NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Greece voted 'no,' a strike against austerity measures that would have kept the country solvent. Now Greek leaders are meeting with fellow European Union members to try and prevent Greece from being forced out of the European Union.
It is still uncertain whether or not Greece will leave the European Union. Still, with debt crises in both Greece and Puerto Rico, the global financial system is becoming increasingly unstable.
To make matters worse, both the Chinese and Japanese governments are actively purchasing stocks in their countries to prop up valuations. Governments do not make these moves when economies are healthy.
Does this mean that another global financial meltdown is near? Maybe, maybe not. The Greece situation could end well if Greece and European leaders come to an agreement. The Chinese and Japanese economies could recover.
The critical takeaway is that the global economy is less stable now than it was just a year or two ago. This may amount to nothing, or it may cause serious financial consequences.
Savvy investors will add businesses to their portfolios that grow in both good and bad economic conditions. This article covers recession-resistant dividend stocks that are "Greek Proof"; they should continue to grow despite a possible global recession.
When recessions occur, consumers look for lower priced substitutes. Busy people don't always have the time or energy to cook. There is no cheaper or more convenient fast food restaurant than McDonald's (MCD) - Get Report.
McDonald's has more locations than any other restaurant in the world. In total the company has more than 36,000 locations across 125 countries. This makes McDonald's very convenient for much of the world's population. McDonald's is known for decent food served fast and cheap.
During the Great Recession of 2007 through 2009, McDonald's stock gained 55.6% while the S&P 500 fell 15.9%. You may not love their food, but investors love the company's returns during recessions.
McDonald's stock performed so well during the Great Recession because the business experienced rapid growth at a time when most other businesses were struggling just to stay profitable. The company's earnings-per-share each year through the Great Recession are shown below:
- 2007 Earnings-per-share of $2.91
- 2008 Earnings-per-share of $3.67
- 2009 Earnings-per-share of $3.98
McDonald's made double its earnings from 2004 in 2009 -- just five years later -- during the worst of the Great Recession. Its low-priced food is more appealing when money gets tight.
If the global economy avoids recession and the six-year bull market continues, McDonald's shareholders will likely still benefit. The company has paid increasing dividends for 39 consecutive years. The company has thrived regardless of the economic climate for decades.
Over the last 10 years, McDonald's has grown its dividend payments at 19.4% a year and its earnings-per-share at 10.5% a year. The stock currently has a high dividend yield of 3.6%.
Like any investment, McDonald's is not without its risks. The company has struggled in the last few years due to negative publicity and poor results in the United States and Asia. McDonald's replaced its CEO and is refocusing its marketing message to return to growth.
Because of recent struggles, shareholders can pick up McDonald's stock for a price-to-earnings ratio under 20. The company is an industry leader and has a long history of rewarding shareholders no matter the economic climate.
Wal-Mart (WMT) - Get Report is the largest discount retailer in the world by a very wide margin. Wal-Mart had sales of $485 billion over its last 12 months, more than Costco (COST) - Get Report , Target (TGT) - Get Report , Amazon (AMZN) - Get Report , Whole Foods (WFM) , and Kroger (KR) - Get Report combined.
The company is widely known for its low prices. If the global economy does falter, consumers will flock to Wal-Mart to stretch their dollars further.
The company excelled during the Great Recession of 2007 to 2009. Wal-Mart stock gained 21.6% in 2008. The S&P 500 fell by over 38% the very same year.
Like McDonald's, Wal-Mart's stock gained because it was generating record earnings-per-share during the Great Recession:
- 2007 Earnings-per-share of $3.16
- 2008 Earnings-per-share of $3.42
- 2009 Earnings-per-share of $3.66
Wal-Mart is more than a recession-resistant stock. Wal-Mart has solid long-term growth potential. The company's management is investing in several new initiatives that will drive long-term growth for shareholders.
First, the company is investing heavily in digital and e-commerce capabilities. Wal-Mart grew digital sales 17% in the company's most recent quarter. Wal-Mart already has a large digital presence; the company generated $12.2 billion in digital sales in its last full fiscal year.
