As the FTSE 100 has plunged 13% over the past year, shares of Reckitt Benckiser (LSE: RB), Persimmon (LSE: PSN), and Imperial Brands (LSE: IMB) have handily outperformed the index. Are these shares set to continue humming along nicely or should investors book their profits and look for other opportunities?
Consumer goods giant Reckitt Benckiser may not be as well known as its chief competitor Unilever, but RB has handily outperformed the Anglo-Dutch company since forming in 1999. Given the fact that shares are up 882% since then, the past year's 16% bump in share prices shouldn't come as a surprise. Crafty acquisitions and recent focus on organic growth has turned the purveyor of Woolite and Durex into an earnings juggernaut. Profits rose by 4% last year (not bad for a mature business) to reach $2.2bn due to operating margins of 26.8%.
The company brings in 30% of revenues from emerging markets, which should be a boon to shareholders in coming decades as growing middle classes from China to South Africa can increasingly afford to buy RB's brands. For current RB investors, I would hold this winner and let it grow for years. The bad news for those on the outside looking in is that shares are trading at a pricey 24 times 2016 forecast earnings. This valuation may be scary, but the underlying quality of the company is exceptional and I don't believe its growth is anywhere close to being done.
Building for growth
Homebuilder Persimmon announced this week its fifth straight year of double-digit earnings per share growth, a 34% boost to dividend payments, and a 19% increase in operating margins. However, despite all these great numbers, if I were a shareholder I would be starting to become antsy. Housing construction remains a highly cyclical industry, and while new housing sales have yet to hit their pre-crisis level, I believe we're closer to the peak than the trough in this cycle. That being said, braver investors than I will find a 5.3% yield at the well-run company an attractive option.
Lagging the competition
Imperial Brands, the purveyor of cigarettes formerly known as Imperial Tobacco, showed the resilience of tobacco companies by posting another great set of results in 2015. The company increased net revenue by 3%, earnings per share by 8.2%, and brought operating margins on tobacco sales up to 46.3%.
An increased presence in America, the world's second most profitable market, through the acquisition of several brands from Reynolds American could prove significant for Imperial. This $7.1bn deal means 11% of revenue comes from the States, but it may prove difficult to significantly expand market share there.
Imperial is well run and will continue to be highly profitable, but it lacks market-leading brands and is relatively concentrated in increasingly regulated developed markets. These factors put it at a disadvantage versus its chief competitor, British American Tobacco. I believe that in the long run Imperial will continue to reward shareholders, but maintain its underperformance relative to BATS.
Stagnant tobacco demand could relegate Imperial to underperform the subject of the Motley Fool's latest free report A Top Growth Share.
Shares in this company have already increased 400% in value over the past five years, but the Motley Fool's top analysts don't forecast this growth ending anytime soon.
Follow this link to read your free, no obligation copy of this report.
Ian Pierce 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.