Master investor Neil Woodford, in common with many canny market veterans, sees a long period of low economic growth ahead in which some businesses will struggle to increase their earnings.
Woodford isn’t just concerned about Brexit. Indeed, he’s rather more concerned about prospects for the wider global economy. If he’s right — and I believe he is — we should be looking to invest in companies that have the ability to deliver a decent return in a low-growth world, as opposed to companies that require the tailwind of booming economies in order to prosper.
Naturally, Woodford has chosen his investments accordingly. The core of these are select FTSE 100 blue chips with good earnings visibility, cash generation and above-average dividend yields. Here are three that I particularly like the look of.
Half-year results yesterday from BAE Systems (LSE: BA) were solid, if unspectacular, which is just the ticket. Revenue of £8.3bn was up 3.5% on the same period last year and underlying earnings per share (EPS) increased 1.8%. Meanwhile, the order book remained impressively robust at £36.3bn.
Chief executive Ian King said the firm’s seeing “encouraging signs of a return to growth in defence budgets” in the US, and anticipates no “material near-term trading impact” in the UK as a result of the Brexit vote.
As a result of some anticipated trading bias to the second half of the year, BAE said it expects full-year underlying EPS to be 5% to 10% higher than 2015’s adjusted underlying EPS of 36.6p. At a share price of 540p, that gives an undemanding forward price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of 13.5 to 14. And with a prospective above-market-average dividend yield of 4%, I rate the stock a buy.
The tobacco industry is famously resilient through the ups and downs of economic cycles, which makes Imperial Brands (LSE: IMB) — the biggest holding of Woodford’s equity income fund — a highly appealing business for all seasons.
The company reported a “strong” first-half performance back in May and said it was on track to meet expectations for its financial year ending 30 September. At an investor day last month, management reiterated its commitment to increase the dividend “by at least 10% per year over the medium term”.
At a share price of 3,950p, Imperial trades on a P/E of 16.4 for the year ending this September, with a prospective 3.9% dividend yield. The readouts for fiscal 2017 are 14.9 and 4.3%, and this looks another very buyable stock to my eyes.
On the face of it, Legal & General (LSE: LGEN) seems an odd pick, but Woodford has been very keen on the stock since the Brexit vote. As he sees it, L&G was the baby thrown out with the bathwater when the market had its fit of pique and indiscriminately ditched domestic cyclicals and financials in the wake of the referendum result. He and his team reckon this was “ill-informed investor behaviour”, and eagerly added to the fund’s L&G holding “at highly distressed share price levels”.
The stock has pared some of its Brexit losses, but at around 200p still trades on a highly attractive forward P/E of under 10 with a prospective dividend yield of over 7%. I would rate this as a more aggressive buy than BAE and Imperial, but also as one of the most appealing UK-focused blue chips in the financial sector.
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G A Chester has no position in any shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK has no position in any of the shares mentioned. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.