Go Global: Look Overseas (Not to Washington) for Growth

This week, third-quarter earnings season kicks into high gear. Rubber, meet road.

For insights into this quarter’s corporate operating results and what they mean for your trading strategy, I turn to General Electric (NYSE: GE).

General Electric is a quintessential blue-chip stock that has nonetheless become a “Dog of the Dow.” In fact, it’s the dog, with the distinction of being the worst performing stock this year in the index. GE year-to-date has fallen 25%, whereas the Dow Jones Industrial Average of which it is a component has risen 15%.

On Tuesday, the Dow resumed its flirtation with 23,000 and rose 0.27%, for its 47th record finish in 2017. GE shares closed the day down 0.34%. Although nearly flat, these twin movements reflected the divergence this year between the Dow and GE. But as I’ll explain, GE is indicative of your best buying opportunities right now.

As GE prunes away unproductive assets, the huge U.S.-based conglomerate is on track to produce muscular earnings, without fiscal or monetary “steroids” from the quack doctors in Washington, DC.

In the face of excessive valuations and rising risks, companies with the wherewithal for organic growth are your shrewdest bets. These “defensive growth” companies should prosper regardless of Federal Reserve policy or legislative action on Capitol Hill.

In 1896, General Electric was one of the original 12 companies listed on the newly created Dow index. A staple of many retirement portfolios, General Electric is the only one of the original companies still listed on the Dow.

Regrettably for those retirement investors, GE has missed the stock market rally. GE shares have gotten clobbered all year, as investors fret over the company’s C-suite turnover and unfinished attempts at streamlining.

However, General Electric still possesses many inherent strengths (notably its aerospace/defense business) that make it a good long-term value play. Another key advantage: more than 50% of the company’s sales are generated overseas.

GE is scheduled to report third-quarter earnings on October 20. The average analyst expectation is that GE’s earnings per share (EPS) will come in at 50 cents, a healthy jump compared to EPS of 32 cents in the same quarter a year ago. The average analyst expectation is for GE to post five-year earnings growth of 9.32%, on an annualized basis.

It’ll take time for this colossus to turn itself around, but patient investors in GE will be rewarded. GE may be “boring” compared to the overvalued technology stars that get hyped all day long by the yakkers on CNBC, but it epitomizes a shrewd investment direction amid these perilous times.

Great expectations…

The upshot of my GE case study: Look for values among inherently strong but underappreciated global companies; tune out the daily corporate and political soap operas that dominate cable news; include international exposure in your portfolio; and focus on the fundamental data. Chief among the fundamentals are earnings reports.

This week, about 8% of the S&P 500 will report third-quarter operating results. Expectations for earnings growth are high.

According to the research firm FactSet, the estimated year-over-year earnings growth rate in the third quarter for the S&P 500 is 2.8%. Companies that generate more than 50% of sales inside the U.S. will post a slight earnings decline of -0.1%. For companies that generate less than 50% of sales inside the U.S., the projected earnings growth rate is 7.9%.

The sales growth rate for the S&P 500 for Q3 2017 is 4.9%. For companies that generate more than 50% of sales inside the U.S., the sales growth rate is 3.8%. For companies that generate less than 50% of sales inside the U.S., the sales growth rate is 7.7%.

Focusing on earnings and sales growth is imperative amid today’s high valuations. The forward 12-month price-to-earnings ratio (P/E) for the S&P 500 is 18, compared to 15.6 for the five-year average and 14.1 for the 10-year average.

To be sure, projected third-quarter earnings growth is solid, but it’s still not strong enough to justify these lofty valuations. Some investors are hoping that advantageous policy from Washington will provide a tailwind to supplement earnings and sales growth, but in my opinion they’re deluded.

The repeated collapse of Trumpcare, the bitter divisions between Republicans and Democrats, the brewing civil war within the GOP, and the diminished political clout of an isolated and embattled White House bode poorly for Wall Street’s coveted wish of corporate tax cuts. Expect more gridlock, not stimulus, from the bozos on the Potomac.

All of which underscores the appeal of companies with higher exposure to growing international markets. S&P 500 companies with greater global footprints are expected to benefit in the third quarter and into 2018 from accelerating global gross domestic product (GDP) growth and a declining greenback.

European blue chips beckon…

According to the latest Economic Outlook of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), released on September 20, global GDP growth is projected to increase to about 3.5% in 2017 and 3.7% in 2018 from 3% in 2016. S&P 500 companies with higher global exposure should reap the benefits of this growth.

The European Union is taking the world’s center stage, as it shakes off its political fears and offers opportunities for bargain hunters frustrated with high valuations in the U.S.

Blue chips either based in Europe or with large exposure to Europe should do well in coming months. Many Euro-centric firms boast cheap valuations, even though they enjoy strong projected earnings growth and rock-solid balance sheets.

The European Union is home to several of the world’s biggest, best-known international corporations. They’re superbly managed and make renowned brand names that are beloved and trusted in America and around the world.

After a turbulent few years, emerging markets are rebounding as well. Latin America is a salient opportunity, particularly often-ignored countries such as Mexico. The region is home to a growing, increasingly educated and computer-literate middle class. Meanwhile, as commodity prices finally rise after a multi-year slump, many Latin American producers of raw materials are facing brighter prospects.

Worried that President Trump’s trade policies will trigger a destructive trade war that hurts overseas markets? Don’t be. Despite Trump’s fiery “America First” rhetoric, his administration has back-tracked on nearly every protectionist promise and embraced the globalist status quo (to the relief of investors).

Global growth overall is not only robust but “synchronized,” with all regions on the upswing for the first time since 2010. As U.S. markets seesaw with every political drama in the nation’s capital, don’t be parochial. Go global.