Are these growth shares the last word in defensive investing?

The formidable strength of its product portfolio has made Reckitt Benckiser (LSE: RB) a popular pick for investors seeking reliable earnings expansion in recent times.

See, the evergreen popularity of its products, from Nurofen painkillers and Durex condoms through to Harpic bleach and French’s mustard, enables the company to raise prices regardless of wider pressures on shoppers’ wallets.

Indeed, the scale of national concern surrounding a possible Marmite shortage last week, as Unilever and Tesco bickered over possible price hikes, illustrates the power that premier consumer goods labels can command. And Reckitt Benckiser is chucking vast amounts at its own stable via marketing and product innovations to maintain their allure with shoppers.

Having said that, Reckitt Benckiser’s latest trading update on Wednesday gave some cause for concern. The London company announced that like-for-like sales rose just 2% between July and September, a sharp slowdown from the 4% rise punched in the prior quarter.

The company is suffering from a boycott of its products in Korea, but this isn’t Reckitt Benckiser’s only trouble — indeed, tough conditions in its established markets caused underlying sales in Europe and North America to flatline.

Still, broad progress in developing regions gave reasons to be cheerful, even if a meaty 7% sales improvement also marked a slowdown from prior months. Specifically the household goods maker continues to benefit from brilliant demand in the Asian powerhouses of China and India.

On top of this, Reckitt Benckiser’s heavy international bias is also giving it an extra lift thanks to positive currency movements. Total revenues leapt 17%, to £2.6bn, during Q3 thanks to the nosediving value of the pound. And further benefits can be expected, in my opinion, as the chaos created by Brexit looks set to persist.

The City expects Reckitt to enjoy earnings growth of 12% in both 2016 and 2017, resulting in heady P/E ratings of 24.3 times and 21.7 times.

While today’s release is likely to prompt a downgrade of these estimates, and drive these earnings multiples still higher, I reckon the firm’s broad product range, terrific pricing power and excellent emerging market bias still makes it a great pick for those seeking strong, and reliable, earnings growth.

Don’t fear the reaper

The depressing inevitability of death makes funeral director Dignity (LSE: DTY) one of the best stocks out there for those seeking reliable, long-term earnings expansion.

That’s not to say there aren’t expected to be road bumps along the way, however. Indeed, the number crunchers expect the abnormally-large number of deaths in 2015 to result in a 2% earnings dip in the current year.

However, Dignity is anticipated to bounce back next year with an 11% earnings rise. This pushes 2016’s P/E rating of 24.5 times to 22.1 times. And I expect the multiple to keep toppling as Dignity’s ambitious expansion drive — exemplified by its £38m purchase of 36 funeral parlours from Laurel Funerals last year — underpins earnings growth well in the coming years.

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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 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.