The Dow: Not Your Dad’s Blue-Chip Index

Think the Dow’s stocks are nothing but a bunch of stuffy, boring blue chips? Think again. These four names might be Dow components, but they’d be just as comfortable in the tech-heavy, high-growth Nasdaq Composite or in a pure ‘growth’ portfolio. And, they’ve got the numbers to prove it.

International Business Machines

Strong economy? Great! Weak economy? That’s OK, too. International Business Machines (NYSE:IBM) can ramp up revenue and earnings no matter what the environment is like. In fact, its survival and sustained growth even during the heart of the 2008-09 crisis is almost of “sold their souls to the devil” proportions.

How does IBM do it? It’s got a lot to do with the business model. The International Business Machines of yesteryear sold a lot of hardware, and as such, ebbed and flowed with the economic tide. The modern-day IBM sells a lot of contracted services, which means recurring (and high-margin) revenue. The only thing the company has to do is add new recurring revenue customers. That’s a big part of the reason why at no point during the past eight years have trailing 12-month earnings moved lower.

Bottom line: IBM has averaged earnings growth of more than 16% for the past five years.

Cisco Systems

I’ll be the first to acknowledge Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO) drives me nuts. The company gets into and out of businesses at the drop of a hat, without ever really seeing what kind of market share it can garner. The FLIP video camera is one of its better-known short-lived ventures; the company introduced the line in 2009 via an acquisition of the brand from Pure Digital, then axed the product altogether in 2011 when it didn’t do as well as hoped.

Funny thing, though … the Flip actually was getting a little traction and market share. All it might have needed was some marketing love, and the willingness to compete against smartphones with cameras and/or a wiliness to go into the “high-end” camera market where it would take on dedicated camcorders. Cisco did neither.

Yet, you have to admire the fact that Cisco never dipped into the red ink at any time within the past 10 years. Some periods were better than others, but all the spaghetti the company threw on the wall to see what stuck was 100% financed — and then some — internally. So, for proving its ability to try new things while milking its existing cash cows (to the point where it just posted its most profitable quarter ever in Q4 of 2011), Cisco gets a gold star for taking smart chances. One of ‘em will pay off sooner or later.


The airplane manufacturer? Yes, the airplane manufacturer — rumors of the aircraft industry’s death have been greatly exaggerated.

While it’s more like Cisco and less like Wal-Mart and IBM when it comes to consistency, Boeing (NYSE:BA) has managed to increase earnings by an average of 13% per year over the past five years — a period when most companies were struggling, and a period when the airline industry faced some major hurdles. But Boeing found a way through it, with the help of military contracts, and just posted its best-ever quarterly profit. Trailing 12-month income is close to record levels, too.

As it stands right now, the pros are saying per-share income is poised to fall from last year’s $5.33 to $4.46. The company topped estimates in all four quarters last year, and it’s unlikely earnings will fall at all — especially with the 787 Dreamliner finally ready for in-earnest deliveries. 2012 could be a banner year.


Say what you want to about the world’s largest retailer destroying the small-town “mom-and-pop” shops. It doesn’t change the fact that Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) has been growing like crazy, with almost as much consistency as IBM. Earnings have grown an average of 9% for several years now, and the retailing giant’s expansion plans say it will continue to grow at a 9% pace for the foreseeable future.

Now, who was it that said Dow stocks are boring?

As of this writing, James Brumley did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.

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