Tuesday, October 26, 2010

ETR: The Safest Stocks in the World

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Tuesday October 26, 2010

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"Safety is something that happens between your ears, not something you hold in your hands."

Jeff Cooper

The Safest Stocks in the World
By Dan Ferris

The safest stocks in the world right now have three important traits.

The first trait of a safe stock is a rock-solid financial condition. The best financial condition possible is when a company has plenty of cash and little or no debt.

Think about your own finances. Would you rather have $1 million in cash and no debt or $1 million in debt and no cash? It's a silly question. Everybody would love to have $1 million in cash and no debt. It's the same with a business.

The best example is Microsoft. No matter what anyone says about it, I'm 100% certain Microsoft is one of the safest stocks in the world today.

Microsoft is in the best possible financial condition. It has $36.8 billion in cash, stocks, and bonds and less than $6 billion in debt. It could completely eliminate its debt and still have more than $30 billion left over. If you paid all your debts and had $30 billion left over, you'd feel pretty secure, right?

Microsoft shareholders feel that way every day. No matter what happens in the world, there's never a financial crisis at Microsoft.

Here's a list of a few more safe, blue-chip stocks that are all in a strong financial condition...

(in billions)

(in billions)
Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) $18.9 $11.6
Intel (INTC) $18.3 $2.3
Costco (COST) $5.3 $2.2
Automatic Data Processing (ADP) $1.7 $0.04
TJX Companies (TJX)
$1.5 $0.79

A strong financial condition is just the beginning. The other two traits of a safe stock are just as important...

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The second trait of a safe stock is that it generates more cash than it reinvests to keep the businesses going.

Again, think of yourself... Would you like to run out of money two days before you get your paycheck? Or would you like to have $5,000 more than you spend each month? That $5,000 is excess cash flow. You'd feel more secure with plenty of excess cash flow each month, right?

It's the same with a business. Businesses that generate excess cash flow every year are safer than those that don't. Johnson & Johnson earned more than $15 billion of excess cash flow in the past 12 months. Automatic Data Processing earns about $1.5 billion in excess cash flow per year. In fact, all six of the stocks mentioned above generate large amounts of excess cash flow every year.

The third trait of a safe stock is that it's obviously worth more than its stock price. I'm not talking about a company worth $50 a share that sells for $48. That's too close to call. I'm talking about companies worth at least 50% more than their stock price.

Intel at $18 a share is a great example. Right now, the stock market says Intel's business is worth about eight times the excess cash flow it can generate in one year. That's an absurdly low price. Over the past few years, we've seen great businesses sell for several times that: Gillette, Wrigley's, and Anheuser-Busch were all bought out for 28-32 times one year's excess cash flow.

Intel is too big to be bought out. But even if it were worth only half what Gillette, Wrigley's, or Anheuser-Busch were worth... that's a 75%-100% upside from here. With a great financial condition, excess cash flow, and a low stock price, Intel is one of the safest stocks in the world today.

To recap, the safest stocks in the world...

Have a rock-solid financial condition, usually with more cash than debt.

Generate more cash than needed to keep the business going.

Are worth at least 50% more than their current stock price.

Many investors think they must take big risks to make big money in stocks. It's just the opposite. You have to eliminate the risk of loss as much as possible.

Invest only in the safest stocks, and you'll retire rich. And if you wanted to, you could probably retire years ahead of schedule.

P.S. Readers of my monthly Extreme Value letter have known about the safest stocks in the world for almost four years now. To date, not one Extreme Value recommendation in this category has failed to produce a profit. The only two we've closed produced 49% and 59% gains in about a year's time. To learn more about Extreme Value -- and how to get immediate access to all my research -- click here.

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Today's Words That Work: Anomaly

An Anomaly (un-NOM-uh-lee) -- from the Greek for "irregular" -- is a deviation from the norm.

Example (as used by William Finnegan in The New Yorker): "In the drug wars that rack Mexico... Tijuana is an anomaly. It is a place where public security has actually improved."

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