High quality stocks work long-term and also in 2020

Equities 5 minutes to read

Peter Garnry

Head of Equity Strategy

Summary:  Equities have reached high valuation levels, increasing the probability for negative real rate returns over a 10-year period. But with bond yields compressed everywhere investors are desperately looking for assets that can yield over the long run. High-quality stocks have done exactly that over almost four decades and in this equity update we pick out 25 high-quality stocks with long-term potential.


Our regular readers know that our view is fundamentally negative on equities. This is especially true of US equities, which have moved to levels against European equities that are historically out of proportion. There is an increasing risk that investors buying equities at current valuation levels could experience a negative real rate return over a 10-year period. But at the same time bond yields are falling and rates in the US are potentially going negative this year. What do you do as an investor?

Our general recommendation is for long-term investors to be half-exposed to the equity market and keep the remaining part of the portfolio in cash or short-term government bonds. A bit of gold would also be a good additional diversifier. The next question is then what equities investors should invest in while they wait for a setback. Long-term quality stocks have outperformed the general market since 1981 by a large margin, and in general Warren Buffett also changed his approach over time from deep value stocks to high-quality stocks with a understandable and predictable business moat. The biggest index provider in the world, MSCI Inc., uses three fundamental ratios as the components for selecting high-quality stocks: return on equity, debt-to-equity and earnings variability.

Source: Bloomberg

We prefer return on invested capital (ROIC) over return on equity as it better reflects the return on the total capital invested. Return on equity can be inflated by using a lot of debt; think financials in the years leading up to 2008. Debt-to-equity is not our preferred metric either as we would prefer net-debt-to-assets to avoid a metric with a potential negative denominator, which could happen due to a lot of share buybacks. One case is Rockwell Automation, where its debt-to-equity ratio is a mammoth 558% due to share buybacks. But if you look at its net-debt-to-assets then the ratio is only 20%, which is still high for a quality company but easily manageable through its cash flow generation. Earnings variability is a good measure unless a big shift in the competitive landscape happens, because then you will be behind the curve as a function of your lookback window to compute this earnings variability; it’s probably better just to analyse the industry outlook and apply that human judgement.

Our preferred method is to look at ROIC/WACC, where WACC is the weighted average cost of capital. If this spread is above one then the company is creating shareholder value. Secondly a good net-debt-to-assets position combined with a strong business moat in an industry with a positive outlook are the next variables we look at. Combining these variables without regard to valuation, we filter the US and European large cap segment top to 25 high-quality stocks that could do well even during a deep recession due to COVID-19. These 25 stocks have delivered on average 10% return this year in local currencies, thus outperforming the overall equity market. However, please be aware that this is not an indication of future performance.

NameSectorIndustry
Mkt. Cap. (USD, mn.)EV/EBITDAROIC/WACC (%)Net-debt-to-assets (%)YTD in %
Apple IncTechnologyCommunications Equipment1,395,00616.773.63-28.910.2
ASML Holding NVTechnologySemiconductor Mfg142,00537.881.24-6.213.7
Atlas Copco ABIndustrialsFlow Control Equipment48,44417.221.837.72.6
Biogen IncHealth CareBiotech49,1936.274.432.01.6
Coloplast A/SHealth CareHealth Care Supplies35,32937.866.144.232.6
Colruyt SAConsumer StaplesFood & Drug Stores8,1939.203.10-3.513.7
eBay IncConsumer DiscretionaryE-Commerce Discretionary31,76111.322.8230.826.2
Electronic Arts IncTechnologyApplication Software35,44518.582.47-40.614.2
Euronext NVFinancialsSecurity & Cmdty Exchanges6,50714.262.2920.516.7
F5 Networks IncTechnologyCommunications Equipment8,88015.581.57-39.34.4
Facebook IncCommunicationsInternet Media660,73618.102.14-33.013.0
GlaxoSmithKline PLCHealth CareLarge Pharma104,37112.272.7932.3-4.5
Knorr-Bremse AGIndustrialsRailroad Rolling Stock17,28912.733.128.65.6
Kone OyjIndustrialsComml & Res Bldg Equip & Sys35,92622.634.86-19.87.4
Lockheed Martin CorpIndustrialsDefense Primes109,07812.263.3025.81.2
Microsoft CorpTechnologyInfrastructure Software1,386,48020.172.62-16.516.6
Monster Beverage CorpConsumer StaplesBeverages38,22324.423.20-25.314.2
Neste OyjEnergyRefining & Marketing30,78710.662.67-2.016.7
NIKE IncConsumer DiscretionaryApparel, Footwear & Acc Design154,78825.053.59-5.0-1.2
Novo Nordisk A/SHealth CareLarge Pharma151,38716.678.70-8.812.7
Novozymes A/SMaterialsSpecialty Chemicals15,35519.662.6419.811.9
Roche Holding AGHealth CareLarge Pharma299,34013.693.674.59.1
Rockwell Automation IncIndustrialsMeasurement Instruments24,86416.162.7419.67.0
Unilever PLCConsumer StaplesHousehold Products139,52413.822.8035.20.7
Visa IncFinancialsConsumer Finance377,71923.682.883.43.8

Source: Bloomberg and Saxo Group

* YTD in % is the total return year-to-date in local currency

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