GlaxoSmithKline plc, Reckitt Benckiser Group Plc & British American Tobacco plc: Secure Stocks For Volatile Times?

Today I’m looking at three FTSE titans with terrific defensive qualities.

A magnificent medicines play

In times of broader economic malaise one thing certainly remains constant, and that’s robust demand for medicines. In this regard I believe drugs giant GlaxoSmithKline (LSE: GSK) can be considered one of the ‘safest’ stock selections out there for long-term earnings growth.

GlaxoSmithKline’s main headache in recent years has been the steady erosion of its product stable. The impact of generic competition upon previously-protected labels like asthma treatment Advair has played havoc with the firm’s bottom line. Indeed, the Brentford firm has failed to post an earnings rise since 2011 as revenues have stalled.

But with GlaxoSmithKline having thrown the kitchen sink at resuscitating its R&D pipeline, the company is confident of wheeling out 20 products for regulatory approval by 2020. And the firm believes 80% of products due over the next decade have the potential to be ‘first-in-class.’

With galloping healthcare investment all over the world underpinning demand for GlaxoSmithKline’s drugs, the City expects the business to punch an 11% earnings advance in 2015, resulting in a very decent P/E ratio of 15.8 times. And GlaxoSmithKline’s vow to pay a dividend of 80p per share through to 2017 yields an impressive 5.9%.

Superior brand strength

Although the effect of economic cooling in many regions threatens to crimp consumer spending power, I’m confident that the terrific brand power of Reckitt Benckiser’s (LSE: RB) labels should keep revenues flowing higher.

Reckitt Benckiser boasts a wide variety of products that can be found throughout the home, all of which resonate strongly with shoppers as both useful and high-quality goods. Indeed, enduring demand for ‘Powerbrands’ like Finish dishwasher tablets, Nurofen painkillers and Durex condoms enables the business to effectively lift prices regardless of broader financial pressures.

Consequently the number crunchers expect Reckitt Benckiser to punch a 7% earnings rise in 2016, speeding up from an anticipated 3% gain in 2015. Sure, a consequent P/E rating of 24 times may appear heady, but I believe the firm’s strong growth prospects (underpinned by massive innovation and marketing across its product ranges) fully merit this premium.

A smoking stock pick

And like Reckitt Benckiser, I believe the surging wealth levels of emerging markets should blast revenues at British American Tobacco (LSE: BATS) higher in the years ahead.

Latin America and Asia are home to the lion’s share of the world’s smokers, and thanks to industry-leading labels such as Dunhill and Lucky Strike British American Tobacco is firmly in the box seat to enjoy the fruits of strong sales growth in these regions. On top of this, the London firm’s decision to double-down in growth areas like e-cigarettes also promises to undergird terrific earnings expansion.

British American Tobacco is anticipated to punch a 7% earnings advance in 2016, resulting in a reasonable-if-unspectacular P/E rating of 17 times. But when you factor-in a prospective dividend of 164.3p per share, a reading that yields a chunky 4.3%, I believe the cigarette giant delivers brilliant value for money.

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Royston Wild has no position in any shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK has recommended GlaxoSmithKline. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.