By David Sterman
Last week, I began to look at companies that, despite the financial crisis, hadn't posted one single unprofitable year dating back to the crash of the "tech bubble," which is considered by many experts to be the beginning of a "lost decade" for stocks. What I had hoped to find were a handful of large companies that were able to keep the momentum going through this tough period, posting solid long-term gains and -- with any luck -- were now trading at bargain-basement levels, thanks to the current down market.
My results yielded no less than 20 stocks that I think present some real buying opportunities for the type of blue-chip "forever stocks" StreetAuthority Co-founder Paul Tracy preaches about to his Top-Ten Stocks readers. These are the types of stocks that, no matter what happens in the economy or the stock market -- short of absolute Armageddon -- you could feel reasonably safe about owning over the long-term.
Here's a look at the final five of the 20 blue chips you should be focusing on right now...
16. NetApp (Nasdaq: NTAP)
Fiscal (April) 2003 sales: $892 million Fiscal 2011 sales: $5.1billion
All of those new web pages generated in the past decade needed to be archived, ready for instant retrieval when necessary. NetApp's storage devices, which connect to major enterprise software systems, have often been the product of choice, fueling very steady growth through the decade.
This trend continues. Demand for even more storage capacity is expected to boost sales another 25% in the current fiscal year to $6.4 billion. And that's going right to the bottom line -- NetApp is expected to earn a record $2.46 a share this year, up more than 20% from fiscal 2011. Meanwhile, the broader market gloom has sucked this stock down into the vortex, pushing it from $55 in early July to a recent $35. This is right where the stock stood five years ago, when the company's revenue base was half the size. Shares trade for just 12 times projected fiscal 2013 EPS forecasts, which is at the bottom end of the historical price-to-earnings (P/E) range.
17. News Corp. (NYSE: NWS)
Fiscal (June) 2003 sales: $17.4 billion Fiscal 2011 sales: $33.4 billion
Rupert Murdoch's entertainment empire has come under fire this year for a phone hacking scandal that revealed a major lapse in corporate ethics. Perhaps equally scandalous is the fact Murdoch hasn't made his shareholders a dime in the last decade. Its stock fell from $30 in 2000 to $25 in 2007 to a recent $15. The much-ballyhooed $5 billion purchase of Dow Jones, publisher of The Wall Street Journal, in 2007 failed to provide the ignition for a stock rally.
But even with the lower stock price, this is a substantially larger company that can now be counted on to generate $2 billion to $3 billion in free cash flow every year. In response to a weakening share price, News Corp. announced plans in July to buy back $5 billion in stock during the next 12 months, which could reduce the share count by more than 10%. Shares are unlikely to ever reach the heights seen five or 10 years ago, but a move back up to $20 appears logical, according to analysts at Goldman Sachs. That target equates to 12 times their projected fiscal 2013 EPS forecast of $1.64.
18. Parker-Hannifan (NYSE: PH) Fiscal (June) 2003 sales: $6.3 billion Fiscal 2011 sales: $12.4 billion
This manufacturer of hydraulic and pneumatic power systems has been scaling new heights of profitability throughout the past decade. After earning $1.09 a share in fiscal 2003, EPS steadily grew to more than $3 a share in 2006, $5 a share in 2008, $6 a share in 2011, and should exceed $7 in the current fiscal year.
That financial progress has enabled management to start focusing on the dividend, which was hiked 24% in fiscal 2011 and another 18% in the current fiscal year to $1.48. A rising dividend, coupled with a stock that has fallen from $99 in late April to a recent $64, has boosted the yield up to 2.3%. Goldman Sachs sees shares returning right back to that 52-week high, a 48% potential gain. Key catalysts for the stock include the accretive impact of an ongoing $600 million share buyback, and tuck-in acquisitions. Parker-Hannifan has a history of deal-making that almost immediately boosts per share profits.
19. Robert Half International (NYSE: RHI)
2002 sales: $1.9 billion Fiscal 2011 (est.) sales: $3.8 billion
With employment trends stuck in neutral, this would be seem to be an odd time to focus on staffing stocks like Robert Half. But business is better than you might think, thanks to a focus on temp workers and full-time IT and accounting staffers -- areas that are getting employer attention even as broader hiring plans remain on hold. Sales are rising at a 20% clip in 2011, and are expected to rise another 10% in 2012. If the economy finally starts to strengthen in coming quarters, double-digit growth can be sustained in 2013 and beyond as well.
Just as important, profit margins are quickly expanding because the company has successfully pushed through price increases. Earnings per share are on track to more than double this year, and rise another 40% to $1.44 in 2012, according to consensus forecasts. Shares now trade for just 13 times that 2012 view, after falling from $30 a decade ago to a recent $21. Analysts at Merrill Lynch rate shares a "buy," with a $35 price target, noting "Robert Half will leverage fixed costs, including over 350 offices, resulting in high incremental margins exceeding 25% over the next several years."
20. Schlumberger (NYSE: SLB) 2002 sales: $9.8 billion 2011 sales (est.): $39.6 billion
In the past decade, Schlumberger has emerged as one of the most important companies in the global energy industry, providing an incredibly vast range of products and services to oil giants like ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM) and state-owned firms like Saudi Arabia's Aramco. In recent years, the company has made a series of tuck-in acquisitions that not only boost sales and profits, but also extend Schlumberger's offerings. This is boosting the company's already impressive market share, and ensuring sustainable growth for the years to come.
Growth has already been quite impressive, not just on the top-line noted above, but the bottom line as well. EPS are projected to grow at least 30% in 2011 and 2012, moving toward the $6 mark by 2013. After plunging from $95 to $61 in just two months, shares now trade for just 11 times next year's projected EPS of $5.45. The fact that this stock trades at the same price as five years ago, even as sales and profits are vastly higher since then, should really get your attention.
Risks to Consider: As is the case with other stocks profiled in this series, this could be a "dead money" portfolio until the market finally regains its footing. Parker-Hannifan likely has the greatest economic risk and would see a large reduction in forward earnings estimates if the global economy fell into a prolonged slump. News Corp. likely carries the least earnings risk, while NetApp likely has a strong floor in place due to the stock's low valuation.
If I had to single out one name of the 20 that have been in focus in this four-part series, it would be the last one -- Schlumberger. Virtually all of the profiled stocks looked poised for decent rebounds, and you should spend your time researching all of them before choosing a few that are most appropriate for your risk profile. Yet Schlumberger stands out as offering perhaps the most robust upside of any stock profiled.
When oil prices stage their inevitable rebound past the $100 mark, this stock will again sport a much higher profit multiple as oil firms' rising cash flow turn into more orders for Schlumberger. A move back to the $110 peak seen in 2008 -- or more than 80% above current levels -- is not out of the question for this stock when the stars re-align.
Disclosure: Neither David Sterman nor StreetAuthority, LLC hold positions in any securities mentioned in this article.