Get Ready For Earnings Season Bargains
It's earnings season. And the consensus on Wall Street, Main Street and beyond is that this quarter could be a bloodbath for corporate earnings in almost every industry. Analysts expect overall earnings for the S&P 500 to decline 9.1% from the first quarter of 2015.
The main reason is fairly simple: energy and financial companies are having their worst quarters in many years. We all know oil and natural gas prices hit historic lows in February; though they've rallied, it won't be enough to help them this quarter. For financial services companies, the stock-market volatility early in the quarter hurt trading profits and reduced demand for brokerage and other investment-related services; at the same time some banks suffered from loan defaults from the energy sector.
There are a couple of pieces of good news regarding earnings: One, consumer discretionary, healthcare and telecom companies are expected to post positive earnings overall. If you've followed my advice to add to your positions in these areas in recent months, those holdings should partly protect your portfolio from earnings-related drops.
Two, and most significant, the gloomy earnings season probably will create buying opportunities among quality stocks that get beaten up -- either because their own first-quarter earnings come in lower than expected or because they are caught up in a short-term correction through no fault of their own. Either way, we can use the temporary share-price swoon as an opportunity to pick up shares on the cheap.
Here are three great stocks that might be available on the cheap in the coming weeks:
Emerson Electric (NYSE: EMR ) , which I initially told you about in this article , is a leading electrical-equipment multinational with an admirably diversified set of products and services -- and customers. The company specializes in automation, climate control, power technology and construction and maintenance equipment and tools.
I like Emerson's potential to benefit from sales to the fast-growing renewable-energy industry, as well as its financial strength, solid management and long track record of stable growth. It's also a dividend-growth exemplar, having increased its payout for 59 years in a row. But because the energy sector is an important customer, Emerson could post weak earnings this quarter (despite conservative guidance). If it does, look for a short-lived correction and use it as an opportunity to pick up shares of this blue-chip play on renewable energy.
L-3 Communications (NYSE: LLL ) , a leading communications-equipment defense contractor that also boasts a solid book of commercial business, specializes in sophisticated systems that integrate digital audio, video and data in almost every mission-critical aerospace platform used by the U.S. and many other militaries. These systems include sophisticated avionics and display technologies; high-quality simulators and trainers; laser-based weapons; sensors and power systems. The Pentagon accounts for about two-thirds of the company's revenue; about a quarter of revenue comes from overseas.
L-3 is benefiting from rising U.S. defense budgets and an increased emphasis on real-time data crunching in almost every military platform.
Despite the expected rebound in Pentagon spending, the company's first quarter could disappoint on weaker-than-expected international sales and complications arising from the company's ongoing restructuring. However, regardless of the short-term results, L-3 likely is on the cusp of a multi-year growth cycle -- and at the same time, the company's strong free-cash-flow generation should result in an increased dividend and share repurchases, boosting per-share results. View any pullback as a buying opportunity for this well-positioned defense contractor.
Texas Instruments (Nasdaq: TXN ) , one of the world's largest semiconductor companies, specializes in analog and embedded chips -- highly specialized components for specific tasks -- for a diversified mix of customers in the industrial, automotive and communications sectors. Because TI makes microchips for iPhones and other Apple devices, it often is criticized for its dependence on Apple, but its top client accounts for about 10% of revenue, and that figure is declining.
TI may have a tough quarter based on a weak quarter for consumer electronics sales, but the company's future looks bright thanks to smart strategic moves into higher-margin products. This stock should be on the buy list for income investors, having increased its dividend at a double-digit annual rate for many years: from 30 cents for the full year in 2007 to $1.40 in 2015.
Risks to Consider: In some cases, an earnings disappointment could presage a fundamental shift in a company's prospects. Be sure to take a close look at the reason that earnings fell short of expectations before buying.
Action to Take: Buy Emerson Electric below $52, L-3 Communications below $120 and Texas Instruments below $58.
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