Second wind for the bull market
The Dow is setting all-time highs, and most blue-chip growth stocks enjoy brighter prospects.
NEW YORK (Money) -- The Dow Jones industrial average reached an all-time high a couple of weeks ago, and now the venerable stock market index is closing in on the 12,000 mark.
Not all forecasters see that as a sign that a new bull market is beginning. Skeptics point out that both the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq indexes remain well below their record highs. And the economy is in the midst of a slowdown, even though most economists think the downturn will be short-lived.
But there's no point in arguing over the big picture. What really matters to investors is the outlook for individual companies - particularly those blue-chip growth stocks that should form the core of most long-term portfolios.
Several of the stocks on the Sivy 70 list of premier companies with above-average growth have reported earnings in the past week. And their results, on balance, are quite encouraging.
Here's a quick rundown:
Alcoa (Charts) reported third-quarter earnings that were at least 15 cents a share below expectations. The chief reasons for the shortfall were soft aluminum prices, owing in part to the state of the auto industry, and a number of one-time costs. Several analysts lowered their earnings estimates for 2006, but many remain bullish on the stock. Prudential even raised its rating, based on expectations that aluminum prices would rise over the coming months.
General Electric (Charts) met expectations with a solid 14 percent earnings gain on a 12 percent increase in revenues. Results were good for most of the divisions, except for NBC. The network has been underperforming but the new season's lineup could improve results significantly. One analyst downgraded GE on the grounds that the stock is a little expensive and earnings improvement is limited. But most expect the company to post solid results in 2007.
Harley-Davidson's (Charts) earnings roared to a 25 percent gain, well above expectations. Sales have been bolstered by four new models, as well as redesigned engines for some existing products. Positive response has been particularly strong overseas and Harley is working hard to lay the groundwork for substantial international expansion. Although one analyst has downgraded the stock, earnings are projected to grow at double-digit rates over the next few years.
PepsiCo (Charts) reported a strong earnings rebound for the most recent quarter, supported mostly by gains for snack foods and non-carbonated beverages. Some of the soft drink lines were flat, and some costs were higher. As a result, the share price has pulled back in the past few days. Analysts say, however, that any dip is a buying opportunity and that the company seems well positioned for 2007.
In short, the outlook for specific stocks seems very much in line with forecasts for the overall market: There are some soft spots and some concern about specific sectors, but by and large it looks as though next year will be better than 2006.
Changes to the Sivy 70
There are, of course, companies facing particular problems. Every quarter I review the Sivy 70 list to see if any such stocks should be replaced. Generally, I try to make as few changes as possible. My goal is to provide a focused list of big growth stocks to track. I use my column here and in Money Magazine to spotlight those that look like compelling bargains.
Given the current economic slowdown, I've kept stocks on the list if I believe their growth potential is understated by analysts or the companies seem likely to overcome their current problems -- especially when they offer important diversification. Nonetheless, there are three stocks I want to replace.
Boston Scientific continues to have problems with its cardiovascular products, and the acquisition of Guidant has made matters worse. Radio broadcaster Clear Channel Communications and Gannett, publisher of USA Today and 89 other daily newspapers, will both likely suffer in today's tough market for traditional media. In fact, Gannett's results announced last week showed a 12 percent profit decline owing to weak newspaper advertising, with little prospect of improvement anytime soon.
To replace them, I've selected three companies that look like worthwhile long-term holdings.
Mutual fund management company T. Rowe Price (Charts) looks expensive, with a 22 P/E that's nearly double its 12 percent projected growth rate. But after six years of up-and-down performance, the stock market is due for a sustained advance at some point. When that happens, fund companies' earnings should have big upswings.
The addition of these stocks shouldn't be interpreted as a recommendation to go out and buy them immediately - of the three, only Wells Fargo is timely. T. Rowe and Cat could suffer in the short run if worries about the economy escalate. That would be the time to consider them. Successful portfolio building, after all, comes not simply from recognizing good stocks. It comes from adding those stocks at good prices.