With the ASX falling by 6% since the turn of the year, many investors will be poorer now than they were at the end of 2015. Looking ahead, there is a real fear that things could get worse before they get better, which means that defensive stocks could become more popular as investors seek more resilient and robust earnings outlooks.
However, there are a number of stocks which offer defensive attributes while also having sound long term growth potential. Such stocks, therefore, could prove to be the perfect buys at the present time – especially if they are able to steady a volatile portfolio during a highly challenging period for the ASX.
One such stock is health care company CSL Limited (ASX: CSL). Its earnings have been extremely robust in recent years and have delivered annualised growth of 21.8% during the last decade. With CSL recently purchasing Novartis’ influenza vaccine business, the larger entity now has the potential to record further above average growth. Evidence of this can be seen in CSL’s forecasts, with the company expected to post a rise in earnings of 26% in the 2017 financial year.
As well as upbeat growth prospects, CSL also has defensive attributes. One of these is a large exposure to non-Australian markets which, given the weakness of the Aussie dollar, could provide an improved profit outlook. Furthermore, CSL’s business model is relatively uncorrelated with the macroeconomic outlook, while its beta of 0.6 indicates that its 5% outperformance of the ASX since the turn of the year could continue.
Certainly, CSL’s price to earnings (P/E) ratio of 27.8 is much higher than the ASX’s P/E ratio of 15.2. However, when CSL’s growth rate is factored in, the resulting price to earnings growth (PEG) ratio of 1.1 indicates that it offers growth at a very reasonable price.
Similarly, toll road and tunnel operator Transurban Group (ASX: TCL) has outperformed the ASX thus far in 2016, with its shares beating the wider index by over 3% year-to-date. Additionally, its track record of profit growth is very strong, with the company recording a rise in earnings of 22.4% per annum during the last five years. This, plus a beta of 0.88, indicates that Transurban is a sound defensive prospect.
However, it also impresses on the growth front. Although M&A activity could be somewhat limited following an acquisition spree, Transurban has a number of key development projects in the pipeline which have the potential to boost its top and bottom lines.
Additionally, Transurban continues to benefit from rising average daily traffic (which rose by 5% in financial year 2015) and, with the cost of motoring being relatively low, this figure could improve significantly in the medium term. And with further efficiencies to come through, Transurban’s margin has a healthy long term future which should have a further positive impact on the company’s profitability.
With Transurban trading on a P/E ratio of 46, it appears to be rather expensive at the present time. However, as with CSL, Transurban’s PEG ratio of 0.7 indicates that now is an opportune moment to buy a slice of it for the long term.
Despite this, there are 3 other ASX stocks that I believe could outperform CSL and Transurban.
In fact, they have recently been named as The Motley Fool's 3 Top Blue-Chips For 2016 and could make a real impact on your bottom line as we move through the year. As a result, it's well worth finding out more about them.
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Motley Fool contributor Peter Stephens has no position in any stocks mentioned. Unless otherwise noted, the author does not have a position in any stocks mentioned by the author in the comments below. The Motley Fool Australia has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson.