Last month, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell announced the unanimous decision by the FOMC to raise key interest rates by another 25 bps. With this move, the central bank has raised the benchmark borrowing cost to 5.25%-5.50.
With a 2.6% rise in inflation, down from a 4.1% rise in Q1 and well below the estimate for a gain of 3.2%, and an annualized increase of 2.4% in the gross domestic product in the second quarter, topping the 2% estimate, the belief that Jerome Powell and his team at the Federal Reserve may be on the cusp of achieving the elusive “soft landing” was gaining strength in the market.
However, ECB raised interest rates by a quarter percentage point shortly after, citing persistent inflation. Moreover, the recently released minutes of the Fed’s July 25-26 policy meeting reveal broad expectations of ‘upside risks’ to inflation, leading to a fresh realization that rates could stay higher for longer, contrary to some initial forecasts and hopes of cuts starting in 2024.
In such a scenario, despite increased optimism, businesses are expected to remain weighed down by high borrowing costs, and economic activity is expected to remain stifled due to relatively scarce credit.
Moreover, with every increase in benchmark interest rates, a selloff of long-duration fixed-income instruments, such as the 10-year treasury notes, gets triggered, which causes a slump in their market value and a consequent increase in their yields. This also increases the benchmark 30-year mortgage rates, thereby depressing demand and deepening the crisis in which real estate has lately been finding itself.
Last week, as the 10-year Treasury yield rose to 4.307% from 4.258%, settling at its highest closing level since 2007, and the 30-year Treasury yield hit a 12-year high, rising to 4.411%, there is still a significant probability that in order to overcompensate for the infamous “transitory” call that caused the Fed to arrive (really) late in its fight against demand-driven inflation, the central bank may be sowing the seeds of economic stagflation.
An increase in borrowing costs would not just raise the cost of servicing the $32.7 trillion national debt; significant markdowns and prices of legacy bonds could crush the loan portfolios of banks that could share the same fate as the Silicon Valley Bank and the First Republic Bank. In this context, S&P's move to downgrade multiple U.S. banks citing ‘tough’ operating conditions hardly comes as a surprise.
Speaking of banks, the Bank of Japan’s policy tweak loosened its yield curve control, sparking widespread shock in the markets. To compound the miseries further, after placing the country on negative watch amid the debt-ceiling standoff at Capitol Hill back in May, Fitch Ratings recently downgraded U.S. long-term rating to AA+ from AAA, citing the erosion of confidence in fiscal management.
With HSBC Asset Management’s warning that a U.S. recession is coming this year, with Europe to follow in 2024, gaining credibility with each passing day, being diligent investors confident enough to increase their stakes in fundamentally strong businesses could be a time-tested method to navigate potential turbulence ahead.
Here are a few stocks which could be worthy of consideration:
JNJ has been around for 135 years and is a worldwide researcher, developer, manufacturer, and seller of various healthcare products. The company operates through three segments: Consumer Health; Pharmaceuticals; and MedTech.
Over the past three years, which have been turbulent, to say the least, JNJ’s revenue has grown at a 6.7% CAGR. During the same period, the company also registered EBITDA and total asset growth of 8.2% and 6.6%, respectively.
Despite flagging sales of Covid 19 Vaccines, JNJ’s reported sales during the fiscal year 2023 second quarter increased by 6.3% year-over-year to $25.53 billion. During the same period, the company’s adjusted net earnings increased by 6.5% and 8.1% year-over-year to $7.36 billion and $2.80 per share, respectively.
In addition to its robust financials, the relative immunity of its demand and margins to potential economic downturns make it an attractive investment option for solid risk-adjusted returns.
MRK is a global healthcare company offering prescription medicines, vaccines, biological therapies, and animal health products. The company operates through Pharmaceuticals and Animal Health segments.
Over the past three years, MRK’s revenue has grown at a 9.9% CAGR, while its total assets have grown at a 4.9% CAGR.
On August 3, MRK announced that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved an expanded indication for ERVEBO, which is now indicated for the prevention of disease caused by Zaire ebolavirus in individuals 12 months of age and older. The vaccine was previously approved for use in individuals of age 18 years and older.
On July 25, MRK announced a quarterly dividend of $0.73 per share of the company’s common stock for the fourth quarter of 2023. Payment will be made on October 6, 2023, to shareholders of record at the close of business on September 15, 2023.
MRK pays $2.92 annually as dividends. Its 4-year average dividend yield of 2.96% exceeds the industry average of 1.32%. The company has increased its dividend payouts over the past 12 years and at a 9.6% CAGR over the past five years.
