The pricier the stock market gets, the more important it is for investors to keep a close eye on what they are paying for stocks. When the market moved up in almost parabolic fashion last year, valuations were still in the process of catching-up with the historical mean. The catching-up process is complete, and the S&P 500 as a whole is now trading at one of the highest valuation levels in years. With a trailing price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of 18.6, the index is now trading two full percentage points above the historical average.
In a new research report, the Oppenheimer Institutional portfolio team is still very bullish on the stock market. They point out that stock prices have rebounded quickly from their dip in late January/early February, and their stock market indicators are giving no reason to expect a major correction soon. The positive trend remains in place, and investor sentiment readings are not yet flashing warning signals. They do say that investors should focus on large cap, low P/E market leaders, as cyclical conditions argue that the large-cap leadership will become more apparent as the year progresses.
Here are the top large-cap, low P/E stocks for investors to buy now.
Amgen Inc. (NASDAQ: AMGN) is the top blue chip name in the biotech world. A biotechnology pioneer since 1980, Amgen has grown to be the world’s largest independent biotechnology company, has reached millions of patients around the world and is developing a pipeline of medicines with breakaway potential. The company trades at a low 15.2 times forward earnings. Investors are paid a 2% dividend. The Thomson/First Call price target for the biotech giant is $130.05. The stock closed Tuesday at $124.27 a share.
Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) remains a top stock on many radar screens. Excitement over the new iPhone 6 is starting to gain traction as rumors of a larger screen and other new improvements are getting the Apple nation stirred up. Trading at just 12 times forward earnings, the stock remains a solid buy for investors. Shareholders are paid a 2.3% dividend. The consensus price target for Apple is $586. The stock closed Tuesday at $536.09.
Chevron Corp. (NYSE: CVX) is a top integrated name that has maintained a decent lead in unit upstream profitability. That is figured as net income per barrel of oil equivalent. While the lead is expected to be maintained, Wall Street analysts are interested in hearing commentary on further improvement due to better project mix. They feel that investments in mega projects’ “unproductive capital” have lowered near-term returns. With it trading at a very low 10.3 times forward earnings, investors may want to scale in partial buys as they build a position. Chevron pays investors a very good 3.5% dividend. The consensus price figure is $129.28. Chevron closed Tuesday at $114.51.
Cisco Systems Inc. (NASDAQ: CSCO) has posted three poor quarters in a row, and it is looking to bounce back in the second half of the year. The company believes a more holistic solution, inclusive of endpoint, cloud and after the attack presence, is needed to deal with advanced malware and could expand along these lines. The company’s acquisition of Sourcefire has made it a much more competitive security player. The stock trades at a low 10.7 times forward earnings. Investors receive a solid 3.5% dividend. The consensus price target is $23.55. Cisco closed Tuesday at $21.61.
Citigroup Inc. (NYSE: C) makes the list, trading at just 9.9 times forward earnings. In addition, Citigroup is trading right in the middle of its 52-week price range and not at all-time highs. With a tremendous global business model, the bank is a solid holding for investors. Citigroup still just pays a tiny 0.1% dividend. The consensus price target is $60.17. Citigroup closed Tuesday at $48.43.
General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE) has lagged the rally and may provide investors a solid entry point. The company continues to expand its investment into energy, committing $10 billion to its “ecomagination” budget through 2020. GE plans to use the initiative to develop alternative technologies to replace water in the hydraulic fracturing process. In 2012, fracking used more than 50 billion gallons of water, according to a report by Bloomberg. With water shortages in places like California, energy companies are looking for ways to cut back on water use. The iconic industrial trades at a low 15 times forward earnings. Investors are paid a very solid 3.4% dividend from the blue chip name. The consensus price objective is $28.83. GE closed Tuesday at $25.90.
Intel Corp. (NASDAQ: INTC) has been caught in a ratings tug-of-war on Wall Street, but many firms believe the Silicon Valley giant is poised to breakout of its multiyear slump. A new commitment to smartphone and mobile applications, combined with a possible resurgence of PC growth this year, may make Intel one of the best large cap value stocks to buy. Intel trades at a very low 13.2 times forward earnings. Investors are paid a solid 3.7% dividend. The consensus target is $25.20. Intel closed Tuesday at $24.73.
Merck & Co. Inc. (NYSE: MRK) is a stock that many on Wall Street think is ready to sell or spin off its animal health business. This could provide the company with needed capital for other areas and may make for a top initial public offering (IPO) at some point later this year or in 2015. The stock trades at a reasonable 16.4 times forward earnings. The pharmaceutical giant also pays shareholders a very solid 3.1% dividend. The consensus price target is $56.44. Merck closed Tuesday at $56.69.
Qualcomm Inc. (NASDAQ: QCOM) may be on the verge of making its gigantic world even bigger. Smartphone industry expert Tom Kang of CounterPoint believes Lenovo will mainly rely on Qualcomm chips for handsets shipped outside China due to intellectual property reasons. After a nine-month integration period for the Motorola acquisition, Lenovo will initially target the United States and Latin American markets. The chip giant trades at a low 14.3 times forward earnings. Investors are paid a 1.8% dividend. The consensus price target for the tech giant is $80.89. The stock closed Tuesday at $76.71.
Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) added 173,000 FIOS video subscribers in the third quarter and 134,000 in the fourth quarter. Many came at the expense of the cable companies. The company also has expanded its 4G LTE offering, which it trumpets in current television advertising. Verizon trades at a very low 13.5 times forward earnings. Investors are paid a solid 4.5% dividend. The consensus estimate for the stock is $54.04. Verizon closed Tuesday at $46.70.
With an expensive market that looks ready to go even higher, these low P/E blue chip stocks are a good addition to any portfolio. The fact that all pay reasonable dividends helps to widen the total return picture for investors. Flashy momentum stocks are great for traders, but investors need solid, dependable names for long-term investment success.