CWS Market Review – February 18, 2011

The Buy List has been on fire lately! We’ve rallied for seven of the last 10 trading days, and we just closed at a brand new year-to-date high (and an all-time high as well).

Through Thursday, the Buy List is up 7.38% for the year compared with 6.58% for the S&P 500. Not bad for seven weeks’ work! Although we don’t have a huge lead over the market, the year is still young and I think our lead will soon get a lot bigger.

In this week’s issue of CWS Market Review, I want to caution you to expect a more modest market in March and April. We’ve done well lately and I’m always glad to see big gains from our stocks, but even the best markets don’t rise in a straight line.

The S&P 500 has continued to reach its highest levels since the middle of 2008, and the index’s streak of trending above its 50-day moving average is one of the longest on record. If that’s not enough, the S&P 500 just doubled in the fastest time since the Great Depression. Clearly, a nice break is to be expected.

I’ve also become a little concerned that Wall Street has become overextended recently. I keep seeing good stocks that are simply going for more than they’re worth. Coca-Cola ($KO) and Costco ($COST) are perfect examples. I wouldn’t mind buying these stocks, but the prices are just too rich for me. I’m also concerned by the growing weakness in the bond market. At some point, that will catch up to stocks.

The good news is that our stocks are poised to do very well in a more defensive market. In fact, we just got a taste of that with Reynolds American ($RAI). The company announced its second dividend increase in the past four months. In October, Reynolds increased its quarterly dividend from 45 cents to 49 cents per share. Then on Wednesday, Reynolds said it was raising the dividend again, this time to 53 cents per share. That’s an 18% dividend increase in just a few months. Going by RAI’s most recent price, the dividend yield works out to 6.2%.

When investors get nervous, they seek out stable companies like Reynolds. If you recall, Reynolds fell one penny per share shy of Wall Street’s earnings estimate two weeks ago. I wasn’t at all bothered by this because the company gave us good guidance for the year. So despite upsetting Wall Street in the near-term, the stock easily shrugged off any damage. In fact, the pullback was a good buying opportunity.

Remember, high-quality stocks prove their mettle during tough times. This is precisely why I put stocks like Reynolds on the Buy List. Make no mistake, if a stock like Google ($GOOG) or Apple ($AAPL) or, heaven forfend, Netflix ($NFLX), were to miss earnings by a penny, traders would thoroughly trash these stocks.

Let’s also look at what happened to AFLAC ($AFL). This stock not only fell after missing its earnings by two cents per share, but it was also downgraded by Citigroup. As I said before, the important news was that AFLAC gave us good earnings guidance for 2011. That proved to be a bulwark against panicked sellers. On Thursday, the shares reached a new 28-month high. I said that AFLAC was going to make a run at $60 and on Thursday, the stock got within 51 cents of that target. Both AFL and RAI continue to be excellent buys.

Some other good values on the Buy List include Wright Express ($WXS), Moog ($MOG-A) and Oracle ($ORCL). I was impressed to see that Fiserv ($FISV) made another new high this week. Bargain hunters should take notice that Ford ($F) has slid below $16 per share which is a very good entry point. Ford can easily be a $20 stock.

The next Buy List earnings report will be from Medtronic ($MDT) this Tuesday. Be advised that this earnings report will be for their fiscal third quarter which ended in January. I have to confess that Medtronic has been a very frustrating stock. The earnings have been decent (not great) but the stock has been stuck in a rut and the guidance has been disappointing. Still, I think there’s an opportunity here.

In November, Medtronic said to expect earnings-per-share for FY 2011 to range between $3.38 and $3.44. Now I have to break out some math. For the first half of this fiscal year, Medtronic has already earned $1.62 per share which means the company expects earnings between $1.76 and $1.82 per share for the second half.

The fourth quarter is usually much stronger than the third quarter, so I expect earnings of 86 cents per share for the third quarter (this Tuesday’s report) and 94 cents per share for the fourth quarter. My estimate for Tuesday is two cents higher than Wall Street, but I’m more interested to hear if they can provide any guidance for Q4. I’m guessing they’ll probably narrow their full-year guidance.

Bottom line: Even if they don’t beat my earnings estimate, MDT is still very cheap. By Medronic’s own forecast, the shares are trading for less than 11 times forward earnings. The problem is that the stock just can’t seem to move. The dividend currently yields 2.2% and I expect to see a dividend increase in June. If you have the patience to wait this one out, I think MDT is a solid buy.

Finally, we’re seeing more positive economic news. The recent Philly Fed report was exceptionally strong. The minutes from the Federal Reserve’s January meeting showed that the central bank raised its GDP growth forecast for 2011 to a range of 3.4% to 3.9%.

Wall Street has gradually been raising its full-year earnings forecast for the S&P 500. On September 30th, the consensus expected earnings of $93.96. At the beginning of the year, the consensus had climbed to $94.80. Now it’s up to $96.18. In other words, the reasons for this rally have been sound. It’s definitely not a bubble.

That’s all for now. The market will be closed this Monday in honor of Washington’s Birthday (the NYSE is careful to note that its rules do not call the holiday President’s Day). Be sure to keep visiting the blog for daily updates. I’ll have more market analysis for you in the next issue of CWS Market Review!

Posted by on February 18th, 2011 at 8:18 am

The information in this blog post represents my own opinions and does not contain a recommendation for any particular security or investment. I or my affiliates may hold positions or other interests in securities mentioned in the Blog, please see my Disclaimer page for my full disclaimer.