Double Digit Returns From Blue Chip Stocks

Tony Crowell

The stock market hit some slick spots, skidded but remained on the road. From now to the fall is a traditionally less dynamic period for stocks, summed up by the old saying, “Sell in May and go away.” Even if seasonal waning of buying enthusiasm for stocks makes their prices drift, increasing earnings for successful companies in a recovering economy will power up their stock prices whenever the market gets its breath back.

This outlook is grounded on two assumptions; the global economy will continue its recovery and our selected stocks their superior earnings growth. As assumptions can go awry, I try for a measure of safety by concentrating on reasonably valued stocks.

Internet networking stocks are the current fad with an initial public offering for LinkedIn following on the heels of the Open Table IPO. Their popularity may sustain their prices for now but their valuations may not be sustained. LinkedIn is trading at thirty times its sales. In poker, I have learned that your odds of filling a straight doubled on open-end straights instead of trying to fill inside straights.

The OECD, a developing economy think tank, just raised its estimate of U.S. growth in 2011 from 2.2% to 2.6%. It noted that the overall global recovery is becoming more self-sustaining and more broadly based. The U.S. recovery continues with little help from the debilitated housing sector. Home prices were down 5.5% in the March quarter from 2010, the fifteenth straight quarterly decline.

In contrast, stocks have the wind at their back; meanwhile, persisting investor anxieties have served to keep valuations low. Intel (INTC-$23) is an attractive example of these trends. Earnings for 2011 will come in around $2.30, up from $2.05 in 2010. This reflects accelerating growth after a few years of relative stagnation. It also reflects a valuation of only ten times earnings, a bargain for the dominant semiconductor maker.

Sales are $46 billion, up 24% in the March quarter from a year ago. Debt is negligible and Intel offers a 3% yield with its dividend increased for each of the past seven years. Geek analysts are muttering about its only minor penetration in the lightweight chip sector for portable devices but it recently announced new chip architecture that will expand into these lines.

I expect Intel’s stock price to increase in line with its earnings around 10% annually for the next couple of years. Combined with a 3% yield now and probabilities of dividend increases, that promises an annual return of 12-15%. IBM (IBM-$167) is similar in many ways. Sales are $102 billion, up 13% in the recent quarter, and it pays 1.6% with dividend increases for 15 years. Earnings this year will be around $13.25, up 15%, a P/E ratio of only 13, remarkably low for a growth company of such size.

Oracle (ORCL-$33) is hardly a dividend stock with its .7% yield. It is growing both sales and earnings at rates of 16-17%. Earnings this year will be around $2.10, up over 30%, and a P/E of only 15.

Among the quieter blue chip drug stocks, Bristol-Myers (BMY-$28) offers a yield of 4.6%. Earnings growth is almost flat but its stock provides a steady dividend in turbulent times. Novartis (NVS-$62) is growing faster but still pays 3.8% with four straight annual increases. P/E ratios are 12-13.

The big difference between all these and a “bargain” like a Florida condo is that their trends are up. For readers seeking more excitement, I suggest Yandex (YNDX-$35), another recent IPO. It is the leading Russian internet company with 64% of search traffic. It also operates in Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus and even has a research arm in Palo Alto. Valuation ratios are sky high but this company has won a unique competitive position and will probably show earnings growth of more than 50%.

Tony Crowell manages stock portfolios for individuals and their trust and retirement accounts with CROWELL•ROBERTS Investment Counsel, a registered investment advisor in Laguna Beach since 1993. [email protected] (949)494-1376/ (800)697-2622


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