Despite the estimated $6 billion spent on the U.S. election, voters opted for the status quo. As a result, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and his policy of quantitative easing (QE) are here to stay.
Given the inflation-creating potential of QE, the election has left many investors wondering about the fate of the U.S. dollar, with further devaluation likely.
Fortunately for us, nearly half the sales generated by companies in the S&P 500 are now outside the U.S. So there are quite a few American firms whose shares can act as a hedge against a weak greenback and rising U.S. inflation.
Western Union (NYSE: WU), the world's largest money-transfer service, has some 500,000 agents in 200 countries. More than 70 percent of its revenue is from outside of the U.S. and in foreign currencies.
Western Union's revenue and earnings growth have largely tracked trends in global remittance payments. Globally, an estimated 200 million people are living in countries other than those of their birth. These immigrants are usually eager to share their prosperity with their families back home. In 2010, the latest year for which data are available, the global immigrant population sent home more than $440 billion.
If you expect the value of the U.S. dollar to decline, either through inflation or diminished investor confidence, Western Union is a great play because it's largely immune to dollar erosion. Regardless of the dollar's direction, Western Union has plenty of room to grow. Despite its size, the company commands only 20 percent of the global market, giving it ample opportunity to increase its share either through price competition or acquisitions.
Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America represent largely virgin territory for the company, offering good expansion prospects. Western Union recently sealed a deal with Banco Ahorro Famsa, one of Mexico's largest banks, to offer money transfer services in 300 of its bank branches.
While the company does carry a large debt load due to heavy investment in its network, it typically generates almost $1 billion in free cash flow annually. This cash has allowed Western Union to pay a steadily rising dividend for the past five years and fund a large annual share repurchase program.
Mead Johnson Nutrition (NYSE: MJN) is another excellent hedge against a declining dollar, while offering the stickiness of a consumer staple company. A provider of infant and children's nutrition products, Mead Johnson gets almost 73 percent of its revenue outside the U.S.
Since becoming an independent company, Mead Johnson has averaged compound annual revenue growth of 8 percent per year.
As the ranks of the global middle class have grown, demand for premium infant formula has burgeoned. China has been a major driver of that demand, with a market for premium formula currently valued at $8 billion a year and growing about 8 percent annually. Mead Johnson has grabbed 14 percent market share in that country. Latin America also presents a huge growth opportunity as the region's incomes continue to rise.
Free cash flow has risen to almost $500 million annually over the past three years while earnings per share have jumped from $1.99 in 2009 to $2.48 last year. In 2012, revenue should top $4 billion for the first time.
Yum! Brands (NYSE: YUM) is increasingly familiar to international consumers through its 14,000 KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell restaurants outside the U.S.
The company is on track to open its 750th franchise in China by the end of 2012 and to take its restaurant count to 100 in India. It will also soon open its 20th KFC franchise location in Nigeria.
Yum! has faced headwinds in recent years due to higher food costs, but it has finally begun to leverage its huge purchasing power to secure more favorable terms with suppliers. Operating costs have leveled out, leading to significant margin improvement and healthier earnings. In the third quarter of 2012, the company reported an operating margin of 19 percent, close to a 2-point increase.
As the company's financial position improves, its global growth opportunities are nearly limitless, with emerging markets such as China, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brazil offering a huge number of young, relatively affluent consumers.
Yum! Brands does face the potential headwind of cost inflation, but its huge international business will ensure outperformance in a weak-dollar environment.