Are Defensive Plays Diageo Plc, British American Tobacco Plc And Reckitt Benckiser Group Plc Surefire Buys?

With the FTSE 100 nearing official correction territory after dropping 9% since the start of the year, investors would do well to take a step back, breathe deep and view this as an opportunity to buy shares of good companies at relative bargain prices. Consumer staple giants Reckitt Benckiser Group (LSE: RB), British American Tobacco (LSE: BATS) and Diageo (LSE:DGE) have each seen share sell-offs in the first weeks of 2016. These companies sell products that people buy in bull and bear markets alike, enjoy pricing power due to premium brands, and have proven over the decades their ability to reward long-term investors.

Emerging markets

Consumer goods giant Reckitt Benckiser may be less well known than its chief competitor Unilever, but sells brand names such as Durex, Lysol and Woolite across the world. While this global reach has proven to be a detriment to share prices over the past year as currency headwinds have hit revenue hard, like-for-like sales grew 6% in developed markets and 10% in emerging markets in the third quarter.

However, looking past these short-term currency headwinds, Reckitt’s strength in emerging markets, which provide some 31% of revenue, is a boon as growing middle classes in these countries purchase more of the premium name brands the company sells. Net margins of 24.7% for the last half year are expected to grow by a further 0.6% to 0.8% in 2016, alongside like-for-like revenue increasing by 5% for the second year running. Trading at 23 times 2016 forecast earnings, the shares may look expensive. But I believe the company’s long list of premium brand names, pricing power and growing sales in all major markets mean Reckitt Benckiser is a share that investors would do well to add to their portfolio.

Defensive play

British American Tobacco is perhaps the epitome of a defensive play, returning value to shareholders through even the worst of the 2008-2009 financial crisis. Operating margins for the past half year were a staggering 39.2% and are set to grow next year through increased cost reductions. Although tobacco companies across the developed world are facing further regulations, this is nothing that British American hasn’t overcome in the past.

British American is the second-largest tobacco company in the world, and trades at a slight discount to number one Philip Morris. Shares aren’t exactly cheap, trading at 17 times 2016 earnings. But with organic profit growth forecast to rise around 5% to 6% this year and a 4.1% yield, I believe investors will continue to be well-served by investing today.

Stellar margins

Distiller Diageo is another company whose products fly off the shelves in good and bad times alike. Management has sold off wine and beer to concentrate on core premium liquor brands such as Smirnoff, Captain Morgan and Johnnie Walker. The pricing power these brands command has led to 28% operating margins, which are targeted to grow by 1% over the next two years. Like Reckitt Benckiser and British American Tobacco, Diageo’s strong presence in emerging markets will serve the company well in the years ahead. Shares are currently trading at 19 times earnings but with a 3.1% yield and considerable cost cutting and revenue growth in the pipeline, I see Diageo as another stellar defensive play for any investor’s portfolio.

I’m not the only one bullish on Diageo and Reckitt Benckiser. The analysts at the Motley Fool have listed both companies in their report Five Shares To Retire On.

All five shares detailed in this report are large blue chips with defensive qualities set to bring investor’s returns for decades to come.

To read your copy of this free, no obligation report simply follow this link.

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