BOSTON (TheStreet) -- You can't underestimate lazy people's desire to take more of the "work" out of living.Products such as $450 self-directed vacuum cleaners and $35 electric-powered jar openers are truly for the slothful among us. But the makers of such devices are on a list of companies that have bright futures as long as the economy continues to recover and consumers loosen the purse strings. Their decision to spend defines the sector -- consumer discretionary. Essentially, you don't need those products to live. It's a broad group that includes everything from car companies to restaurants and retailers. That stock-market sector had a great run in 2010, returning 27%, including 13% in the fourth quarter, Morningstar said. The broader S&P 500 Index returned 15%. A bet on consumer-discretionary stocks now is essentially a bet the economy will continue to recover this year. If that's the case, it's almost certain there's pent-up demand for consumer goods and services that make life easier. But over the past few weeks, that thesis may have been threatened. Consumer confidence slid in December after reaching a three-year high in November, as more people rated current economic conditions and the state of their personal finances as poor, according to Discover U.S. Spending Monitor. Morningstar analyst Peter Wahlstrom writes that "while pockets of softness still exist, we expect another year of mid-single-digit (earnings) growth among consumer cyclical firms in 2011 as the U.S. economy continues its slow recovery." The five companies cited on the following pages have good ratings from analysts. Several are diverse, and the performance of any one product isn't likely to influence the company's overall performance.
La-Z-Boy ( LZB) is the maker of the recliner that's the throne of the average American male. It also makes and sells sofas, couches and other forms of living-room furniture at its plant in Michigan. La-Z-Boy is one of the most recognized brands in the furniture industry, and has a loyal and aging following that will seek to replace La-Z-Boy chairs and couches on a regular basis. It has also increased sales to health-care centers and assisted-living centers. The company owns 68 La-Z-Boy Furniture Galleries stores as well. Earnings at the small ($465 market capitalization) company are cyclical, along with others in the furniture industry. Its results are tied closely to the economy and home sales. Analysts estimate the company will post earnings of 33 cents per share in 2011 and that will grow by 124% in 2012 to 74 cents per share. Shares are more up-and-down than its recliners, falling 71% in 2008, gaining 339% in 2009, then losing 5% in 2010. Analysts give its shares two "buy" and four "hold" ratings, according to Standard & Poor's. Franklin Advisers funds own 7% of La-Z-Boy.
Stanley Black & Decker ( SWK) makes a line of leaf blowers (replacing the rake and broom), and "Lids Off," a $30 electronic device that opens jars (replacing husbands). These leaders of the U.S. tool-making industry, struggling with competition from tool makers from Asia, are seeking rejuvenation via the $4.5 billion merger of Stanley Tools and Black & Decker early last year. The new company is a diversified seller of hand and power tools, electronic security systems and consumer electronics used by professionals as well as do-it-yourselfers. It's also heading in a new direction with the initiation of Stanley Healthcare Solutions, a maker of mobile health-office workstations. For fiscal 2010, analysts estimate earnings of $3.70 per share and growth of 27% in 2011 to $4.70. Stanley shares returned 55% in 2009 and 32% in 2010. Fidelity had an 8% stake, the largest of any investor, as of Sept. 30, followed by Wellington Management, at 5.6%. Analysts give it mostly positive ratings, including four "buy" ratings, three "outperform" rankings and three "hold" ratings, according to FactSet.