Lloyds Banking Group plc, Cineworld Group plc & Reckitt Benckiser Group plc: the perfect stocks for nervous investors?

Today I am looking at three FTSE 100 giants that could be considered decent defensive stars.

Matinee idol

I reckon the enduring appeal of the silver screen makes Cineworld (LSE: CINE)  a great pick for those seeking reliable earnings and dividend growth.

A trip to the movies is one of those activities that is enjoyed by just about everyone and, critically for defensively-minded investors, is cheap enough that it remains popular regardless of wider economic pressures.

And Cineworld is steadily ramping up its property base in the UK and overseas to latch onto rising box office numbers. The company added 18 sites in 2015 — taking the total number of screens to more than 2,000 — and the chain plans to open a further 45 cinemas during the next four years alone.

Cineworld has a great record of producing solid earnings expansion year after year, and the City expects this to continue with growth of 1% and 10% in 2016 and 2017 respectively. As such, a P/E rating of 16.8 times for this year slips to a very-reasonable multiple of 15 times for next year.

Product power

Few companies can boast the splendid pricing power of Reckitt Benckiser’s (LSE: RB) wide portfolio of wares.

From Strepsils lozenges right through to Finish dishwasher detergent, the London firm’s products command terrific consumer loyalty that enables it to lift prices regardless of wider pressures on purchasers’ purses. And the manufacturer is throwing boatloads of capital at developing and promoting its market-leading labels to keep shoppers interested.

And of course Reckitt Benckiser’s sterling developing market exposure is likely to underpin stunning revenues growth as disposable income levels in these regions surge. Indeed, the business saw underlying sales in emerging regions leap 10% during January-March.

Earnings at Reckitt Benckiser are expected to head 7% higher in 2016, resulting in a ‘conventionally’ heady P/E rating of 23.8 times. And the multiple remains high at 21.8 times for next year, despite an anticipated 8% bottom-line rise. Still, I reckon the firm’s exceptional growth drivers warrant such a premium.

Bank on it

The latest round of results from Lloyds (LSE: LLOY) may, at face value, significantly undermine any talk of it being considered a sound defensive stock selection.

The business saw pre-tax profit sink to £654m between January and March from £1.2bn a year earlier. But rather than reflecting deteriorating market conditions, the fall reflected Lloyds’ decision to buy back £3bn worth of bonds for £790m in order to boost its capital position.

Indeed, on an underlying basis profits remained stable around £2.1bn. On the one hand, the result of massive asset shedding may leave Lloyds with less exciting growth prospects than its major industry rivals. But a dependence on the UK high street leaves it much less susceptible to severe earnings volatility.

The City expects the bottom line at Lloyds to dip 10% in 2016 before edging 2% higher in 2017. These projections result in a mega-low P/E rating of 8.8 times through to the close of next year, suggesting that near-term concerns like rising PPI bills and moderating UK economic growth are factored in at current prices.

I believe Lloyds’ focus on the UK retail market should underpin solid-if-unspectacular earnings expansion in the long-term, while a steady reduction in operating costs should provide profits with an extra shot in the arm.

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