7 Ways to Define a Blue-Chip

blue-chip stocks - 7 Ways to Define a Blue-Chip

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What are blue-chip stocks?

The traditional definition of a blue-chip is “a huge company with an excellent reputation.”

The problem is that traditional blue-chip stocks like Boeing (NYSE:BA), International Business Machines (NYSE:IBM) and General Electric (NYSE:GE) keep falling from grace. Scandals, prioritizing dividends over running the business and making bad acquisitions keep taking “safe” investments down.

My definition of a blue-chip is a stock you can buy and ignore. It should have benefits particular to you. This means different kinds of stocks can be blue-chip stocks. Growth companies can be blue-chips, if you’re young and growth-oriented. Tech stocks can be blue-chips, if their management isn’t stupid. Then there are the traditional dividend stocks; the ones that pay you to own them.

This week I went in search of blue-chip stocks for every kind of investor. I looked at what they offer and what type of investor might find them desirable. I looked for franchises that are durable — the plays you can stay in for a decade.

Hopefully there are no GEs in here, but that’s the problem with today’s market. You can never tell. All you can do is spread your bets and look at them again every few years.

Let’s take a look at these seven blue-chip stocks with definitions to fit every type of investor:

  • General Motors (NYSE:GM)
  • Penn National (NASDAQ:PENN)
  • Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX)
  • 3M (NYSE:MMM)
  • JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM)
  • Coca-Cola Co. (NYSE:KO)
  • Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL)

Blue-Chip Stocks: General Motors (GM): The Electric-Car Future

General Motors (GM) sign with blue and white logo and brick building in background

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The future is in electric cars. But Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) has already taken that idea to the skies. With its market capitalization of $615 billion, it’s worth as much as the rest of the industry put together.

Investors looking for a safer way to play the electric revolution are taking another look at General Motors. Over the last year GM stock is up 163%. Despite this, it still trades at a price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of 13, on 2020 sales of $122 billion. Compare that to $147 billion in revenue during 2018.

Electric cars, however, are what we used to call a “mega trend.” It’s an idea with legs. GM has big plans for electrics, which could represent 40% of their sales by 2025. Its Ultium battery and electric motor system will also power cars from Honda (NYSE:HMC) and Audi (OTCMKTS:AUDVF).

CEO Mary Barra has been preparing for this turn since taking the job back in 2014. The idea is to use profits from gas-powered cars to make GM a tech company, based not just on electric drivetrains but on self-driving intellectual property. Most companies won’t make the turn to this new model. GM is determined that it will.

Penn National (PENN): A Blue-Chip for Bros

Penn (PENN) National Gaming logo on the website homepage.

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Young investors like action. Young male investors, called “bros,” like gambling.

There’s a lot of new action in gambling, and one way they’re playing it is with Penn National.

Over the last year, the bros have looked brilliant. Penn National is up 647%, not on the strength of its small casinos, many in Pennsylvania, but on its big plans in internet and sports betting.

This started with a stake in Barstool Sports, a tout site fronted by Dave Portnoy but backed by former Fox (NASDAQ:FOX) executive Peter Chernin. Penn has been working with experienced sports-betting partners to turn this into Barstool Sportsbook, combining mobile-phone sports bets with community features. It will be rolled out wherever it’s made legal.

The pandemic has helped make this exciting. A 2018 decision let all states take sports bets, but only now are they moving to take it, because they need the tax money. That should mean rapid growth for Barstool and for its Hollywood Casino app, which takes traditional casino bets.

The bros seem all-in on the trend, which has years of growth ahead of it. Europeans have been doing this kind of gambling for years and so have people in Asia. It’s a whole new world, and not all the winning bets are going to be on Wall Street.

Starbucks (SBUX): The Very Model of a Modern Blue-Chip

the Starbucks (SBUX) logo on a sign outside of a coffee shop

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When I was in college, back in the 1970s, retailers like Sears (OTCMKTS:SHLDQ) were considered blue-chip investments. Today, that crown is held by companies like Starbucks.

Starbucks has entered those ranks thanks to its long-term value. Over the last five years the shares are up 87%, and the dividend has more than doubled.

CEO Kevin Johnson may be overpaid, but he has been a worthy successor to Howard Schultz, who built the company on convenience and sugar-laced drinks. Johnson has made Starbucks a tech company, with a mobile app that is even involved in Bitcoin (CCC:BTC-USD). The company’s move into China is so strong that Beijing reached out to Schultz to help repair U.S.-China relations. 

Starbucks was hurt during the pandemic, but it didn’t drop its dividend. It should come back strong as the pandemic eases. More than half the analysts following it say you should buy it. Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC) has made Starbucks its top consumer name for 2021.

Most of this good news, unfortunately, is already baked into the stock. One broker has a hold rating on it even while expecting earnings to double.  But if you’re not timing the market, if you’re buying for the long term, these are the kind of blue-chip stocks you’re looking for.

