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A Global Consumer Staples Idea

October 2, 2017 11:22 am
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The U.S. consumer staples sector is modestly higher on a year-to-date basis, though the group trails the S&P 500 by a wide margin. However, with the group retreating from some recently elevated valuations, investors may want to consider exchange-traded funds offering a global approach to consumer staples stocks.

That includes the iShares Global Consumer Staples ETF (NYSE:IXC). Home to nearly $615 million in assets under management, IXC is up more than 11 percent year to date, more than double the returns offered by some U.S.-focused staples ETFs.

“After two quarters of slightly inflated valuations, the consumer defensive sector retreated modestly early in the third quarter, and now trades in line with our fair value estimates,” said Morningstar in a recent note. “Nevertheless, opportunities remain for the selective investor.” 

M&A Could Be A Catalyst

While there were no mega deals in the global staples sector to speak of during the third quarter, there some small- to mid-size, bolt-on transactions along with rumors indicating large-scale consumer staples mergers and acquisitions could be a theme to watch for in the months ahead.

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“One reason for the continued interest in acquisitions is that organic growth remains sluggish for both retailers and manufacturers, with volumes remaining soft relative to historical levels, and price/mix still under pressure,” said Morningstar. “The growth of the hard discounters in Europe, Australia, and increasingly in the U.S., and the emergence of the e-commerce channel, are lowering barriers to entry in the consumer defensive space and intensifying price competition.”

KXI holds 92 stocks, just over 51 percent of which are U.S. companies. About a third of the ETF's geographic exposure is in Europe with the U.K. and Switzerland combining for 21 percent of the fund's weight.

Margin Expansion

With sales still lethargic for some familiar staples companies, firms such as Dow components Procter & Gamble Co (NYSE:PG) and The Coca-Cola Co (NYSE:KO) are focusing on margins.

“Pressure to expand margins is coming from activist investors,” added Morningstar. “This quarter, Trian Partners' Nelson Peltz announced that he is to seek a board seat at P&G, Daniel Loeb's Third Point built a stake in Nestle SA (ADR) (OTC:NSRGY) and published an open letter to management asking for changes to strategy and capital allocation.”

Nestle, Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola combine for about 19 percent of KXI's weight.

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