The best way to make money over the long haul is to buy the stocks of companies tapped into unstoppable global trends. The generation of trash around the world has achieved a frightening momentum with no signs of abating.
Waste Management is the world's largest solid waste collection and disposal company. The company also treats and disposes of hazardous and medical waste, as well as operating waste-to-energy and landfill gas-to-energy facilities.
Waste Management is scheduled to report fourth-quarter 2015 operating results before the opening bell on Feb 18. If recent history is a guide, the company should continue to generate strong results for investors. Waste Management is among a group of tech-intensive stocks poised to beat the bear this year.
The company's $24.4 billion market cap is the industry's largest, and Waste Management boasts an impressive earnings history.
Waste Management has exceeded the consensus earnings estimate three times in the trailing four quarters for a positive average earnings surprise of 4.74%. The question is whether company will beat expectations again this week?
The consensus earnings per share (EPS) forecast for the fourth quarter is $0.68. The reported EPS for the same quarter last year was $0.67. The global firm has been boosting margins through a multi-year, cost-cutting campaign. In addition to selling off unproductive non-core operations, the company has been imposing a fee on the recycling of glass, an activity that's expected to grow in future quarters.
The company also has a reliable track record of returning cash to shareholders, through robust and growing dividends as well as stock buybacks. In December, management announced a 6.5% increase in the planned quarterly dividend rate, from $0.385 to $0.41 a share. On an annual basis, the per-share dividend increases from $1.54 to $1.64, marking the thirteenth consecutive year that the company has increased its quarterly dividend. Management also unveiled a plan to repurchase $1 billion of the company's common stock.
Headwinds for Waste Management include plunging energy prices, as the cost of producing "virgin" oil-based materials becomes lower and the economic rationale for recycling becomes less tenable. Tailwinds include the ever-growing mounds of refuse that the world is struggling to dispose of and recycle.
American households, stores, restaurants and other businesses generate about 251 million tons of solid waste every year, according to the most recent statistics available from the U.S. Environmental Agency (EPA).WM data by YCharts
Every year since 1960, Americans have generated more solid waste than the year before. The amount of trash the country produces has tripled since 1960, while the U.S. population has increased only about 90%. The U.S. disposes enough trash every day to fill 50,000 garbage trucks with 18,000 pounds of trash in each.
The search for new methods of disposal is becoming more frantic among federal, state and municipal leaders in the U.S. The problem perplexes global leaders as well. The United Nations estimates that almost 27 billion tons of waste will be generated worldwide by 2050 as a consequence of population growth and rapid urbanization.
Meanwhile, new regulations from global organizations designed to boost environmentally friendly technologies are a boon for transnational players such as Waste Management.
Larger than its competitors Republic Services (RSG - Get Report) (market cap: $15.46 billion) and Casella Waste Systems (CWST - Get Report) ($233.51 million), Waste Management has stronger financial wherewithal to withstand the global economic and financial turmoil that's likely ahead in 2016.
Waste Management's stock now trades at a trailing 12-month (TTM) price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of 23.38, roughly in line with the TTM P/E of 21.07 for Republic Services and 21.64 for the industry, but well below that of Casella Waste Systems at 62.07.
With the stock now trading at about $54, the median analyst consensus for a one-year price target is $58.86, for a gain of nearly 9%. On the high end, the one-year target is $62, for a gain of nearly 15%. Meanwhile, many analysts are now calling for a full-fledged bear market in 2016, making Waste Management a sensible "defensive growth" play.
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