Wal-Mart is not satisfied, however. The company is acquiring smaller tech firms and building an excellent team to continue driving digital growth. The company recently acquired smaller tech firms including Adchemy, Stylr, and Luvocracy to this end.
In addition to digital sales, Wal-Mart also has growth potential with its "fill-in-the-gaps" strategy. The company has largely saturated the United States market with its big-box Wal-Mart supercenters. Now the company is expanding through smaller store layouts to compete with grocery stores and corner stores.
The neighborhood market store is Wal-Mart's take on a grocery store. Wal-Mart's neighborhood market stores grew comparable store sales 7.9% in the company's latest quarter.
The stores are successful because of their focus on low prices which appeals to cost-conscious consumers. Wal-Mart is leveraging success in its neighborhood market stores by expanding store count. The company is on track to open between 180 and 200 neighborhood market stores in the U.S. in its full fiscal 2015.
In addition to neighborhood market stores, Wal-Mart is also experimenting with even smaller express stores. These express stores are only 10% as large as a Wal-Mart super center. They combine the low prices of a dollar store with the convenience and pharmaceutical access of a corner store.
Wal-Mart's investments in long-term growth have come at the expense of short-term growth. As a result, the company's stock price has suffered over the last year. The company is now trading for a price-to-earnings ratio of under 15. Wal-Mart stock appears undervalued at this time.
Over the last decade, Wal-Mart has compounded earnings-per-share at 7.5% a year. The company currently has an above average 2.7% dividend yield. Wal-Mart has appealing long-term growth prospects regardless of the economic climate. Like McDonald's, Wal-Mart's low prices are more appealing to consumers during recessions than during times of economic prosperity.
Kellogg has survived many recessions and depressions. The company was founded in Michigan in 1906 and has thrived over the last 100+ years. The company has paid steady or increasing dividends for an amazing 50 years.
The company's long history of success comes from its strong brands in a slow-changing industry. Kellogg owns many well-known food brands including Pringles, Cheez-It, and Keebler.
The company is best known for its iconic cereal brands. Kellogg's cereal brands include: Special K, Mini Wheats, Rice Krispies, Frosted Flakes, Froot Loops, and Corn Flakes.
Kellogg's strong brands helped it to grow earnings-per-share each year through the Great Recession:
- 2007 Earnings-per-share of $2.76
- 2008 Earnings-per-share of $2.99
- 2009 Earnings-per-share of $3.16
Consumers tend to either switch to cheaper restaurants (see McDonald's) or prepare more meals at home during times of economic decline. This trend helped Kellogg's to realize such strong results over the last recession.
Unfortunately for Kellogg's, the company has struggled somewhat in recent years. North American sales declined 8% versus the same quarter a year ago.
The declines are due in large part to weakness in Kellogg's cereal portfolio. The company is rectifying its cereal portfolio by focusing on health benefits. 'Gluten free', 'natural', and 'high protein' are all focuses for Kellogg now.
On the health and natural front, Kellogg owns both the Bear Naked and Kashi brands. These are two of the largest natural cereal/granola brands. Consumer tastes are trending toward health, and Kellogg is well positioned with these two brands to take advantage of this trend.
Despite weakness in its cereal portfolio, Kellogg did grow constant-currency adjusted earnings-per-share 3% in its most recent quarter versus the same quarter a year ago. The company accomplished this through strong international growth.
Kellogg's international operations saw constant currency growth across the board. Kellogg's international operations are broken down into 3 segments. Each is shown below along with constant-currency sales growth in the company's most recent quarter.
- Europe sales up 1.0%
- Latin America sales up 15.7%
- Asia Pacific sales up 4.0%
Latin American results stand out. Kellogg has 55% market share in the Latin American cereal market. The company's growth in the region is being fueled by strong cereal sales, the reverse of the trend in North America.
Kellogg's future growth will come increasingly from international sales. Simply put, the international market is much larger than the United States market - and it's less saturated. The company is seeing excellent growth in its Pringles brand as well. Pringles sales grew 10% in Europe in the company's most recent quarter.
