Investors who want a middle-of-the-road, slightly conservative group of stocks might take a look at my Sane Portfolio.

This is a collection of 12 stocks, some held over from prior years . To qualify for membership , a stock must pass seven tests. None of them is especially hard, but fewer than 6% of U.S. stocks pass all of them. The tests :

  • Decent profitability (return on stockholders’ equity of 10% or more).
  • A reasonable price (no more than 18 times earnings, 3 times book value, and 3 times revenue).
  • Earnings growth averaging 5% or more the past five years.
  • Market value of $1 billion or more.
  • Debt less than stockholders’ equity.

From the group of qualifying stocks, I choose 12 for the Sane Portfolio. Once a stock is in, it stays in as long as it meets the eligibility criteria. Six stocks from last year are returning.

Back Again

Lear Corp. (LEA), which manufactures seats and electronics for cars, makes its fourth appearance in the Sane Portfolio. Lear’s earnings grew 29% a year in the past five years but fell 30% last year. The stock, now severely out of favor, sells for nine times earnings.

Tyson Foods makes its third appearance. It is a leading producer of beef, chicken and pork. I like its growing business in prepared foods, recently about 21% of sales. Consumers love convenience.

Carnival Corp. (CCL), also back for a third time, is the world’s largest cruise line, with more than 100 ships. It has shown a profit in each of the past 30 years.

Second Time

Back for a second time are three stocks: Allstate Corp. (ALL), Phillips 66 (PSX) and Walgreens Boots Alliance. (WBA).

One thing I like about Allstate, a big car and home insurer, is that it has increased its dividend 12% a year in the past five years.

Shares in Phillips 66, a big refiner, have been weak since last summer. Yet the company has been highly profitable, with a 22% return on stockholders’ equity last year.

Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA) stock has declined from about $90 to $54 in the past four years. The stock once sold for 30 times earnings; today you can buy it for 11 times earnings.

New Picks

Here are my six new selections.

Cigna Corp. (CI), the big insurer, sells for less than book value (corporate net worth per share) because people are unsure what the U.S. health care system will look like. I think radical change in unlikely.

Truck maker Paccar Inc. (PCAR) has been consistently profitable and often handsomely so. The company is debt-free. Yet the stock sells for only 10 times earnings.

Even cheaper, at seven times earnings, is homebuilder Toll Brothers Inc. (TOL). It sells high-end homes, and investors currently prefer moderately priced ones. But I think Toll Brothers will do OK.

Selling well below book value is Met Life Inc. (MET), one of the largest U.S. life insurers. Puny interest rates have hurt the company in recent years, but they won’t last forever.

Textron Inc. (TXT) owns many businesses, including Bell helicopters and Cessna business jets. It has been profitable in 14 of the past 15 years.

Lastly, I pick ON Semiconductor Corp. (ON), which has grown revenue at an 18% clip for the past five years. ON was spun off from Motorola in 1999 and has been publicly traded since 2008. Profits bounce up and down — so far with more ups than downs.

Past record: I have compiled the Sane Portfolio most years since 1999. The average 12-month return on 17 columns has been 10.22%, compared with 8.77% for the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index. In 17 tries, the Sane Portfolio has been profitable 14 times and has beaten the S&P nine times.

Last year was one of the three loss years. The portfolio fell 4.06% while the S&P 500 rose 5.03%. The worst performers were Thor Industries Inc. (THO), down 39%, and Lear Corp. (LEA), down 38%.

Bright spots were Tyson Foods Inc. (TSN) and Sanderson Farms (SAFM), up 38% and 31%, respectively.

Disclosure: I own Sanderson Farms and Walgreens for most clients and personally. I own Allstate, Carnival and Tyson Foods for one or more clients.

John Dorfman is chairman of Dorfman Value Investments in Newton Upper Falls, Massachusetts, and a syndicated columnist. He can be reached at jdorfman@dorfmanvalue.com.

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