Are BAE Systems plc, Imperial Brands plc and Reckitt Benckiser Group plc the FTSE 100’s best ‘buy and forget’ shares?

Today I’m looking at three FTSE 100 (INDEXFTSE: UKX) stars in great shape to deliver reliable shareholder returns.

Defence dynamo

During times of great macroeconomic uncertainty such as these, the likes of BAE Systems (LSE: BA) have long proved popular investment destinations.

Indeed, mankind’s desire to wage war is one of the constants of human history, making the defence sector a go-to place for those seeking to avoid the earnings volatility whacking the wider FTSE 100.

That’s not to say that BAE Systems hasn’t endured its own share of bottom-line troubles in recent years, of course, the global recession of 2008/2009 forcing Western customers to take the hatchet to arms spending.

But with stabilising economic conditions in the US and UK putting defence budgets back on the front foot, BAE Systems’ wide range of cutting-edge hardware is back in demand. And the London company is also enjoying rising demand from non-Western customers, driven by electric wealth growth in developing regions.

BAE Systems is expected to see earnings dip 4% in 2016 thanks to bumpy contract timings. But a 7% bottom-line bounce is predicted for next year. Consequently BAE Systems is a snip in my opinion, dealing on P/E ratings of just 12.4 times for this year and 11.7 times for 2017.

Smoking star

Without question, the tobacco sector’s reputation as a safe haven for risk-averse investors has lost much of its sheen in recent years.

Sales volumes of cigarettes and tobacco-related products have headed lower as lawmakers have upped their game against ‘Big Tobacco’. Just last week the European Court of Justice upheld a ruling that will see health warnings cover 65% of product cartons with effect from late May.

Still, I believe that Imperial Brands (LSE: IMB) has what it takes to keep generating strong earnings growth.

Firstly, labels like West and Davidoff command customer loyalty like few others, a factor that drove sales of these so-called ‘Growth Brands’ 4.7% higher (excluding Syria and Iraq) during October-March. And Imperial Brands isn’t only investing heavily in these brands but is entering new sectors like e-cigarettes and caffeine strips to mitigate falling demand for its traditional goods.

The number crunchers expect these measures to pay off handsomely in the years ahead, and have pencilled-in earnings expansion of 12% and 6% for the periods to September 2016 and 2017 alone. Consequently the smoking giant trades on very-decent P/E ratings of 15.6 times and 14.6 times for these years.

Brand beauty

Like those of Imperial Brands, household goods leviathan Reckitt Benckiser’s (LSE: RB) products can be found across established and emerging regions alike, giving investors that extra peace of mind as the firm isn’t reliant on strong economic conditions in one or two geographies.

And like the cigarette stock, Reckitt Benckiser can also bank on stellar brand power to keep sending sales higher. From Nurofen painkillers to Dettol disinfectant, the manufacturer owns a broad array of market-leading products that enable it to raise prices regardless of the broader economic climate.

And with Reckitt Benckiser chucking vast sums at developing these products and rolling them out across new markets, the City expects earnings to keep rising with growth of 7% in 2016 and 8% in 2017.

Sure, subsequent P/E ratings of 23.9 times and 21.9 times may appear expensive at face value. But I reckon the formidable brand strength — not to mention ubiquity — of Reckitt Benckiser’s products fully merits such a premium.

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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.