Now that U.S. Fed chairman Ben Bernanke has told the world this week what most of us knew already, that the American economy is growing slower than forecasts and inflation is rising higher than forecasts, it's time to look at companies that will be winners and losers in the marketplace.
Dollar Tree (NASDAQ: DLTR) operates discount stores in the U.S. offering much of its merchandise at the fixed price of $1. The pre-fixe is always popular and the dollar doesn't go as far as it once did, and people always need household consumables like those Dollar Tree sells including basic health, beauty and household chemicals and refrigerated foods. Dollar Tree operates retail stores in 48 states and the District of Columbia, giving it broad exposure to Main Street America consumers. The company's stock is trading right at a 52-week high but its price-to-earnings ratio (19) isn't much higher than competitors including Family Dollar Stores (NYSE: FDO).
Rent-A-Center (NASDAQ: RCII) trades at a price-to-earnings ratio just under 12 with a dividend yield of 2.2%. The company engages primarily in leasing household durable goods to customers on a rent-to-own basis. If you need a television, a couch or other furniture for the apartment or house but can't afford to buy it all new, as if often the case for many underemployed or unemployed workers in a slow economy, then Rent-A-Center has the answer, with more than 3,000 stores in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico operating under a variety of names.
Ross Stores Inc. (NASDAQ: ROST) and its subsidiaries operate two chains of off-price retail apparel and home accessories stores in the United States, selling branded and designer apparel and accessories and home fashions and merchandise. With roughly 1,000 Ross for Less stores in the U.S., the California-based company trading just below its 52-week high at 16 times earnings plays in hard times upon the adage that to feel good, people want to keep shopping and look good. But they don't want to pay as much for what they buy.
General Mills, Inc. (NYSE: GIS) owns Cheerios, celebrating its 70th year as the top-selling cereal in America. The product is General Mills' leader, too. One out of every eight boxes of cereal sold from crowded-product store shelves is Cheerios and one thing the Minneapolis-based branded consumer foods company has learned is that people will eat the cereal and other foods it makes in good times and bad. Often, they'll even eat more in tough times as money to dine out gives way to more trips to the grocery stores.
Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. (NYSE: CMG) is one exception to the dine-out rule in tough times. The popular Denver, Colorado-based company that develops and operates fast, casual, fresh Mexican food restaurants in the U.S. has several advantages in its favor, even though the company is already having to work hard to keep up with its meteoric growth. Chipotle offers order at the counter, and in tough times people are less prone to dine in restaurants where they have to pay tips to servers. Also, because Chipotle promotes fresh ingredients the health conscious will choose this over other fast food options like hamburgers and fries chains. Finally, though, people want to get a lot for their money in tough times and Chipotle can really fill a person up, making it a strong player as economic conditions lag.
Allstate Corp. (NSYE: ALL) is the second largest automobile insurer in America, and as dollars get tighter, consumers cut back on what they don't need. Increasingly, the financial industry is educating consumers that they don't need all the insurance they have been told and sold over the years, in the effort to free up household spending dollars in the tight times. One area most Americans overspend on is automobile loss insurance. The value of cars depreciates in most instances yet most people don't reduce the loss coverage they need. Liability insurance is one thing, but loss coverage is another and the vast majority of people have more than they need. As dollars continue tight in the slow-growth economy and more consumers become aware of this, companies like Allstate and State Farm, America's largest auto insurer, will find growth a difficult task.
lululemon athletics inc. (NASDAQ: LULU) has been all the rage in this yoga-crazed society, engaging in the business of designing, manufacturing and selling at 142-company owned retail stores and a company-owned website athletic apparel for men, women and youth. The focus, though is high-end yoga apparel, mats and instructional DVD's. And while the yoga craze shows no signs of letting up anytime soon, many competitors are entering the popular realm of yoga apparel and accessories and they are going after lululemon with better price points in many cases. In tough times, lululemon may not thrive as it has over the past few years. The company's stock is trading very near its 52-week high.
The St. Joe Company (NYSE: JOE) is a highly shorted stock already, and for good reason. The company based in Watersound, Florida operates a real estate development firm. The company is diversified through land ownership and other activities beyond the straight and narrow large-scale real estate development many know it for, including projects like the popular Watercolor on the Florida Panhandle. Still, as the housing market continues to lag and interest rates projected to rise the prospects for St. Joe are lukewarm in the near-term.
Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT) is a company that conventional wisdom and history says should thrive in tough economic conditions. In the past, that was true but conditions aren't the same for Wal-Mart today as they were in the past. Yes, the company operates on the value premise, promising everyday low prices as the world's largest retail chain. The Bentonville, Arkansas retailer still conducts its biggest business in the U.S., though, and the company is rather stagnant compared to its past history in that market. Many stores require car transportation to reach and the superstore discount environment has little room left to cut in terms of costs and pricing after the great recession, meaning that Wal-Mart likely won't win as big in these tough times as it might have in the past.
Bank of America (NYSE: BAC) emerged from the financial crisis in the great recession with not one black eye but two and the company signifies the distaste some Americans have for what they feel as big business out to get them. As Bank of America's woes grow under the weight of the investment firm Merrill Lynch that it purchased in a haste during the recession and government bailout days, and as it tries to continue gauging revenue from more fees, more customers may revolt, causing slow-growth times for Bank of America.