The U.S. economy is going through a period of decelerated growth. This is in sync with the global economies that have seen a major blow to corporate and consumer confidence amid the extended European sovereign credit crisis and the notable slowdown in Chinese growth. The economic slowdown has weighed on the equity market performance. However, looking forward, the resolution of the European debt problems will help restore business confidence, and the resumption of growth in China, amid a larger monetary stimulus, will contribute to higher global demand. This will facilitate the resumption of growth in the United States, although growth rates may continue to be moderate.
Recently, due to these concerns, many cyclical sectors have been out of favor with investors. If the economy gets on track toward faster growth, cyclical sectors will be in a good position to benefit from the new trend. This will bode well for chemical and industrial gas companies, some of which pay decent dividends. Below is a quick glance at four cyclical industrial stocks that can produce good total returns once the economy gets back on the growth track. These companies pay dividend yields in a range between 1.9% and 3.4%.
E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company (DuPont) (NYSE:DD) is a global chemical and technology conglomerate with a market cap of $47 billion. It produces chemicals and materials used in auto manufacturing, construction, pharmaceuticals, agriculture, and electronics industries. Over the past five years, DuPont's EPS and dividends grew at close to 2.0% and 2.6% per year, respectively. Its EPS growth is forecast to accelerate to nearly 8% per year for the next five years, which bodes well for future dividend increases. The company boasts a free cash flow yield of 2.8%, ROE of 31.6%, and return on invested capital [ROIC] of 13.5%. Jim Cramer from CNBC's "Mad Money" recently praised the stock for its "high yield and the upside potential as it moves away from commodity chemicals and into proprietary ones that fit into hot secular growth themes like agriculture."
The stock is paying a dividend yield of 3.4% on a payout ratio of 46%. Its peers The Dow Chemical Company (NYSE:DOW), Monsanto Company (NYSE:MON), and BASF SE (OTCQX:BASFY) pay dividend yields of 4.3%, 1.8%, and 4.0%, respectively. On a forward P/E basis, the shares are trading at a slight discount to the commodity chemicals industry and a notable discount to the company's own five-year average metrics. The stock is up more than 9% over the past year. Billionaire Ken Griffin owns more than $10 million in the stock, with even larger call and put options.
Air Products and Chemicals, Inc. (NYSE:APD) is an $18-billion diversified gas and chemicals company. It is the world's biggest supplier of helium. Over the past five years, the company's EPS expanded at an average annual rate of 11.6%, while dividends increased at a rate of 11.1% per year. Analysts forecast that APD's EPS will grow 14% next year and, on average, a bit more than 9% per year for the next five years. The company boasts a ROE of 21.2% and a ROIC of 13.4%. The economic slowdown in Europe, Asia, and North America, along with an adverse effect from the stronger dollar, have weighed on the company's performance. Rising commodity input costs and energy prices bode poorly for the company's margins. However, over the long run, the company is poised for growth, given its diverse customer base-including customers in the non-cyclical industries such as healthcare and life sciences; stable long-term contracts; and solid pricing power.
The stock is paying a dividend yield of 3.0% on a payout ratio of 41%. Its competitors Praxair Inc. (NYSE:PX) and Airgas Inc. (ARG) pay lower dividend yields of 2.0% and 1.9%, respectively. On a forward P/E basis, the company's shares are trading at a small premium relative to the commodity chemicals industry. However, they are priced below the company's five-year P/E average. The stock is up 7.4% over the past year. Among fund managers, it is popular with Edgar Wachenheim (Greenhaven Associates), who has almost $300 million invested in the stock.
Praxair Inc. is a $32-billion company selling atmospheric and process gases. Its EPS grew at an average rate of 12.7% per year over the past five years, while dividends increased at a rate of 13.8% per year. The company's EPS is forecast to expand at a rate of 10.8% per year for the next five years. Praxair's ROE is 28.3% and ROIC is 13.5%. Praxair revenue streams (under long-term contracts) are considered to be relatively stable for a cyclical company, which is a reason why this company is a good income play. The company has solid free cash flow generation, which it is using for acquisitions, share buybacks, and dividends. Share buybacks, which totaled $300 million in the first six months, have supported EPS growth and stock prices. Praxair is expanding rapidly in key emerging markets, already holding a dominant role in South America and expanding its market presence in China and India.
Praxair pays a dividend yield of 2.0% on a payout ratio of 39%. Its competitors Air Products and Chemicals Inc. and Airgas Inc. pay dividend yields of 3.0% and 1.9%, respectively. As regards the stock's valuation, the stock has a forward P/E trading at a notable premium to the company's respective industry, although it is below the company's five-year average ratio. The shares are up nearly 16% over the past 12 months. Fund manager Boykin Curry (Eagle Capital Management) holds nearly $500 million in the stock.
Airgas is a $6.3-billion distributor of industrial, medical, and specialty gases in the United States. Over the past five years, the company's EPS and dividends grew at almost 16% and 35% per year, respectively. Analysts forecast that its EPS growth will average nearly 13% per year for the next five years. The stock boasts a free cash flow yield of 1.2%, ROE of 19.7%, and ROIC of 8.6%. The company recently missed analyst estimates for revenue and EPS growth. However, positioning itself for growth expansion, in fiscal 2012, Airgas supplemented its gas business with eight acquisitions of businesses with industrial gas and equipment supplies operations. Since its inception, the company has made some 400 acquisitions, which have contributed to its expansion over the years.
Airgas has a dividend yield of 1.9% and a payout ratio of 38%. Its rivals Air Products and Chemicals and Praxair pay higher dividend yields. Airgas shares are trading on a forward P/E well above the company's respective industry, but below its historical P/Es. The stock is up almost 34% over the past year. Billionaire fund manager Richard Chilton (Chilton Investment Company) is a big fan of the stock. The stock is a new position in RenTech's portfolio.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.