Can British American Tobacco plc, Reckitt Benckiser plc and Imperial Brands Group plc keep on rising forever?

If only all stocks were like this. In a perfect world, they would be. These three companies have delivered steady growth across the last five, three, two and one years, as well as the last six, three and one months. How do they do it and just as importantly, can they continue?

Still smokin’

British American Tobacco (LSE: BATS) is up 57% over five years and 16% over 12 months. While the wording on cigarette packets has always been controversial, this tobacco stock does exactly what it says on the tin. It combines the nicotine hit of steady share price growth with the heady afterglow of a strong, progressive dividend. Its current yield of 3.7% looks both steady and sustainable. In February, management lifted the full-year dividend by 4% to 154p per share, reflecting its confidence in the future.

British American Tobacco’s most impressive trick has to be increasing its sales volumes in a shrinking market. Q1 cigarette volumes grew 2.4% on an organic basis, or 3.6% including acquisitions, even if like-for-like volume after inventory movements was up just 1.1%. The success of its Global Drive Brands points to a company that knows what it’s doing, with volumes of Dunhill, Kent, Lucky Strike, Pall Mall and Rothmans up 10.5%. Fat operating margins of 34.8%, and forecast earnings per share (EPS) growth of 12% this year and 8% in 2017 more than justify the pricey valuation of 20 times earnings.

Reck this, Ralph

Household goods giant Reckitt Benckiser Group (LSE: RB) is up 110% over five years and 20% over 12 months as the world can’t get enough of its everyday consumer brands such as Dettol, Finish, Harpic, Lemsip, Strepsils and Veet. This was supposed to be a great play on emerging markets and so it has proved. Unlike many FTSE 100 stocks (I’m looking at you, Burberry Group), it has survived the EM downswing as well.

After a good start to this year, Reckitt Benckiser says it’s on track to meet full year targets of 4% to 5% like-for-like revenue growth and moderate expansion in profit margins. What more can you ask for from a stock like this? Actually, I would hope for a better yield than 2.04%. And a cheaper valuation than 26 times earnings. That’s the price of success. If you’re reluctant to pay that price today this stock should be high on your buy list in the next market correction.

Imperial might

Tobacco manufacturer Imperial Brands Group (LSE: IMB) is another smooth performer, up 70% over five years and 15% over one year. These performance figures are hardly to be sniffed at as the FTSE 100 is up just 3% over five years and down 12% in 12 months.

Imperial Brands isn’t chasing volume growth like rival British American Tobacco. It has chosen to focus on margins and cash flow instead, and successfully so. Latest half-year results showed tobacco net revenue up 16.8%, adjusted operating profit up 19.5% and adjusted earnings per share rising 20.4%. Its 3.82% yield is tempting and so is its valuation of 17.51 times earnings, a modest price to pay for success.

These three companies may not rise forever, but they should make you a lot of money in the meantime.

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Harvey Jones has no position in any shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK has recommended Burberry and 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.