From 2004 to 2010, Kellogg managed to grow earnings-per-share at 7.3% a year. The company's management is targeting long-term earnings-per-share growth of 7% to 9% a year.
If Kellogg is able to return its United States cereal portfolio to growth, the company should be able to hit its earnings-per-share goals.
It is likely that Kellogg is able to return its cereal portfolio to growth. Kellogg's has over a century of brand equity. Its large size gives it tremendous advertising leverage to promote its cereal brands. The company is now focusing on the health benefits of its cereals, which better lines up with consumer trends.
Kellogg currently has a 3% yield to go with its 7%+ long-term expected earnings-per-share growth rate. In total, investors should expect total returns of 10% or more a year from Kellogg.
The company is currently trading for a price-to-earnings ratio of just 16.6, using adjusted earnings. Kellogg appears to be undervalued at current prices because investors are putting too much emphasis on temporary cereal weakness.
If Kellogg returns its cereal category to growth, the company's price-to-earnings ratio will likely rise. The company's high quality brands and solid international growth prospects suggest a price-to-earnings ratio of closer to 20 is more appropriate. This is a 20% to 25% premium over the company's current price-to-earnings multiple.
Kellogg's long corporate and dividend history show that it can thrive over a variety of economic conditions. The company's recent weakness has created a good entry point for investors to pick up shares of this shareholder-friendly business. Kellogg's combination of high yield, solid growth prospects, and long dividend history make it a favorite of The 8 Rules of Dividend Investing.
If a global recession does occur, the United States will likely suffer a little less than other parts of the world. Our stock market is not propped up by government led purchases like China and Japan, and we don't have the same level of debt that is plaguing Greece, Spain, and Italy.
This works out well for Altria (MO) - Get Report. Altria sells its products exclusively in the United States. Altria is the 3rd largest publicly trades cigarette corporation based on market cap, behind only British American Tobacco (BTI) - Get Report and Philip Morris International (PM) - Get Report .
Altria owns the Marlboro, Skoal, Copenhagen, and Black & Mild tobacco brands, among others. In addition, the company owns 27% of beer giant SAB Miller (SAB) - Get Report, St. Michelle Winery, and Nu Mark e-vapor.
Altria sells highly addictive products. Cigarette smokers tend to continue smoking during recessions. Drinkers continue to drink. These are products that people have a difficult time cutting back on. In fact, many consumers smoke more and drink more when times get tough.
This makes Altria an excellent stock to hold regardless of the overall economic climate. The company recently reaffirmed its earnings-per-share growth target of 7% to 9% a year.
This target is in line with the company's recent growth. Since the Philip Morris International spin-off in 2008, Altria has grown its earnings-per-share at a compound rate of 7.5% a year.
Altria has achieved this solid growth despite maintaining a payout ratio above 75% since 2008. The company is able to grow while investing very little capital to fuel growth.
A high payout ratio means more dividends for investors. Altria currently has a dividend yield of 4.2% a year. This is more than double the S&P 500's dividend yield.
Altria's 7% to 9% target earnings-per-share growth rate combined with its big dividend yield gives investors expected total returns of 11% to 13% a year.
You may be wondering, how does Altria grow its earnings-per-share over 7% a year while reinvesting so little in its business? The answer is, Altria is growing its earnings by increasing its margins.
Altria's operating margin has risen from 26.6% (which is already very high) in 2008 to 31.9% in 2014. Altria has had no choice but to focus on improving margins. The company can't plow money into advertising to grow sales any longer due to heavy regulations. The company can't expand internationally as Philip Morris International owns the rights to its brands outside the United States. Margin expansion, share repurchases, and dividends are Altria's only tools to reward shareholders now.
Altria has managed to grow margins in two ways. First, the company has streamlined its operations. Second, Altria has systematically and continuously raised prices on its products to generate higher margins.
The Marlboro brand in particular has excellent pricing power. The Marlboro brand sells as much as the next 10 cigarette brands combined in the United States. The combination of brand recognition and nicotine addiction means consumers will pay ever higher prices for Marlboro cigarettes.