During the second quarter of the fiscal year 2023, MRK’s revenue increased by 3% year-over-year to $15.04 billion. Excluding the $10.2 billion, or $4.02 per share, charge for the acquisition of Prometheus Biosciences, Inc. (Prometheus), the company’s non-GAAP net income increased by 5% and 4.8% year-over-year to $4.98 billion and $1.96 per share, respectively.
Analysts expect MRK’s revenue and EPS for the fiscal third quarter to increase by 1.7% and 4.9% year-over-year to $15.22 billion and $1.94, respectively. The company has further impressed by surpassing consensus EPS estimates in each of the trailing four quarters.
As a world-renowned beverage company, KO manufactures, markets, and sells various non-alcoholic beverages. The company operates through six segments: Europe, the Middle East, and Africa; Latin America; North America; Asia Pacific; Global Ventures; and Bottling Investments.
Over the last three years, which included a pandemic of all things, KO’s revenues have grown at an 8.7% CAGR, while its EBITDA has grown at 7.1% CAGR. The company’s net income has grown at a 4.6% CAGR during the same period.
On July 12, KO and its eight bottling partners from around the world announced the creation of a new $137.7 million venture capital fund focusing on sustainability investments. The fund would focus on key investments in packaging, decarbonization, and other initiatives with the potential to reduce KO’s system-wide carbon footprint.
During the fiscal 2023 second quarter, KO’s net revenue grew 6% year-over-year to $12 billion, while its organic (non-GAAP) revenue grew 11% year-over-year. During the same period, the company’s comparable (non-GAAP) EPS also grew 11% year-over-year to $0.78.
In concurrence with the company’s raised guidance, analysts expect KO’s revenue and EPS for the fiscal year 2023 to increase by 4.6% and 6.4% year-over-year to $45.02 billion and $2.64, respectively. Both metrics are expected to keep growing over the next two fiscals to come in at $49.92 and $3.03, respectively.
PEP is a global manufacturer, marketer, distributor, and seller of beverages and convenience foods. The company operates through seven segments: Frito-Lay North America; Quaker Foods North America; PepsiCo Beverages North America; Latin America; Europe; Africa, Middle East, and South Asia; Asia Pacific, Australia, New Zealand, and China Region.
Over the last three years, PEP’s revenues have grown at a 10% CAGR, while its EBITDA has grown at 7.7% CAGR. The company’s net income has grown at 4.9% CAGR during the same period.
On July 20, PEP announced its quarterly dividend of $1.265 per share, which translates to an annual dividend of $5.06. This signifies a 10 percent increase year-over-year. This dividend is payable on September 29, 2023, to shareholders of record at the close of business on September 1, 2023.
This marks PEP’s 51st consecutive annual dividend increase at a rate of 7.1% CAGR over the past five years.
During the fiscal 2023 second quarter, PEP’s organic (non-GAAP) revenue increased by 13% year-over-year, while its core (non-GAAP) EPS of $2.09 translated to a 15% year-over-year growth.
For fiscal year 2023, PEP now expects to deliver 10% organic revenue growth (previously 8%) and 12% core constant currency EPS growth (previously 9%).
As an energy company, DUK operates through two segments: Electric Utilities and Infrastructure (EU&I) and Gas Utilities and Infrastructure (GU&I).
Over the past three years, DUK’s revenue increased at a 6% CAGR, while its EBITDA has increased by 4.5% CAGR over the same time horizon.
On July 13, DUK announced its quarterly cash dividend of $1.025 per share of common stock, an increase of $0.02, and $359.375 per share on its Series A preferred stock, equivalent to $0.359375 per depositary share, payable on Sept.18, 2023.
DUK currently pays $4.10 per share of common stock as annual dividends, which have grown for the past 11 years and at 2.4% CAGR over the past five years. Through the consistent return of capital, DUK provides adequate income generation opportunities for investors to help them tide over economic uncertainty.
On August 15 and August 17, DUK filed a resource plan, and an updated Carbon Plan to serve the growing energy needs projected for South and North Carolina, respectively.
On July 6, DUK unveils Kentucky's largest utility-scale rooftop solar site, consisting of over 5,600 photovoltaic panels, at Amazon Air Hub. It will feed up to 2 megawatts of solar power directly onto the electric distribution grid.
For the six months of the fiscal that ended June 30, 2023, DUK’s total operating revenues and operating income increased by 2.1% and 12.4% year-over-year to $13.85 billion and $3.10 billion, respectively. As a result, the company’s net income and adjusted EPS for the period came in at $531 million or $2.10 per share, respectively.