Merrill Lynch Top 10 EMEA Picks: ABB, Nokia, Barclays, BBVA, Diageo and More

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Bank of America Merrill Lynch has named its top 10 EMEA (Europe, Mid-East, Africa) picks as short-term stock recommendations for the first quarter of 2014. It turns out that most of these European-focused companies also have actively traded ADRs in New York as well. In fact, many will be very well known to U.S. investors.

These picks are expected, by the firm of course, to significantly outperform or underperform their peers during the period. Seven stocks have Buy ratings and are positive, while three of the picks are Underperform calls. The seven buys include ABB Ltd. (NYSE: ABB), Barclays PLC (NYSE: BCS), Diageo PLC (NYSE: DEO) and Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK), and two others are Holcim and Vestas, which are unknown to most U.S. investors. Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria S.A. (NYSE: BBVA) leads the Underperform ratings, and Daimler and K+S are the other two that are not widely followed in the United States.

ABB Ltd. (NYSE: ABB) was added to the Merrill Lynch EMEA Top 10 Ideas List for the first quarter. ABB is one of its favorite large cap capital goods stocks for 2014. Automation is one of the firm’s preferred growth themes, and ABB is the major European automation play. The firm’s forecasts are 7% to 8% ahead of consensus estimates, and the firm pointed out that ABB has beaten consensus estimates in three out of the past four quarters.

Barclays PLC (NYSE: BCS) is one of Merrill Lynch’s top picks for the first quarter. This call reflects low profit and loss expectations and strategic optionality in the investment bank. The team said, “We think the company can cut its leverage exposure well in excess of guidance and announce further cost savings. With the stock trading on sub 7x 2015E or 0.8x TNAV, valuation is also undemanding in our view.”

Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria S.A. (NYSE: BBVA) is listed as a top 10 EMEA pick for the first quarter, although we would point out that Merrill Lynch has an Underperform rating on the Spanish bank. The firm said, “We include Underperform rated BBVA as one of our best ideas in EMEA for 1Q14. 15E P/TNAV stands at 1.3x from 1.0x at end Aug. 15E P/E also experienced a more positive rerating than most European peers. However, in the same period, our earnings forecasts have declined 14%.”

Diageo PLC (NYSE: DEO) is a top pick in EMEA for the first quarter as well. Merrill Lynch said that it is one of the few stocks in the staples sector where it can justify a re-rating. The firm’s positive stance is based on scope for margin expansion from a year earlier, as well as its superior returns and earnings upside. From a shorter term perspective, the firm sees the U.S. to surprise positively for 2014 with organic sales growth of around 5%.

Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) probably sounds surprising to be in the firm’s EMEA Best Ideas list. The team said, “We see a number of positive catalysts, including the transaction closing, a strategy update and a capital structure review. We believe that the current share price offers attractive optionality related to patents, and reiterate our Buy rating.” Nokia ADRs have now risen back to above $8, for a gain of more than 150% from their crush-depth lows.

Syngenta A.G. (NYSE: SYT) was one of the top picks in EMEA for the first quarter was listed as having been “de-rated by 16% against peer Monsanto, PE standing at a 30% discount despite similar forecast ROCE for ’14 (16-17%).” The firm believes it is poised for margin recovery in 2014 after a tough 2013, where weather and optimistic budgeting contributed to stock underperfomance. Grain price concerns could also be overdone, and the firm is looking at scenarios for the corn price for the next 12 to 18 months.

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