Is Unilever plc A Better Buy Than Imperial Brands PLC & Boohoo.Com PLC?

Shares in Unilever (LSE: ULVR) continue to rise at a market-beating pace. The consumer goods company’s valuation has soared by 11% since the turn of the year and a key reason for that is the reliable growth outlook which Unilever offers.

With the company having such a wide spread of brands, from personal care products to food items, Unilever’s top and bottom line growth is highly resilient. In other words, if one product or segment performs poorly, it has many others to pick up the slack. With investors uncertain about the long-term future of the global economy high at the moment, such a diverse income stream could cause Unilever to become an increasingly popular investment.

It’s a similar story regarding Unilever’s geographic diversity. It operates across the developed and developing world, which provides it with a degree of stability and robust performance which most other companies simply do not have. And with the emerging world set to offer excellent growth potential over the medium-to-long term, Unilever seems to be well-placed to record further gains in its financial performance and share price.

Potential fashion victim?

While consumer goods peer Boohoo.Com (LSE: BOO) also has excellent growth potential, it lacks the breadth of product range Unilever enjoys. Certainly, Boohoo.Com enjoys a high degree of customer loyalty for its own brand range, but it operates in a competitive space where trends can quickly change. As such, Boohoo.Com’s income visibility isn’t as strong as Unilever’s so it could be argued that the former has greater risk than the latter.

While Boohoo.Com appears to have a sufficiently wide margin of safety to merit purchase, Unilever seems to offer the more appealing risk/reward ratio. That’s because even though Boohoo.Com’s price-to-earnings-growth (PEG) ratio stands at only 1.3, Unilever’s bottom line growth forecast of 7% in each of the next two years holds huge appeal due to its greater stability and consistency.

Imperial standard

Meanwhile, Imperial Brands (LSE: IMB) remains a superb long-term buy. Like Unilever, it’s geographically well-diversified. But while Imperial Brands has a number of excellent brands within its portfolio, it’s very much focused on the tobacco and e-cigarette sector. Therefore, while Imperial Brands offers less risk than many of its index peers, it’s still open to greater regulatory risk than Unilever and this could severely impact its bottom line.

For example, Imperial Brands may be hurt by future policies such as plain packaging in key markets or by restrictions on smoking in developing markets. Unilever doesn’t appear to be at such high risk of regulatory issues and so it could be argued that it’s a less risky buy.

However, with Imperial Brands having huge pricing potential due to the exceptionally high degree of customer loyalty it enjoys, its earnings are possibly even more robust than those of Unilever. And with it trading on a price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of 15.2 versus 22.2 for Unilever, it seems to offer superior value for money too.

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Peter Stephens owns shares of Unilever and Imperial Brands. 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.