Altria is currently trading at a price-to-earnings ratio of 18.6 (using adjusted earnings). The S&P 500 is currently trading at a ratio of 20.2.
Altria has paid increasing dividends for 45 consecutive years, excluding the effects of spin-offs. The company is poised to continue growing earnings-per-share for its shareholders, while paying out a high dividend yield. Altria makes a sound investment for dividend growth investors during times of economic prosperity and decline.
Consolidated Edison is a low volatility stock. The company's long-term stock price standard deviation is just 16.7% -- one of the lowest of any stock. Low volatility is a sign of stable earnings. Low volatility stocks tend to decline less during recessions.
Consolidated Edison is the platonic ideal of a "slow and steady" stock. The company has paid increasing dividends for 41 consecutive years. Consolidated Edison has provided utility services to New Yorkers for over 180 years. The company is not going anywhere.
In Consolidated Edison's case, the price of high safety and stability is sluggish growth. The company has compounded earnings-per-share at 2.2% a year over the last decade, about in line with inflation.
On the positive side, Consolidated Edison has a high dividend yield of 4.4%. As a utility, Consolidated Edison does not have much opportunity for growth. As a result, the company pays out the bulk of its earnings to shareholders in the form of dividends. Consolidated Edison currently has a payout ratio near 70%.
Utilities tend to make good investments during recessions. Consolidated Edison operates in a highly regulated industry. Utilities have local monopolies in the area they cover. There are few investments more secure than a high quality utility.
Investors flock to safety during recessions. This trend may already be occurring. Consolidated Edison shares have gained 2.6% over the last week, while the S&P 500 is down 1.5%.
Consolidated Edison is currently trading for a price-to-earnings ratio of 15.9. The company appears fairly valued at this time. Investors looking for safety should look no further than Consolidated Edison. The company's 4.4% dividend yield will provide current income -- even if a global recession occurs.
Abbott Laboratories (ABT) - Get Report returned 19.7% from 2007 through 2009 when the S&P 500 declined 15.9%. The health care industry in general tends to do better than most other industries during recessions. Governments and consumers simply cannot cut back on health care no matter the economic environment.
Abbott Laboratories is among the highest quality health care stocks. The company manufactures and sells nutrition products, medical devices and diagnostic equipment, and pharmaceuticals. Abbott Laboratories owns the Similac, Pedialyte, and Ensure brands -- making the company No. 1 in adult nutrition globally and No. 1 in pediatric nutrition in the U.S.
Abbott Laboratories is off to an excellent start in fiscal 2015. The company saw adjusted earnings-per-share surge over 38% in its most recent quarter. The company is seeing strong top and bottom line growth from its generic pharmaceuticals division which now generates 100% of its sales in emerging markets.
Recent growth is not an anomaly for Abbott Laboratories. The company saw adjusted earnings-per-share grow over 13% in fiscal 2014 as well.
Abbott Laboratories has been growing rapidly recently to its well-thought-out growth strategy in emerging and developing markets. The company builds manufacturing facilities in emerging and developing markets where its products are sold. This reduces currency fluctuation risks and builds connections with the communities, companies, and governments the company serves.
Abbott Laboratories' emerging market penetration gives it excellent long-term growth prospects. The combination of emerging market economic growth and aging populations provide a favorable macroeconomic environment for Abbott Laboratories. The company further increased its exposure to emerging markets with its recent acquisitions of CFR Pharmaceuticals and Veropharm.
With its rapid growth, you may get the impression that Abbott Laboratories is a young company. In fact, it has a very long corporate history. Abbott Laboratories has paid increasing dividends for 44 consecutive years, making the company a Dividend Aristocrat.
Abbott Laboratories is currently trading for a price-to-earnings ratio of 21.1. The company's price-to-earnings ratio is slightly higher than the S&P 500's price-to-earnings ratio of 20.0, reflecting the company's better growth prospects. Abbott Laboratories appears fairly valued at current prices. The company's leading nutrition brands and pharmaceutical products make it likely that Abbott Laboratories will continue growing earnings-per-share, global recession or not.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held positions in the following stocks mentioned: WMT, MCD, PM, ABT.