The Dow's 5 Slowest Growers for 2013


The second-quarter earnings season is well under way. But quarterly results don't tell you the whole story about a company's prospects. What a company does in the long run is far more important to your success as a shareholder.

So rather than looking at this quarter's results or even the results for 2012, I'm going to take a longer-range view. To help get you oriented on how to maximize your returns beyond next week or next month, let's take a closer look at the 30 stocks of the Dow Jones Industrials (INDEX: ^DJI) to discover which ones will struggle to grow next year.

What's slowing?
The five stocks at the bottom of the list for earnings-per-share growth for their fiscal 2013 years come from every corner of the market. But they each face some common challenges, even though the companies are reacting to those challenges in different ways.

For Merck (NYS: MRK) , the culprit for slower growth comes from concerns about the looming patent cliff that plagues most pharmaceutical companies. Although it will lose exclusivity on asthma treatment Singulair later this year, the company does have some other prospects to pick up the slack. Nevertheless, a strong dollar could hurt its international sales and thus bring earnings down. Add those factors up, and you get analysts expecting a drop from $3.82 in EPS for 2012 to just $3.74 next year.

The other company expecting earnings contraction in Chevron (NYS: CVX) , which analysts see going from $12.42 in earnings per share this year to $12.21 next year. For the oil giant, the figure is simple math: a trend toward lower oil prices has led analysts to cut their expectations for next year by $1.44 per share, much more than the $1 in 2012 EPS estimate reductions. The real question, though, is whether Chevron can get out of its exploration and production malaise to produce better results by the time next year comes.

Growing at a crawl
Meanwhile, other Dow stocks are still growing, albeit at a snail's pace. Travelers has analysts expecting 1.5% EPS growth following a big rebound in earnings in 2012 versus last year's miserable loss experience. Although a more normal loss year would go a long way toward returning the insurance company to its former glory, continuing rock-bottom interest rates will put a ceiling on its growth. With few expecting the Federal Reserve to allow rates to rise substantially until mid-2014 at the earliest, Travelers won't see that headwind go away anytime soon.

Meanwhile, Procter & Gamble (NYS: PG) has been dealing with a number of growth-stifling issues. The strong dollar poses particular difficulties for the company's worldwide businesses, but much more troubling was P&G's warning that cut organic revenue growth estimates for the quarter by 2%. Between higher input costs for its products and an alarming inability to pass through those increased costs to consumers through price hikes, analysts see P&G's earnings per share rising only from $3.81 this year to $3.90 in 2013.

Finally, analysts have Cisco Systems (NAS: CSCO) pegged to grow at less than a 4% clip, with earnings per share going from $1.84 to $1.91 for the year ending in July 2013. That won't come from a lack of effort, as the company puts more money into acquisitions and tries to expand its presence in cloud computing and other promising growth areas. But with internal returns on capital having plunged in the past decade, Cisco now faces a lot more competition and no longer has the luxury of moving slowly to integrate new ideas into its overall strategic plan.

Keep on growing
As I mentioned last week, though, long-term earnings estimates can prove to be woefully inaccurate. That makes relying on a list like this a dicey proposition at best. But even if you completely disagree with analysts and their projections on a stock, it's important for you to know about those projections and the reasoning behind them. Otherwise, stubbornness can get in the way of making a rational investing decision.

In measuring the success of a stock, dividends vie for supremacy with growth. Let us show you some stocks that offer both hefty dividend payouts and potential for growing sales and earnings. Our latest special report on the Dow is absolutely free, so get your copy today.

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Fool contributorDan Caplingerdoesn't own shares of the companies mentioned. You can follow him on Twitter,@DanCaplinger. The Motley Fool owns shares of Cisco Systems.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of Chevron and Procter & Gamble. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. The Fool has adisclosure policy.

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