Billionaire David Harding’s Consumer Goods Picks

Meena is a member of The Motley Fool Blog Network -- entries represent the personal opinion of the blogger and are not formally edited.

We track hundreds of hedge funds’ quarterly 13F filings as a part of our work developing investment strategies; we have found, for example, that the most popular small cap stocks among hedge funds earn an average excess return of 18 percentage points per year (learn more about our small cap strategy). We also like to analyze individual filings to search for any trends in how top managers are playing the markets, and potentially identify investment ideas for further research.

When we looked through billionaire David Harding’s Winton Capital Management’s 13F, we saw a number of consumer goods stocks among the fund’s largest holdings. Read on for our quick take on Winton’s five largest consumers goods positions or see the full list of the fund's stock picks.

Harding and his team’s largest holding by market value was their more than 590,000 shares of Kimberly-Clark (NYSE: KMB). The personal products company looks like an ideal defensive stock: its beta is essentially zero, reflecting no relationship with the broader economy, and its dividend yield is 3.3% at current prices. With a market cap of $38 billion, Kimberly-Clark is certainly well capitalized as well. We’d note that at this valuation, the stock is priced for future growth, with trailing and forward earnings multiples of 21 and 16, respectively.

Spices and seasonings manufacturer McCormick (NYSE: MKC) was another of Winton’s top picks with the filing disclosing ownership of over 670,000 shares. McCormick’s yield isn’t particularly high, but it also stands out for a fairly low beta, at 0.4. While growth of both revenue and net income was quite modest in its most recent quarterly report (for the quarter ending in February) compared to the same period in the previous fiscal year, the valuation is fairly aggressive here with McCormick valued at a trailing P/E of 24. As a result, we would avoid the stock.

The fund increased the size of its position in Colgate-Palmolive (NYSE: CL) by 72% to a total of about 340,000 shares. Colgate-Palmolive is another stock where markets are expecting earnings per share to increase considerably going forward, and even with Wall Street analysts calling for some improvements this year and next year, the forward earnings multiple is 19. The company’s earnings have actually been down, going by recent reports, though it does fall in line with the other two stocks we’ve discussed here in terms of having a low beta (of 0.2).

According to the 13F, Harding had around 540,000 shares of Brown-Forman (NYSE: BF-B) in his portfolio as of the beginning of April. The alcoholic beverage company, whose brands include Jack Daniels and Southern Comfort, experienced a 10% increase in revenue in its fiscal Q4 (which ended in April) versus a year earlier, with earnings rising 8% over the same time frame. The stock trades at 25 times trailing earnings, which again seems to be a high valuation even as Brown-Forman has at least been delivering good financial results.

Winton owned 1.1 million shares of cigarette company Altria (NYSE: MO), a 29% increase from the beginning of 2013. As with many cigarette stocks, Altria pays a high dividend yield (close to 5% at current prices) and has a low beta (of 0.4). While net income was up strongly last quarter compared to the first quarter of 2012, revenue was about flat. The trailing P/E of 16 represents a discount to these other companies we’ve mentioned, but still incorporates expectations of at least some future EPS growth. Renaissance Technologies, founded by billionaire Jim Simons, reported a position of 1.7 million shares in its own 13F (find Renaissance's favorite stocks).

Most of the consumer goods picks we’ve discussed here look expensive to us. It appears that Winton is interested in these stocks as a broad investment theme for the downside protection which they offer to a portfolio -- we can see that each of these names carries a beta of less than 0.5. In that sense, the wealth of consumer goods stocks even at their high valuations is likely not an indicator that Harding is looking for high growth in the sector, but instead the result of somewhat bearish sentiment. While many of these stocks aren’t appealing on a value basis, Altria as well as other cigarette companies may be worth considering for income investors.

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This article is written by Matt Doiron and edited by Meena Krishnamsetty. They don't own shares in any of the stocks mentioned in this article.The Motley Fool recommends Kimberly-Clark and McCormick. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. 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. Is this post wrong? Click here. Think you can do better? Join us and write your own!

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