If you’re into blue chips but aren’t satisfied with your returns of late, you’re not alone. It’s been a tough past few months. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is currently priced where it was as of the end of last year and where it was a year ago. The foreseeable future may not be much better, either.
However, a handful of Dow stocks are primed to outperform during the remainder of 2023. Here’s a closer look at three of them and what’s apt to drive them higher from here.
International Business Machines
It’s been a while since International Business Machines (NYSE: IBM) — you know it better as IBM — has earned investors’ attention. Indeed, it was so irrelevant for so long that many investors just forgot about it. Big mistake. IBM is back. And while it’s still not the powerhouse it once was, it is positioned to outpace the broad market in the foreseeable future.
It’s still a tech company. Many of the businesses it was in then, it’s still in now, in fact. But the core of IBM’s current focus is hybrid cloud computing — a $1 trillion opportunity, according to CEO Arvind Krishna. The 2019 acquisition of Red Hat put IBM squarely in the cloud computing market, and the company has melded this tech with its other know-how to muscle its way to more market share and more profits.
Last year’s revenue was up a little over 5% despite a challenging economic backdrop, while gross profits improved to the tune of 4%. Cash flow was OK, too, and is expected to grow more than $1 billion this year to reach $10.5 billion. Per-share profits are projected to improve at a similar clip this year and next.
Those aren’t heroic growth rates, but they’re respectable for a company doing $60 billion worth of business per year. It’s tough to grow much when you’re already huge. They’re also a turnaround from the company’s prolonged period of falling revenue between 2011 and 2021.
More than anything, though, these single-digit growth paces aren’t indicative of IBM’s future. Emergen Research believes the hybrid cloud computing market will grow at an annualized pace of more than 18% through 2030. Mordor Research pegs the business’s yearly growth figure at 21%. Either one would be a healthy tailwind for this company.
Procter & Gamble
Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG) shares were a star performer in 2020 and 2021 when the conditions created by the pandemic played right into its hand. While it wasn’t selling food or many cleaning supplies, consumers had plenty of time to fine-tune their at-home hygiene habits — and budgets. This company has the wherewithal to keep its products in plain sight but can compete in terms of price, too.
P&G stock has struggled since late-2021, though. Inflation hurts every business but is brutal for low-margin industries that make physical products. Investors were simply concerned Procter’s profits were in jeopardy.
As it turns out, they weren’t in jeopardy…not really. This company passed along the bulk of its cost increases to its retail distributors, who then passed them along to consumers. Procter & Gamble’s cost of goods sold through the latter half of last calendar year was up only about 3% on sales that were essentially flat, leading to a 5% lull in net earnings. Given the difficult circumstances, that’s not bad.
However, this isn’t exactly what’s set to spark a rebound in PG stock. Rather, shares are due for a renewal of their long-term rally because of what’s already happening and what should accelerate into next year. That’s cooling inflation. While input costs are still relatively high, last month’s annualized producer inflation rate of 2.7% is the lowest this figure’s been in a little over two years.
Much of that relief resulted from ever-volatile food and energy prices, though even removing those factors from the equation, the annualized producer inflation rate stands at a palatable 3.6%. Moreover, the Federal Reserve’s governors anticipate inflation continuing to cool through 2025.
This will somewhat dent Procter & Gamble’s pricing power, but it will absolutely lower its operating costs and costs of goods sold at a point in time when P&G has learned to do more with less. Assuming history repeats itself, products’ retail prices won’t be reeled in quite as much as their underlying costs. This dynamic sets the stage for widening profit margins going forward.
Last but not least, don’t be surprised if you see shares of Dow component Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT) start soaring at some point this year and then continue to do so. It would certainly be a welcome relief for owners of the heavy machinery stock, too. Shares are down 15% from the January peak, sliding all the way back to prices seen in early 2021.
Inflation was at the core of the tricky problem.
While firm prices for mined and drilled commodities have created demand for digging and grating equipment, Caterpillar’s costs for the materials needed to make its wares have been equally high. These input costs are finally stabilizing, perhaps even falling.
But prolonged inflation has created economic uncertainty that now puts major mining and construction projects at risk. Capital spending on six-figure machines like bulldozers, excavators, and giant dump trucks could be crimped. Investors have just been thinking and trading cautiously. And they still are, it seems.
As Warren Buffett advises, though, you should “be fearful when others are greedy, and greedy when others are fearful.” Or maybe you’re more familiar with the vernacular “expect it when you least expect it.” Caterpillar’s recent past and present have been difficult, but everything about its current headwinds is cyclical. And the challenging portion of the current cycle could be nearer to its end than not…even if nobody seems to see it coming.
That was the case with housing back in 2009 anyway, with crude oil in 2016, and with iron ore back in 2020. All three instances would have been great times to step into beaten-down CAT shares, as all three industries were headed into an unexpected recovery.
To this end, while Caterpillar’s projected sales growth of 7% this year will likely slow to only 2% growth this year, that’s still forward progress that’s apt to be outpaced by earnings growth. You could certainly do worse while waiting for the next major economic expansion phase to kick in.
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James Brumley has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.