Can Last Week’s Losers Unilever plc, Whitbread plc, Sports Direct International PLC & Shire PLC Bite Back?

Today I am looking at the investment prospects of four recent stock-market laggards.


Household goods giant Unilever (LSE: ULVR) saw share prices fall off a cliff in August thanks to waning confidence in emerging market growth. Stocks have recovered some ground since, but last week’s 1% dip suggests that investors remain nervy over the firm’s growth prospects. I am not one to share those concerns, however, as spending in these regions continues to improve and the stellar brand power of labels from Dove soap to Walls ice cream keeps revenues chugging higher.

Unilever’s latest results showed underlying sales in developing nations surge 6% during April-June, speeding up from 5.4% in the prior three-month period. These factors are expected to deliver earnings growth of 9% and 6% in 2015 and 2016 correspondingly, leaving the business dealing on P/E ratios of 19.5 times and 18.3 times for these years. I consider these values to be good value given the quality of the stock and Unilever’s exceptional growth potential.


Investor appetite for hotel and cafe operator Whitbread (LSE: WTB) took a hit last week after the firm warned of the impact of next April’s ‘living wage’ on profits. The business lost 1% during the past seven days after advising that it would be forced to implement various measures, including “some selective price increases” in order to offset the effect of rising staff costs.

 Although this is quite rightly a valid concern for Whitbread’s bottom line, I believe the growing popularity of its Premier Inn budget hotels and Costa Coffee cafe chains still makes it a compelling stock pick — the business saw underlying sales in these outlets rise 5.3% and 4.6% respectively during February-July. Consequently the number crunchers expect Whitbread to enjoy earnings growth of 13% in both fiscal 2016 and 2017, driving a P/E multiple of 19.3 times for this year to just 16.9 times for 2017.

Sports Direct International

Sports pumps and tracksuit play Sports Direct (LSE: SPD) has seen its spectacular share ascent grind to an abrupt halt more recently, and the business shed 4% of its value during Monday-Friday. However, I reckon this provides a little more reason to opportunistic investors to plough in as a combination of store expansion in the UK and abroad, not to mention the enduring popularity of labels like Lonsdale and Karrimor, keep the tills ringing.

Of course Sports Direct faces the same pressure regarding staff costs as Whitbread. But I believe that improving conditions in the UK High Street should keep the bottom line streaking steadily higher. This view is shared by the City, and growth of 12% for fiscal 2016 and 14% for 2017 is currently anticipated. The retailer’s P/E ratio subsequently falls from 17.5 times for the current period to a very-attractive 15.3 times for 2017.


Medicines play Shire (LSE: SHP) saw spritely market sentiment dribble away during the course of last week, and the business saw its value fall 1% as a result. The business was left disappointed last month after its $30bn takeover attempt for fellow biotech play Baxalta was rebuffed, but rumours are currently circulating that the British company will return with an improved proposal imminently.

Shire estimates that any tie-up between the two entities would result in $20bn worth of product sales by 2020. But even without any accord I believe Shire’s terrific pipeline, supported by rising healthcare demand across the globe, should provide exceptional long-term earnings expansion. And so do the City’s boffins — Shire is expected to bounce from a predicted 33% slide this year to punch a 16% advance in 2016. These figures drive a P/E ratio of 19.7 times for 2015 to a far-improved 17.2 times for next year.

But regardless of whether you fancy stashing the cash in any of the firms mentioned above, I strongly recommend you check out this totally exclusive report that selects even more FTSE winners waiting to deliver spectacular gains.

Our “5 Dividend Winners To Retire On” wealth report highlights a selection of incredible stocks with an excellent record of providing juicy shareholder returns. Among our picks are top retail, pharmaceutical and utilities plays that we are convinced should continue to provide red-hot dividends. Click here to download the report -- it's 100% free and comes with no further obligation.

Royston Wild owns shares of Unilever. The Motley Fool UK owns and has recommended Unilever. The Motley Fool UK has recommended Sports Direct International. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.