BALTIMORE (Stockpickr) -- Want protection from downside risk in 2014? Bet on peoples' vices.
Stocks are pressing up against new highs this morning, with the S&P 500 index up more than 5.6% since the calendar flipped over to February. That's on top of the 32% total returns that the big index gave investors last year -- and the 91% cumulative returns since 2009. Put simply, this market has been an equity investor's dream for the last five years.
That's exactly why it makes sense to play a little defense in 2014.
To do that, we're turning to a new set of "sin stocks" that could crash-proof your portfolio this year. 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 businesses that qualify as sin stocks.
The important benefit to sin stocks is that they don't just protect downside. Many of them offer upside growth when markets are frothy and consumer takes move up the value chain. That's why 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.
To be fair, sin stocks won't completely crash-proof your portfolio. No stock can do that. But they do offer a very attractive mix of defense and offense right now, which is more than most investment strategies can offer in 2014.
Without further ado, here's a look at five sin stocks that could outperform in this market.
First up is aerospace giant Boeing (BA), a firm that's been on a major run in the last year. In the trailing 12 months, shares of Boeing have rallied more than 50%.
Most investors don't think of this airliner manufacturer as a sin stock, but the fact is that BA earns approximately 40% of its revenues as a defense contractor. It's that mix between commercial aircraft and critical defense projects that makes Boeing a best-in-breed sin stock for this year.
Boeing's recent gains have been driven by its commercial aviation business, propelled by new offerings such as the 787 Dreamliner and re-engined 737 that are too hard an opportunity to pass up for fuel-conscious airlines. Intermediate-term tailwinds in the airline industry should be an important driver for Boeing in the next couple years, especially as it continues to unveil its next-gen airliners. Boeing's flagship defebse projects include the replacement of the Air Force's KC-46A refueling tanker fleet, a deal that could be worth $75 billion by itself. The firm has also been retrofitting old F-16s into unmanned aerial targets for military pilots to take aim at. (Yes, it's basically getting paid to help blow up a rival defense contractor's fighter jet.)
With a backlog of $441 billion, Boeing has approximately five years of sales in the pipeline. That's a number that should give investors a lot of comfort over this stock's ability to earn big revenues for years to come.
On the other side of the sin stock spectrum is Wynn Resorts (WYNN), a firm that exists to help its guests unwind. Wynn operates luxury casino resorts in Las Vegas and in China. While the Wynn name may be synonymous with Vegas, the firm's profits aren't. Instead, around 70% of revenues actually come from Macau, the high-end Chinese gambling district.
Macau continues to be a cash cow for WYNN. Better, it's got a huge economic moat with the highly regulated gambling licenses in the district: Only six companies in all of China are licensed to operate casinos in the People's Republic, and Wynn is one of them. With a decidedly upscale positioning in the gaming market, Wynn has been hugely successful at attracting high roller gamblers through its doors, and a new resort on the Cotai Strip should drive even more growth from Asia.
At the same time, Las Vegas is seeing a resurgence itself. Wynn's megaresorts in Sin City are among the newest, most luxurious properties on the Vegas Strip, and that's helped it bounce back harder than most as consumers look for the biggest and best experiences in town. Qualitative factors aside, Wynn sports net margins near 20% and a balance sheet with just $4 billion in net debt right now, a level that's easily paid down with the firm's current earnings power. Investors who've shied away from the speculative nature of casino operators in recent years might want to reconsider buying WYNN.
Alcoholic beverage company Constellation Brands (STZ) is the bargain bin operator in a very hot industry right now. Constellation may not be the biggest name in the business, but it just might be the most diversified -- the firm owns a powerful collection of labels, ranging from Arbor Mist and Robert Mondavi wine to Corona beer, Svedka vodka and Cook's champagne.
Last year, Constellation acquired Crown Imports at a bargain price in order for its former parent to get the nod on a merger deal. The arrangement was a big coup for Constellation, which now lays claim to the Corona brand in the U.S. After the Crown Imports acquisition, Constellation controls six of the country's top 20 import beer labels. Wine and spirits are another crucial corner of Constellation's business. Spirits in particular offer some big growth opportunities right now, especially as the "small-batch" movement continues to heat up in popularity. That's an untapped growth opportunity for STZ in the years ahead.
As I already mentioned, Constellation is, by far, the bargain in the alcoholic beverage business: The firm trades for around half the earnings multiple seen at bigger peers. And while some of that discount comes from the lack of a dividend payout and bigger balance sheet leverage, it's still overblown -- especially given the fat margins this firm continues to churn out.
As STZ pays down debt and unlocks all the potential of the Crown Imports deal, investors should get rewarded in 2014.
As far as pure-play beer stocks go, it's hard to beat Boston Beer (SAM). Boston Beer is the biggest of the country's craft breweries, operating in a segment which has seen the biggest growth in the entire alcoholic beverage industry for the last several years. That's a big part of the 53% rally that this stock has enjoyed over the last year.
Boston Beer Company may own only 1% of the U.S. beer market, but that tiny share is a good indicator of how much open runway this stock has ahead of it. In the last couple of decades, the firm's Samuel Adams label has grown from a regional favorite to a national staple -- and that growth is turning exponential. Newer brands such as Twisted Tea and Angry Orchard cider are another important growth driver for SAM in 2014; both new labels have been instant hits with consumers.
There's a lot to like about Boston Beer financially too. The firm operates a balance sheet that's effectively debt-free, an impressive feat given the capacity growth the firm has had to invest in over the last few years.
Make no mistake, SAM isn't a cheap alcoholic beverage name (for that, look back at STZ), but the momentum is undeniable in this sin stock right now.
Last up on our list of sin stocks is Altria Group (MO), a firm that probably fits the sin stock mold the best. Altria is the biggest tobacco stock in the U.S., led by its hugely popular Marlboro brand. But Altria dabbles in other complementary businesses too, including cigars and smokeless tobacco, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates and a massive 27% stake in brewer SABMiller (SBMRY).
There's no growth story at Altria. In fact, this business is dying a slow death as smoking rates for U.S. consumers gradually decrease. Because the firm spun off its international business as Phillip Morris International (PM) long ago, any exciting growth opportunities abroad are out the window. But the key word is that demand is dying slowly; cigarette volumes should only see slips in the mid-single digits for the next few years.
So in the meantime, Altria will continue to pay out massive free cash flows and massive dividends. As I write, the firm's annual payout adds up to a whopping 5.14% yield.
At the same time, the firm is making moves to slow its growth beyond big stakes in alcoholic beverage stocks. Last month, the firm announced a national launch for its MarkTen e-cigarette, a corner of the tobacco market that's been seeing considerably popularity in the last few years. As less harmful e-cigs gain in popularity, MO stands a solid chance of keeping its gravy train rolling a lot longer -- and that means more huge dividend payouts for anyone who owns the stock.
To see all of these sin stock trades in action, check out The Sin Stocks 2014 Portfolio on Stockpickr.
-- Written by Jonas Elmerraji in Baltimore.