The French are funny. They smoke cigarettes while riding bicycles. They hail Jerry Lewis as a filmmaking genius. My favorite scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail is when King Arthur and his men encounter the insulting French knight. And throughout the rise of western civilization, they've ALWAYS been a lynchpin in global affairs where continental Europe is concerned.
After the first round, Macron has emerged as the frontrunner and, although he faces Le Pen in the run-off, indications tell us that the French are leaning towards the more moderate Macron. Markets have breathed a sigh of relief with encouraging rallies and pundit-talk of, at long last, real growth in European equities.
Here are three growth stocks for 2017 investors should look at.
1. Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE: RDS.B)
Of the handful of large, European-headquartered, vertically-integrated oil companies, Shell shows the best value and yield. With a $234 billion market cap, the company has weathered "Oilmageddon" as prices and consumption have recovered. Last year, the company pulled in $233.6 billion in sales, earning $1.16 per share. While this isn't spectacular, it's not bad considering the train wreck the entire energy sector was recovering from. The prognosis for the future is much improved, with estimates calling for a 25% jump in revenue and EPS of $4.35 for 2017.
The balance sheet is equally attractive, showing a manageable long-term debt-to-capitalization of 39% (reasonable for a capital-intensive industry), operating cash flow of $24.4 billion, and total cash of $19.13 billion in the till. Shares currently trade around $54.50 with a discounted forward P/E ratio of 12.5 and a nearly 7% dividend yield. The "B" (ADR) shares are equally attractive as they are not subject to foreign withholding taxes.
2. Vodafone (Nasdaq: VOD)
Vodafone is one of my perennial value stock favorites. Domiciled in the UK, Vodafone is one of developed Europe's dominant wireless providers with solid franchises in the UK, Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Greece, Spain, and Romania. But while developed EU markets may seem saturated, they're excellent sources for the company's massive annual operating cash flow of nearly $15 billion from average annual sales of $65 billion over the last five years. The company also generates EBITDA (earnings before interest taxes depreciation amortization) margins of nearly 25%. This dependable, developed market cash flow funds the real growth driver: Developing markets like Africa, the Middle East, and the Asia Pacific region.
Improvement in the European economies will keep that cash flow strong while the developing markets will drive earnings growth. At around $26.50 a share with a 5.8% dividend yield, the stock trades at just 0.9 times book value.
3. Accenture (NYSE: ACN)
Headquartered on the Emerald Isle (the Republic of Ireland), Accenture is a bit off my value-guy reservation as it is a genuine growth stock. However, the company's business segment, consistent performance, and the current business environment together create the perfect storm to propel the stock higher.
Focusing on providing professional business services such a management consulting and information technology to a broad range of industries, the company is well positioned to profit from "Brexit" adaptation and compliance as well as increased demand for its services due to anticipated economic growth.
Accenture has grown annual revenues at a 5% average annual clip over the last five years while growing EPS by 14.76% for the same time period. The company sports an impressive return on equity of 51.6% as well. Shares trade at about a 5% discount to their 52-week high with an annual dividend yield of 2%.
Risks To Consider: The biggest risk to the European equity growth thesis is geopolitical. Although moderation is expected to prevail in the French election as it has in the Netherlands, it ain't over till it's over. Tough economic conditions such as France's 10% unemployment rate and the rise of populist-nationalist rhetoric have created political wildcards. Don't forget to throw in tensions with Europe's favorite neighbor, Russia. The insulation these stocks provide, however, in the event of volatility are large, visible franchises, healthy capitalization, and large, steady cash flow passed on to shareholders.
Action To Take: As a basket, these stocks produce an annual income stream of 4.9%. Geopolitical stability fostered growth could produce European equity returns of 15% or better over the next 12-to-18-month period. Patient investors could realize potential total returns of 20% or better.