Chinas slowdown has wreaked havoc on a host of FTSE 100-listed stocks including BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto, BP and RoyalDutch Shell, HSBC Holdings and Standard Chartered, drinks giant Diageo and fashion chain Burberry Group. There are two notable exceptions, however. Two major global companies that bet big on the Chinese consumer. Two British-headquarteredpowerhouses that have defied the slippage suffered by other UK companies whosought their fortunes by heading East.
Household goods giants Reckitt Benckiser Group (LSE: RB) and Unilever (LSE: ULVR) appear to have survivedthe China meltdownrelatively unscathed. Reckitt Benckiser is up almost 24% over the last year, while Unilever is up 13%. That would have investors purringat thebest of times, but with the FTSE 100 back where it was12 months agoit looks downright racy.
Cutting The Frenchs Mustard
The twocompanies have long been admired for their defensive capabilities, and this year they have shownexactly how useful that can be. Some consider these stocks overpriced, regularly trading at 20 times earnings or more, but as recent performancehas shown, it is aprice worth paying.
Reckitt Benckiser, which reports Q3 results on Wednesday, enjoyed like-for-like first-half revenue growth of 7%, shaking off the emerging market slowdown to perform wellin India, the Middle East and Turkey. It also grew strongly in China, South Africa, Korea and Japan. Only Brazil, Thailand and Indonesia disappointed.
Where Dove Flies
Last weekUnilever posted underlying sales growth of 5.7%, rising to an impressive 8.4% in emerging markets.China delivered double-digit growth, partly due to a soft comparator year, but also due to rapid growth in online sales, and a successful launch of Unilevers Dovebody wash formulation.
Unilever also enjoysmore pricing power in emerging markets, with prices up 3.8% while pricing continued to decline in Europe.
Vim And Vigour
While the big FTSE 100 emerging market losers this year are oil, commodity and banking stocks, Western-branded householdgoods are still flying off the shelves.
Reckitt Benckiser and Unilever havebrushed offthe Chinese crackdown on luxury goods. Officials no longer darelavish contacts with branded fizzand designer handbags, but still stock their bathrooms withDettol, Harpic, Vaseline and Vim.
You have to put money on this success continuing, as China continues its ungainlytransformation from an export-led growth model to a modern consumer society. That is bad news for oil and mining giants, but Reckitt Benckiser and Unilever should continue to clean up.
The problem is that both are pricey again. ReckittBenckiser trades at 26 times earnings and Unilever at around 24 times earnings. Their dividends are relatively low at around 2.4%. Both stocks are once againliving up to their reputation as solid, reliable but a little expensive. Still, withfive-year returns of 85% and 65% respectively, against 11% on the FTSE 100, that looks likea price worth paying.
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Harvey Jones has no position in any shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK owns shares of and has recommended Unilever. The Motley Fool UK has recommended HSBC and Burberry. We Fools don’t all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.