3M (MMM): Long-Term Stability and a Reliable Dividend

A stack of disposable face masks rests on a blue background.

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3M is an old-style blue-chip. It’s a true “dividend aristocrat,” with a dividend that has been growing steadily higher for 62 years.

The business of 3M is based on turning chemicals into products for consumers and industry. Consumers know about their Post-It notes and duct tape, good for almost everything (except, ironically, taping ducts). During the pandemic, people thought of it first for its Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), like N95 masks.

While 3M’s healthcare and safety units led the way in 2020, CEO Mike Roman expects the industrial group, grinders and coatings, and filtration products to lead the way in 2021.

The stock was on sale through most of 2020, however, after it was said to have overpaid for Acelity, a wound care specialist, in 2019. At one point, this had the yield on that dividend up to 5%. It’s still respectable, over 3%. The P/E multiple is over 20, but that may fall as the industry deals with post-pandemic supply-chain concerns. These, in turn, should keep 3M product prices firm in the face of rising demand.

Speculators will run away from 3M. There are many better places to go for capital gains. But if you like steady income, better than you can get from a government bond, this is one of the blue-chip stocks worth holding.

JPMorgan Chase (JPM): It’s About More Than the Money

A sign for JP Morgan Chase & Co (JPM).

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When business is good, many analysts see big banks as the ultimate blue-chip play. That includes banks like JPMorgan Chase.

But the nature of the money business is changing. The business of collecting deposits, making loans and handling payments is moving online. That may be why, of all the big banks, the best one to buy today is — JPMorgan Chase.

The reason can be found in its most recent quarterly report. The bank made over $6 billion from trading operations in just one quarter. Moving big pots of money takes big capital. It’s one area of banking where size matters. JPMorgan has more assets than any other U.S. bank, over $3.2 trillion. When they say the deal is done, the deal is done.

The bank’s traditional niches in taking deposits and making loans are under threat from fintech. The bank is waiting for weakness in the sector before pouncing. Meanwhile, the shares are up 69% over the last year, and it still has a P/E ratio of just 17.4.

As with all true blue-chips, however, you don’t need to time your purchases of JPMorgan. Just hold on to it. Over the last five years, JPM averaged capital gains of 30% per year, and the dividend has doubled.

Coca-Cola (KO): Looking to Get its Mojo Back

hand holding a bottle of Coca-Cola (KO) against a red background

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If we were discussing blue-chip investments a decade ago, one of the first names we would talk about would be Coca-Cola Co.

Coca-Cola has been trading on the New York Stock Exchange since 1919. The company practically built its home city of Atlanta, which is based on trading, marketing and a positive attitude. Right now, the stock is a bargain, with a dividend of 3.23%

But Coke’s long-time refusal to go outside its niche of potable water is hurting it. CEO James Quincey is fiddling around the edges, with smaller can sizes for health, investments in new sports drinks like BodyArmor and a “big bet” on Coke Zero.

But for many investors, including this Atlantan, rival PepsiCo (NYSE:PEP) now makes more sense, thanks to its investments in food companies Frito-Lay and Quaker Oats. Coca-Cola, by contrast, seems stuck in the past.

That could change. One of Quincey’s biggest deals since becoming CEO in 2017 has been to buy Costa Coffee, which competes directly with Starbucks in Europe. Quincey could bring Costa to the U.S. or expand the beachhead by bottling its drinks.

CEO fashions change. One big Quincey deal could put Coke back on top again. Meanwhile, enjoy the dividend.

Apple (AAPL): The Biggest Company in the World

Apple Stock Looks Too Cheap Here for Investors to Pass Up

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The late Steve Jobs built a product legend at Apple. His successor, Tim Cook, has made Apple a legendary investment.

Cook has done far more than manage Jobs’ products like the iPhone. He has made Apple the world’s most valuable company, with a market cap over $2 trillion. If you had bought 100 shares of Apple the day Cook became CEO on Jobs’ death, in August 2011, you would now have 2,800 shares, each worth more than half what one of those 100 was worth then. You would also have a dividend, instituted in 2012, that has more than doubled over that time.

Cook has made Apple into a Cloud Czar with its own network of hyperscale data centers. Services now represent 14% of the business. The company created the Apple Watch under Cook, and the wearables unit is now growing even faster than the phone.

It’s hard to see rapid growth from sales of $275 billion, but Apple still has opportunities in health, entertainment, banking and even cars to consider. Apple phones are the platform on which the future runs, and its cloud is what makes that platform invaluable.

If I were to recommend one stock to a conservative investor, it would be this one.

At the time of publication, Dana Blankenhorn directly owned shares in AAPL, PEP, and MMM .

Dana Blankenhorn has been a financial journalist since 1978. His latest book is Technology’s Big Bang: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow with Moore’s Law, essays on technology available at the Amazon Kindle store. Follow him on Twitter at @danablankenhorn.


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