Are ARM Holdings plc, Unilever plc and Bunzl plc the FTSE 100’s best growth bets?

Today I am discussing the growth outlook of three FTSE 100 (INDEXFTSE: UKX) giants.

Brand behemoth

In times of macroeconomic uncertainty such as these, I reckon Unilever (LSE: ULVR) is one of the best stocks out there for those seeking reliable earnings expansion.

The household goods giant’s wide portfolio of products — from Dove soap and Lynx deodorant to Lipton tea — commands unrivalled loyalty from customers, allowing it to steadily raise prices, almost regardless of the broader economic landscape. And Unilever is throwing vast sums at these labels to keep their appeal simmering.

City analysts expect earnings at Unilever to drive 10% higher in 2015, and a further 8% rise is chalked in for 2016. These forecasts leave the business dealing on P/E ratios of 21.4 times and 20 times for this year and next, sailing above the benchmark of 15 times that indicates attractive ‘paper’ value.

However, I reckon Unilever’s terrific defensive qualities, not to mention the splendid long-term prospects generated by its pan-global presence, fully merits such a premium.

Diversified dynamo

While Bunzl’s (LSE: BNZL) products may not carry the unbelievable brand appeal of Unilever’s, I reckon the company is also a terrific stock selection for defensively-minded investors.

Bunzl supplies a wide array of essential goods and services, such as hygiene sprays, safety signage and food packaging, to a multitude of different industries. Such diversification provides the firm with terrific security as it removes Bunzl’s reliance on one or two key sectors.

And Bunzl remains busy on the acquisition front to bolster its long-term growth outlook, having snapped up two German businesses in the ‘healthcare related consumables’ market just this month.

The number crunchers expect Bunzl’s growth story to keep rolling with advances of 6% and 3% in 2015 and 2016 correspondingly. And I reckon subsequent P/E ratings of 21.3 times and 20.8 times reflect fair value given the company’s excellent record of earnings growth.

Dial in

Concerns over future smartphone and PC demand continues dent investor sentiment towards ARM Holdings (LSE: ARM). Indeed, the chipbuilder has seen its share value plummet 10% during the past six weeks, as fresh sales data has indicated a further cooling in mobile device demand.

But I believe stock pickers may be missing a trick here. Indeed, ARM has seen its earnings gallop higher year after year, thanks to its terrific record of innovation.

So while overall sales volumes in critical markets may be cooling, I expect the bottom line at ARM to keep growing as the firm grabs share from its rivals. On top of this, the Cambridge firm’s forays into new markets such as networks, servers and the ‘Internet Of Things’ promises to deliver rich rewards, too.

The City certainly expects earnings at the tech play to keep rocketing, and have pencilled in rises of 43% and 15% for 2016 and 2017 correspondingly.

While these result in elevated P/E ratings of 26.4 times for this year and 23.2 times for 2017, I expect such numbers to keep on tumbling as demand for ARM’s tech continues to fizz.

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