Forget Fear: Why The FTSE 100 Can Still Yield Terrific Returns!

Only the foolish would dare to speculate where the bottom lies for the FTSE 100, such is the degree of fear washing over global bourses at the current time.

There has certainly been plenty to test even the most bullish of stock pickers. Choose from further swathes of disappointing data from China; poor financial updates from the US, allied to concerns over the implications of Federal Reserve monetary tightening; and of course, the further downleg in commodity values.

These concerns have turned the FTSE 100 from something of a damp squib into a hazardous firecracker. The index fell 5% during the course of 2015 and has collapsed 7% since the turn of the year. This comes as little surprise however given the FTSE’s strong bias towards mining and commodity stocks, segments that are facing an increasingly-precarious outlook.

But I believe the FTSE’s prolonged sell-off can provide plenty of opportunities for savvy investors. As a broad rule, successful stock pickers tend to select companies with a view to holding them for a minimum of five years, and I believe there are plenty of stocks at the top of the London Stock Exchange whose long-term prospects remain extremely bright.

Housing heroes

Housebuilders like Taylor Wimpey (LSE: TW) and Barratt Developments (LSE: BDEV) were two of the FTSE 100’s strongest performers during the course of 2015, a backcloth of surging homebuyer demand and the enduring shortage of new homes entering the market driving values resoundingly higher.

Still, these shares have been washed-out by the wider malaise currently denting investor sentiment, and Taylor Wimpey and Barratt Developments have seen their values fall 12% and 10% respectively since the start of January.

But I believe this represents a fresh buying opportunity as house price growth shows no signs of slowing. Indeed, EY Item Club estimates that home values will advance a further 6.5% during 2015 alone.

Brand beauties

Elsewhere, I believe that selecting companies boasting stellar brand power is more important than ever as worsening economic pressures threaten to dent broader consumer spending activity.

With this in mind, I believe diversified manufacturer Unilever (LSE: ULVR) is a terrific defensive bet, a stock whose labels like Dove soap and VO5 shampoo command strong shopper loyalty. As such, the business enjoys robust revenue visibility, whatever the financial climate.

Unilever can afford to lift prices even as consumers’ wallets become lighter. Indeed, the London company continues to shrug cyclical woes in emerging markets, and saw sales in these regions rising 8.4% in July-September, accelerating from 6.5% in the prior quarter.

Fellow household goods leviathan Reckitt Benckiser (LSE: RB), along with drinks manufacturer Diageo (LSE: DGE) and cigarette giant Imperial Tobacco (LSE: IMT), also enjoy brilliant pricing power through their market-leading labels.

Medical marvels

Regardless of the impact of cyclical bumpiness in the global economy, medicine demand is of course one of life’s essentials, and I believe a backcloth of rising populations and galloping healthcare investment the world over should keep powering drugs growth higher in the years ahead.

FTSE 100 stalwarts GlaxoSmithKline (LSE: GSK) and AstraZeneca (LSE: AZN) have both thrown vast amounts of cash at reinventing their product pipelines, work that’s expected to put to bed the impact of crippling patent losses and drive earnings higher again in the next few years.

And investors should also keep an eye on Hikma Pharmaceuticals (LSE: HIK), a pharma play that (like GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca) has invested heavily on bolt-on acquisitions to supercharge sales growth in developed and developing regions alike.

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