfolio of stocks for an investment advisory returned 15% in 2008. He has been featured in Forbes , Investor's Business Daily, and on CNBC.com. Jonas holds a degree in financial economics from UMBC and the Chartered Market Technician designation.
Follow Jonas on Twitter @JonasElmerraji.