Can Unilever plc & National Grid plc Beat The FTSE 100 By Another 8% This Month?

It comes as little surprise that defensive stocks came to the fore during January.

Accelerating fears of an economic ‘hard landing’ in China — combined with rising concerns over financial cooling in the US and the implications of collapsing commodity prices — sent investors heading for cover. As a consequence the FTSE 100 conceded almost 3% of its value during the month despite a late rally.

But high-quality, defensive stocks like Unilever (LSE: ULVR) and National Grid (LSE: NG), for example, received a hefty shot in the arm — both companies saw their share values advance 5% during January.

Latest data from China, in overnight, once again highlighted the precarious state of the global economy, and global stock markets took yet another dive on Monday. With market jitterns set to linger on, I can see both stocks punching further gains in February and beyond.

Electrify your portfolio

Indeed, when it comes to selecting low-risk stocks with solid earnings records, one need not look much further than the utilities space. After all, heat and running water are two commodities that remain in demand regardless of the broader economic climate.

But while the likes of power company Centrica and water supplier Thames Water battle increasing regulatory pressure on profit levels, network operator National Grid does not face the same threats to future returns. Furthermore, National Grid does not face the revenues-crippling competitive pressures affecting the rest of the electricity sector.

But that’s not to say National Grid is content to sit and rest on its laurels — the business is planning to expand its asset bases in both the UK and US by around 6% each year.

Consequently the City expects National grid to keep its proud earnings record rolling well into the future. A projected 4% rise in the 12 months to March 2016 is expected to be followed by a 1% bump in 2017, resulting in very attractive P/E ratings of 14.9 times and 14.7 times respectively.

And this solid bottom-line picture is expected to keep dividends rolling higher for the foreseeable future. A predicted payout of 43.7p per share for the present period yields a chunky 4.8%, and this readout moves to 5% for 2017 thanks to an estimated 44.7p reward.

A brand beauty

While some may argue that Unilever’s operations in the highly-cyclical consumer goods sector makes it somewhat of a gamble, I believe the London-based firm should also continue to grind out solid earnings growth in the near-term and beyond.

Unilever’s industry-leading labels like Dove soap and Walls ice cream command consumer loyalty like few others, meaning that sales should continue stomping higher regardless of the broader pressure on the sector. Indeed, Unilever saw sales from lucrative emerging markets stomp higher in 2015 despite rising pressure in these regions.

With the company continuing to invest heavily in these brands, the number crunchers expect the manufacturer to report a 6% earnings advance in 2016, resulting in a P/E rating of 20.1 times. I believe this is a great price given Unilever’s stellar defensive qualities, not to mention the exceptional long-term opportunities created by its pan-global presence.

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