Shareholders in Colgate-Palmolive (NYSE:CL) have been enjoying market-crushing gains lately, and the iconic maker of toothpaste and dish soap just delivered another couple presents: a 2-for-1 stock split and a dividend hike.
Neither comes as too much of a surprise. CL shares have shot to all-time highs of more than $115 a pop, so splitting them will make the face value a more retail-friendly and historically normal $50-something-and-change.
And as for the 10% dividend hike … well, you can expect no less from this payout stalwart. After all, there’s a reason Colgate makes InvestorPlace’s list of Dependable Dividend Stocks: It has paid regular dividends since the 19th century, for crying out loud.
Meanwhile, the raging price appreciation has pushed the yield on the dividend to a rather unimpressive 2.1%, which just doesn’t cut it with the value and equity income investor base.
Whether other consumers staples companies follow Colgate’s lead remains very much to be seen, but one thing that isn’t up for debate is the remarkable run some of the biggest defensive names have had as equity markets hit record highs.
Indeed, like the Dow Jones Industrial Average of which they are components, Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG) and Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) are at all-time highs. So are Clorox (NYSE:CLX) and Unilever (NYSE:UL, UN).
Yes, a rising tide lifts all boats, but what’s interesting about these particular stocks is that they’re part of a rally in defensive names.
Usually, an upmarket sees leadership from riskier, more pro-cyclical sectors like financials, information technology and consumer discretionary. Yet consumer staples have been among the market’s best-performing sectors so far this year, bested only by healthcare.
Looking further back, the gains are even more impressive for these large-cap staples stocks. During the past 52 weeks, the S&P 500 is up about 14%. And yet, from P&G to Unilever, the big boys are beating the broader market by anywhere from 2 percentage points to 13. Just have a look at the 52-week chart, courtesy of S&P Capital IQ, below:
Unilever is up 27%, while Clorox has tacked on 26%. Colgate has gained 25%. Johnson & Johnson — which has one foot in the consumer staples sector and the other among healthcare stocks — is up 21%. P&G, for all its troubles, is up 16%.
Like Colgate, P&G, J&J and Clorox also make InvestorPlace’s list of Dependable Dividend Stocks. But apart from the steady payouts, these staples companies have some wind at their backs:
- They’re finally getting some traction in raising prices without hurting volumes. Easier comparisons against higher input costs are also aiding margins.
- Although Europe continues to be a problem for the foreseeable future, emerging markets remain robust — notably Latin America, where Colgate has a dominant presence.
- The recovery in the U.S. has more shoppers going back to their favorite brand names after a long period of picking up cheaper generic and store brands.
Those factors should help keep the fundamentals favorable for these blue-chip consumer staples names.
And if the market does cool off or correct, at least their defensive characteristics should offer some resilience on the downside, too.
As of this writing, Dan Burrows did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.