CEO Carol Meyrowitz recently told analysts TJX's long-term plans call for 4,300 stores, up from 2,800 now, not including potential new markets. The retailer's strong balance sheet, with $1.4 billion in cash, can help fund that expansion.
While the stock has more than doubled from the lows of late 2008, fund managers still find it attractive, because it trades at just nine times expected fiscal 2012 free-cash flow. And with free cash expected to increase by more than 10% a year over the next five years, Akre says, "it's remarkably cheap."
"For anyone interested in global growth and a play on China, Yum is a go-to name," says Douglas Cohen, the head of Morgan Stanley Smith Barney's Strategic Equity Portfolio Group.
Yum Brands has been in China for 20 years, and KFC is the top Western quick-service restaurant in that country. Yum's China business is also more lucrative than its domestic operations. As a result, analysts expect Yum's profits to improve as that business keeps growing.
The Louisville, Ky., company acknowledges that KFC isn't doing as well in the United States, but it is restructuring its domestic business and selling some company-owned restaurants to franchisees to free up cash to reinvest in areas with better growth potential, says Derek Deutsch, the manager of the Legg Mason ClearBridge Equity (SABRX) fund, which owns Yum stock.
To be sure, a slowdown in China likely would hurt Yum's stock price. But some managers say Yum still has room to grow. Analysts expect Yum's profits to rise by 12% to $1.3 billion in 2011. With just 3,500 outlets in China, the company has plenty of growth opportunities there, analysts say. There is one quick-serve restaurant for every 2,000 American city dwellers, but in China, the ratio is one for every 140,000 urbanites.
"Yum is likely to be the McDonald's of China," Deutsch says.
Momentum builds for industrials
Economists are noting that companies flush with cash are beginning to help the industrial economy rev back up. "It's almost like they are living on another planet," says one strategist.
United Technologies (UTX, news) traces its roots to the aircraft industry but now makes products that include heating and air-conditioning units -- hot sellers in emerging markets -- as well as jet engines. While some of its businesses, like fire safety and security, are going strong, others, such as commercial construction products, are still stuck in a slump. But the Hartford, Conn., company's diversity is a source of comfort for investors seeking a way to play a global recovery.
"Their business mix shelters them better than most," says Lewis Piantedosi, the lead manager of Eaton Vance's large-cap-growth team.
United Technologies, which routinely gets high marks for its focus on controlling costs, restructured during the downturn to boost profitability and cash while continuing to invest in its business.
"It continues to grow, and grow in the right way, by keeping its balance sheet strong and consistently buying back stock," says Scott Lawson, a portfolio manager at Westwood Holdings Group.
Analysts say the company's habit of consistent buybacks differentiates United Technologies from other companies that repurchase shares sporadically -- and risk doing it at the wrong time.
That said, not everything about the company's business is consistent. One downside to getting 60% of its sales abroad is that the company is vulnerable to currency fluctuations. Some of the currency impact is muted because 40% of the company's sales are derived locally, said Chief Financial Officer Greg Hayes. And while real-estate prices in China might decline, Hayes doesn't expect much of a slowdown in the company's Chinese businesses. "We still see growth," he says, noting that China is building 5 million low-end housing units and needs many more as the country continues to urbanize.
In just the past several months, 3M (MMM, news) -- best known for Scotch tape and Post-it notes -- has made some deals, snapping up a biometric security company, a company that makes temperature-adjusted hospital gowns and a Chinese tape maker. 3M says the acquisitions fit into its portfolio of about 50,000 products across a slew of industries.
The St. Paul, Minn., manufacturer has refocused on innovation, boosting its research-and-development budget by 6% in 2010 as it tries to generate 40% of sales from products launched in the past five years.
Peter Nielsen, manager of the Sextant Core (SCORX) fund, thinks the shares could rise at least another 20%. "Even if growth in the U.S. is anemic," he says, "this is a way to invest in a firm that has fairly strong growth potential."
To achieve some of that growth, executives tell analysts, 3M will continue to tap its strong balance sheet for acquisitions and investments, and push into areas like software and electronics. Executives also say 3M might boost its stock buybacks and continues to pay a dividend. 3M has consistently increased its dividend since the 1950s.
"It's not a sexy story, nor a shoot-the-lights-out type of stock, but a nice, steady anchor to a portfolio," says Eaton Vance's Piantedosi.
United Parcel Service
With about 6% of the country's gross domestic product delivered by United Parcel Service (UPS, news), the Atlanta company is often seen as a proxy for the U.S. economy. But it looks like the folks with the brown trucks are a step ahead: While the economy has been sluggish, all the shipping company's divisions, encompassing areas such as international package delivery and logistical operations, are on track to post profit increases of more than 50% from year-ago lows.
The snapback in global trade is one reason for the gains. But UPS has also restructured its U.S. business and invested in its hubs to make them more autonomous, lowering labor and other costs.
Those investments should pay off even more as the economic recovery boosts shipping volumes, says Kevin Sterling, a transportation analyst at BB&T Capital Markets.
On average, analysts expect profits to increase 18% to $4.1 billion in 2011. Some analysts expect the company to put its $4 billion in cash toward acquisitions to gain market share abroad, boost its share buyback and increase the dividend it has been paying since 1955.
Chief Financial Officer Kurt Kuehn tells SmartMoney that the most likely type of acquisition would push UPS into areas like developing markets or into industries where the company could use more expertise.
To be sure, any slowdown in the global economy or protectionist moves made by the U.S. or other countries could hurt business. And shares of UPS have already risen 20% since summer. But at 17 times expected 2011 earnings, it still trades below its long-term average.
For more large-cap stock picks, go to SmartMoney.com.
This article was reported by Reshma Kapadia and Russell Pearlman for SmartMoney.
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[BRIEFING.COM] At midday, the S&P 500 trades with a gain of 0.5%.
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