While the FTSE 100 has been in the red since the turn of the year, National Grid(LSE: NG) has been a strong performer. It has beaten the FTSE 100 by almost 5% year-to-date and has been a whole lot less volatile. With stock markets facing an uncertain future, due in part to fears surrounding the global economy, defensive stocks such as National Grid could continue to offer upbeat capital gain prospects over the medium term.
Clearly, National Grid is more than just a defensive play. It also offers a very healthy income return and with interest rates unlikely to be much higher in a year (or even in a few years' time), demand for income-producing assets may remain high. Therefore, National Grid's yield of 4.7% continues to hold huge appeal and could prove to be a positive catalyst on investor sentiment in 2016 and beyond.
With National Grid trading on a price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of 15.8, it trades at a discount to a number of its defensive peers. This indicates that while a rapid rating expansion may not be on the cards, National Grid could still offer upward rerating potential should economic conditions remain subdued.
Reinventing for stability
Of course, not all companies offer the stability of National Grid. For example, Centrica (LSE: CNA) is currently in the midst of a major transformation plan that the company hopes will provide its investors with a much more stable income stream. This is set to be achieved through Centrica exiting vast swathes of its oil and gas business so as to become a focused domestic energy supplier. With the oil price continuing to offer little upside potential, this seems to be a wise move.
In addition, Centrica is cutting costs, generating efficiencies and is seeking to deliver a more stable financial performance moving forward. Clearly, its turnaround plan is very much a long-term strategy and is unlikely to be completed for a number of years, but with its shares yielding 5.9%, its investors look set to receive a very appealing income return in the meantime. And if Centrica is able to deliver on its long-term goals, the current P/E ratio of 13.2 indicates that a major upward rerating is very much on the cards.
Similarly, Standard Chartered(LSE: STAN) offers significant capital gain prospects if it can successfully deliver on its new strategy. With the Asia-focused bank forecast to return to profitability in the current year and to then post a rise in earnings of 69% next year, it trades on a forward P/E ratio of just 9.5. This shows that there's scope for a major uplift to its share price following the 56% fall in the last year.
Certainly, there's the potential for further falls in the short run if the outlook for China and the rest of the Asian economy deteriorates. But with China offering such impressive long-term growth potential and the prospect of high demand for credit, buying Standard Chartered now may lead to exceptionally high levels of growth in the long run.
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Peter Stephens owns shares of Centrica, National Grid, and Standard Chartered. The Motley Fool UK has recommended Centrica. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.