H2O: An Existential Necessity

11/16/2015 9:00 am EST

Focus: STOCKS

Stephen Leeb

Founder and Research Chairman, Leeb Group

One area that has not had enough attention from investors is water. We feel that will change, asserts Stephen Leeb, editor The Complete Investor.

In the past generation water prices have risen faster than most other commodities. And, indeed, over the past five years the price changes in water of about 6% (annualized) have far surpassed any other staple.

Water is a big deal, an existential necessity just beginning to appear in the periphery vision of investment analysts. For us, water looks like an especially big deal; come what may in China or America, water will be in a protracted uptrend.

Therefore, as a shelter in this tough economy, we urge purchases in your portfolio of companies with a major stake in H2O.

The conservative Aqua America (WTR) is an extremely well managed water utility. As a leading player in a highly fragmented industry, the company is benefitting from accretive acquisitions as well as the rising price of water.

Earnings have increased for at least 15 consecutive years but most noteworthy is that the increase has accelerated to double digits over the past five years. That is rapid growth for any company, never mind a utility whose dividend continues to rise.

In our Growth Portfolio, one of our favorite picks is Ecolab (ECL). It is an expensive stock but worth every cent and then some, especially over the long-term.

Ecolab can divide its history into two parts: before Nalco and after Nalco, a technologically advanced water treatment company that Ecolab acquired in 2011.

Before it bought Nalco, Ecolab grew steadily with a deserved high multiple. After Nalco, the company’s growth has accelerated, no mean feat given that in the past few years the company’s energy business suffered mightily due to the downturn in fracking.

The stock has been an outperformer. Indeed, since 2011 the stock’s edge over the major averages has soared. We expect more of the same, thanks in large part to its advantage in water technologies, for the foreseeable future.

The stock recently declined after missing third-quarter revenue expectations and revising 2015 earnings guidance downward. A strong dollar had a significant negative impact on the company’s results.

Ecolab’s core businesses, however, remains sound. In our opinion, the recent price decline creates a good buying opportunity.

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