As the US Federal Reserve pursues a policy of essentially unlimited quantitative easing, investors have become increasingly concerned about the potential for a sharp devaluation of the dollar.
While that's a concern for American consumers and businesses that operate primarily in the US, the reality is that most major corporations won't be hugely affected. As you can see from the chart, "Growing Global Reach," nearly half of S&P 500 companies' sales are generated outside of the US.
In fact, there are a number of US-based companies with significant foreign operations for which a devalued dollar would actually pose a tailwind. We'll take a look at a few that would not only provide investors a hedge against a weaker dollar, but also offer moderate yields and lower volatility.
An estimated 43 million people living in the US today are foreign born, counting both legal and undocumented residents, making up 13.5 percent of the population. Globally, an estimated 200 million people are living in countries other than those of their birth.
Most immigrants leave their home countries in search of jobs and a better life and they're eager to share their newfound wealth with the folks back home. In 2010, the latest year for which data is available, remittances from the US alone totaled $48.3 billion, according to the World Bank. The global immigrant population sent home more than $440 billion that year.
Since 2009, the value of global remittance payments has been growing by about 4 percent annually. Prior to that period, average annual growth ran in the mid-teens as burgeoning wealth and a weakening dollar pushed immigrants to send more money home.
With more than 500,000 agents in 200 countries, Western Union (NYSE: WU) claims a huge slice of that pie as the world's largest money transfer service. Historically, its revenue and earnings growth have fallen largely in line with trends in global remittance payments.
If you expect the value of the US dollar to decline either through inflation or diminished investor confidence, Western Union is a great play because it's largely immune to dollar erosion. More than 71 percent of its revenues originate outside of the US and in foreign currencies.
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 pick up share either through price competition or acquisitions.
Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America represent largely virgin territory for the company, offering huge 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 banks branches across the country.
The company is also working to build out its business-to-business offerings as well as prepaid money cards. It recently began pushing into digital money transfer through the Internet and mobile phones, reducing the need for customers to go to an agent location.
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 it to pay a steadily rising dividend for the past five years and fund a large annual share repurchase program.
Another excellent hedge against a declining dollar is Yum! Brands (NYSE: YUM), which is becoming increasingly familiar to international consumers through its 14,000 KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell restaurants located outside of the US.
As the article Yum! Brands Surges on China Growth; India Up Next points out, the company is on track to open its 750th franchise in China by the end of this year and take its restaurant count to 100 in India. Later this year, it will open its 20th KFC franchise location in Nigeria.
Yum! has faced headwinds in recent years due to higher food costs but 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 18.9 percent, a 190 basis point increase.
That improvement will help support the company's policy of paying out about 35 percent of its net income to shareholders in dividends and pursuing an aggressive share buyback program.
As the company's financial position improves, its global growth opportunities are nearly limitless, with countries such as China, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brazil offering a huge number of young, relatively affluent consumers.
A third company to consider is Anheuser-Busch InBev (NYSE: BUD)-the world's largest brewing company, with close to $40 billion in annual revenue and $12 billion in operating profit. The company currently holds 18 percent of the global beer market and generates 30 percent of the industry's operating profits, making it the most successful brewer in the world. The next closest competitor is SABMiller (LN: SAB), with 10 percent of the global market.
By leveraging its beer distribution network-the world's largest-Anheuser-Busch InBev has increased its non-US sales by more than 45 percent since 2008. More than 60 percent of its revenues are sourced overseas.
Almost all of that growth has come from Latin America and Asia. Over the past two decades, per-capita beer consumption in China has soared fivefold, and is expected to climb another 33 percent in the coming decade, much of which will be in premium brands.
The company already claims 42 percent of Chinese premium-beer sales and is expanding inland throughout the country, via existing brands as well as mergers and acquisitions. The Middle Kingdom's beer market is comprised of a patchwork of local and regional brands, so there's no shortage of opportunities. If you're interested in hedging the dollar with some precious metals plays, I provide a handful of picks in my free report.