The Argus research company has provided investors with quality, independent equity research since 1934. For the individual investor, a source for independent research is always a positive for a portfolio. With no Wall St. agenda or investment banking considerations, independent research firms can truly call it as they see it. Today Argus made some interesting changes to three of their model portfolios.
In the Equity and Income portfolio, Argus sells its position in Atlanta-based AGL Resources Inc. (NYSE: GAS). AGL is an energy services holding company that distributes natural gas to residential, commercial, industrial and governmental customers in Illinois, Georgia, Virginia, New Jersey, Florida, Tennessee and Maryland. The company’s Distribution Operations segment constructs, manages, and maintains intrastate natural gas pipelines and distribution facilities. The stock, which was cut to Underperform yesterday by Zacks, currently yields 4.60%.
Argus used the proceeds from the sale and other cash on hand to establish a position in office products giant Staples Inc. (NASDAQ: SPLS). The company offers various office supplies and services, office machines and related products, computers and related products, and office furniture under Staples, Quill and other proprietary brands. Staples pioneered the office superstore concept, and it has been a leading distributor since 1986. Trading considerably below the 52-week high of $16.93, Staples also offers a solid 3.42% dividend. The Wall St. consensus price target for the stock is $12.50.
In the Argus Growth and Income portfolio, the firm sells two of its holdings. The first is Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F). Overall, Ford had its highest fourth-quarter pretax profit in more than a decade. On the negative side, Ford lost $732 million in Europe in the fourth quarter, and analysts are modeling continued losses in 2013. They expect European operations to begin to recover in 2014. Since inclusion in the Argus portfolio in December 2011, the Ford shares have appreciated more than 27% while providing an annual yield topping 3%.
Argus also sells medical technology company Becton, Dickinson and Co. (NYSE: BDX). Trading near a 52-week high, the company should continue to benefit from increased health care spending both in the United States and overseas, especially in emerging markets. But its guidance for 2013 was below expectations and it faces continued weak economic conditions in Europe. Since inclusion in the Argus portfolio in August 2010, the stock advanced 23% while providing an annual dividend yield exceeding 2%.
With the proceeds from the sales, Argus purchased shares of Oracle Corp. (NASDAQ: ORCL), the world’s largest independent enterprise software company. Its annual revenues exceeded $37 billion, with about half coming from overseas. The analysts at Argus feel that, while the company is clearly an industry leader, its valuation metrics do not always reflect this leadership position. Oracle is trading below the peer average trailing EV/EBITDA multiple. Although the shares yield less than 1%, Oracle is growing its dividend faster than the market. The current Thomson/First call estimate for the tech giant is $37.73.
Argus also is buying Houston-based Sysco Corp. (NYSE: SYY). The company markets and distributes a wide range of food and related products, primarily to the food service or food-away-from-home industry. Overall revenues were bolstered by moderate food-cost inflation (up 2.2%), acquisitions and higher volumes. The analysts expect Sysco’s business transformation initiative to improve operating efficiency over the long term, and the shares provide an above-market yield of 3.5% at current prices. The current consensus price target estimate for the stock is $30.
In their Mid-Cap Growth portfolio, Argus sold two current holdings. Hologic Inc. (NASDAQ: HOLX) develops and manufactures diagnostic and medical imaging systems, primarily serving the health care needs of women. Along with equipment and device sales, Hologic generates more than half its revenue from consumables and disposables. Since inclusion in the portfolio in January 2011, Hologic shares have appreciated approximately 18%.
Argus also sells its position in Gentherm Inc. (NASDAQ: THRM), which offers design, development and manufacture of heating, cooling and ventilating devices worldwide. The company’s principal product is its Climate Control Seat (CCS) system, which permits drivers and passengers to control the heating and cooling of their seats. Another good portfolio name, the shares have appreciated almost 19%.
For the Mid-Cap Growth portfolio, the analysts add Zimmer Holdings Inc. (NYSE: ZMH), the nation’s largest pure-play maker of orthopedic devices. The company designs, develops and manufactures reconstructive orthopedic implants, including joint, dental and spinal implants; trauma products; and related orthopedic surgical products. Argus recently upgraded the Zimmer shares to Buy, based on the belief that improving financial metrics, combined with higher surgical volumes at hospitals, will drive stronger sales and EPS growth in 2013. The consensus estimate for Zimmer is $76.50.
Also added to the portfolio is Pep Boys — Manny, Moe & Jack (NYSE: PBY). The company provides automotive repair and maintenance services, tires, parts and accessories. It operates 740 stores and more than 7,200 service bays in 35 states and Puerto Rico. Although shares are trading in the lower half of their 52-week range, Pep Boys expects improved performance beginning in the fourth quarter, reflecting the impact of more-moderate gasoline prices, an increase in vehicle miles driven and a return to more-typical seasonal trends. The consensus price target for the stock is $11.
Portfolio management is not only picking the right stocks, it is the art of knowing when to sell winners and losers. Investors can note that Argus was willing to take quality gains and rotate the capital to stocks they felt had more upside, a strategy that always makes sense.