By Mitchell Clark
There are a whole bunch of brand-name stocks that recently appreciated back close to their highs, many of which will soon be reporting their earnings.
Despite this fact, however, it still seems like a very difficult environment in which to be a buyer. Stocks just aren't that attractively priced; in fact, many brand-name companies are priced for perfection. It's still slow growth out there, and with equity prices at their all-time highs, this year's returns may only be the dividends, which would just return the rate of inflation at best.
Colgate-Palmolive Company (NYSE:CL) is a top-performing blue chip with an excellent track record of generating wealth for investors. The stock hit an all-time record-high last fall, and then backed off just like everything else did in January. It has since recovered.
The position boasts a forward price-to-earnings ratio of around 19.5, which makes it fully priced in my books. Sales growth in the first quarter of 2014 is expected to be minimal, and so are comparative earnings. This year's revenue consensus averages two percent among Wall Street analysts, rising to 5.4% in 2015.
Great companies like this tend to command higher multiples, as institutional investors pay for the certainty. But comparatively, Colgate-Palmolive commands a much higher valuation than Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT), which is a technology company growing at a faster rate.
All things being equal, it makes me think that a blue chip like Microsoft can actually run a lot further than it has recently, playing catch-up to the rest of the market. It's interesting how stocks go through their own cycles, both operationally and in terms of favor among big investors.
Microsoft is one of the few old-school large-cap technology stocks that now looks to be breaking out of its long-term consolidation (similar to the broader market). The company's stock chart is featured below:
Stocks have been unpredictable this year and quite candidly, the Federal Reserve's comments over the last couple of months have a lot to do with current price levels. I suspect the market's weakness in January would have continued into a full-blown correction if not for the conveniently timed reassurance of the central bank.
I'd look to Microsoft's share price performance as another benchmark for this market. Speculative stocks, especially those in the biotechnology sector, sold off tremendously, and there has been a small reckoning among risk-capital securities.
But the broader market shouldn't come apart if stocks like Colgate-Palmolive and Microsoft are pushing their highs. Add in a few old economy stocks to this theme and it's not too difficult to see the resilience.
It's likely that first-quarter earnings season is going to be very modest. While the market is getting tired of slow growth peppered with increased dividends and share repurchases, big investors are unlikely to waver, so long as the Federal Reserve continues to hold Wall Street's hand.
As an investor in stocks, modern history shows that it doesn't pay to fight an accommodative central bank. Going into first-quarter earnings season, blue chips are expensive.