10 Shares Trading Near 52-Week Highs

Published in Investing on 3 December 2012

A good year for the FTSE 100 has been a great year for these blue chips.

The FTSE 100 (UKX) is up 5.7% in the last year. While that is a respectable return, you would have done even better if you had bought a clutch of these shares.

My list below is dominated by the banks. Anyone that stayed invested in the sector throughout the eurozone gloom has been well rewarded for their bravery and patience.

Below are the 10 largest companies in the FTSE 100 that are trading within 3% of their high for the year.

NamePrice (p)P/E (forecast)Yield (forecast, %)Market cap (£m)
HSBC Holdings63511.24.3116,776
Unilever2,40918.93.368,241
Diageo1,86018.12.646,646
SABMiller2,83519.12.245,209
Royal Bank of Scotland29517.1033,464
Lloyds Banking46.518.6032,841
Reckitt Benckiser3,92615.93.328,264
National Grid70212.85.825,521
Prudential91113.32.923,291
Carnival2,51521.62.519,551

Data from Stockopedia.

Four companies stood out in particular.

1) Diageo

Shares in this mega-brewer are trading near an all-time high.

Diageo (LSE: DGE) is one of the most successful companies you can buy shares in today. The manufacturer of Guinness and Smirnoff (among others) managed to increase earnings per share (EPS) and dividends throughout the financial crisis.

Success like that will always inspire investor confidence and attract a premium rating.

With 102.9p of EPS forecast for 2013, rising to 115.2p the year after, Diageo is priced significantly higher than the average FTSE 100 stock. With an expected yield of 2.6%, there are clearly many better income opportunities available.

In the last five years, Diageo has increased its profits at an average rate of 14% per annum. Dividends have been raised at an average of 5.9% per annum.

2) Unilever

Like Diageo, Unilever (LSE: ULVR) is a big brands company. Unilever is the company behind household brands such as Pot Noodle, Marmite, Persil and Lynx. In fact, there can be very few people in the UK that don't regularly purchase at least one Unilever product.

These brands and product diversity have helped Unilever build a business with high earnings reliability. Investors will frequently pay up for such quality earnings.

Unilever has a bigger yield than Diageo. The payout is forecast to hit 3.3% this year, rising to 3.5% in 2013.

The forecast growth is less than you might expect from a company with such a high P/E. Brokers actually forecast a small decline in earnings this year, to be followed by an 8.1% rise in EPS for 2013. Decent dividend growth is still expected, analyst consensus is for a 7.1% rise in 2012, to be followed by another 6.7% increase in 2013.

3) SABMiller

The SABMiller (LSE: SAB) portfolio includes Peroni, Grolsch and the eponymous Miller Genuine Draft, among others.

At SABMiller, EPS has increased by an average of 12.8% a year for the last five years. In that time, the dividend has been increasing by an average of 12.7% per annum.

The reliability of SAB's sales and profits make it a highly desirable investment both for equity and debt investors. Last week, the company successfully raised €1bn of debt by issuing an eight-year bond. The interest SABMiller will be paying on this new debt is just 1.875% -- the sort of lending rate that most listed companies could only dream of paying.

4) Prudential

General insurer Prudential (LSE: PRU) has a large presence in Asia. It is likely this positioning of the business has helped Prudential manage the downturn so well.

Although the company reported a loss for 2008, profits are now well ahead of the level they were at before the crisis. Dividends have been rising every year since 2005. In the last five years, the payout has increased at an average of 8.0% per annum.

Looking at the forecasts, Prudential is expected to report EPS 18.3% higher in 2012 and carry on growing in 2013. This means that the shares trade on a 2013 P/E of 11.9.

As the share price growth has been so strong, the dividend yield has fallen. That payout is expected to continue rising. Consensus is for a 5.1% increase for 2012 to be followed by a 10.4% advance in 2013.

5) Reckitt Benckiser

Reckitt Benckiser (LSE: RB) has a fantastic growth record. This household products company managed to increased both EPS and dividends per share year-in, year-out for the last five years. The company also managed these increases at a fair lick: the lowest EPS growth rate in that time was 6.6%. The lowest dividend increase was 5.0%. Few listed companies can demonstrate such a successful track record.

Reckitt has managed this by nurturing a stable of leading brands such as Cillit Bang, Nurofen and Vanish. By owning these leading brands, Reckitt has superior pricing power and operating margins.

However, there is some scepticism as to whether the company can continue to grow at the same rate. Consensus is for a small decline in EPS this year before returning to only marginal growth in 2013. Dividend growth is also expected to moderate, with a 2.8% rise expected in 2012 followed by a 3.3% increase in 2013.

Owning companies with strong brands has been a key part of Warren Buffett's investment strategy. This super-investor has recently been buying shares in a UK company. To find out which one, get the free Motley Fool report "The One UK Share Warren Buffett Loves". This report will be delivered to your inbox immediately. Simply click here to start reading and discover what the world's best investor has been buying.

> David owns shares in Lloyds Banking and Royal Bank of Scotland but none of the other companies mentioned.

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