Merrill Lynch Loves These 4 Buy-Rated Blue Chip Dividend Sector Leaders

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In an expensive market there is one good path for investors to follow: stick with the companies that have upside earnings potential, and stay with sector leaders that have shown over the years the ability to stay relevant. Despite the current continued enthusiasm for the stock market, part of which remains in place because of still historically low interest rates, the market is pricey and stock picking is now more important than ever.

A series of new research reports from Merrill Lynch focus on four top companies, all from different sectors, that look like good portfolio additions for growth investors for the second half of 2017. All are rated Buy at Merrill Lynch.

Caterpillar

After years of lousy earnings growth, this large cap leader is hitting on all cylinders. Caterpillar Inc. (NYSE: CAT) is the largest manufacturer/marketer of construction equipment worldwide, and it is also a leading manufacturer of diesel engines and turbines for transport and industrial applications.

The Merrill Lynch team sees big room for the earnings estimates to go higher, and they raised their 2017 and 2018 earnings estimates 5%, which is 12% higher than the current Wall Street estimates. They also note that the company’s largest public dealers are reporting strong orders.

Shareholders are paid a solid 2.96% dividend. The Merrill Lynch price objective is $120, and the Wall Street consensus target price is $106.69. The shares traded Friday at $105.40.

CSX

This one of the top railroad stocks and is a top idea for investors looking to the transports. CSX Corp. (NYSE: CSX) provides rail freight transportation over a network of approximately 21,000 route miles and 36 terminals (and 57 intermodal terminals) across the eastern half of the United States. It controls 4,071 locomotives and 216,000 rail cars on its network (over half are not owned or leased by CSX at any given point), and it has nearly 30,000 employees.

Hunter Harrison, the new CEO of CSX, recently bought a 300,000-share block of the company’s stock at a reported share price of $50.20. The posted total for the buy was a sizable $15 million. The top man making a big purchase like that is about as bullish a statement for the company and shareholders that can be made.

Shareholders receive a 1.53% dividend. The Merrill Lynch price target is $56, and the consensus target is $56.67. The shares traded early Friday at $54.10.

Marriott International

The lodging giant is still digesting the Starwood purchase, but the analysts are very positive on the deal going forward. Marriott International Inc. (NYSE: MAR) is a global lodging company with over 6,000 properties and 1.2 million rooms in its system. The company has 30 brands in the limited service (Courtyard, Residence Inn, TownePlace Suites, Fairfield Inn, SpringHill Suites) and full service (Marriott, JW Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, Renaissance, Bulgari, W Hotels, St. Regis) segments.

The analysts recently met with the chief financial officer of the company, and they report that management noted that the current operating environment is stable, and that online companies with websites that allow consumers to book various travel related services directly and loyalty programs are becoming an increasing focus area.

Marriott shareholders are paid a 1.25% dividend. Merrill Lynch has a $112 price target. The consensus target is $103.65, and shares traded on Friday at $107.20.

Tiffany

This company has benefited big time from the wealth effect of the rising stock market. Tiffany & Co. (NYSE: TIF) is a specialty retailer selling jewelry (92% of sales), watches, leather goods, crystal, china, silverware and accessories. The company sells primarily through its fleet of retail stores and the internet. The Tiffany brand is associated with a high-end offerings and is well-known around the world.

The company posted solid earnings, and the analysts said this in the report:

Management reiterated its fiscal 2017 outlook for a low single digit increase in global sales and mid single digit earnings-per-share growth (implying $3.90-3.97). Price increases, a faster pace of innovation, and the wealth effect of a rising stock market should drive positive second half comps.

Shareholders are paid a 2.11 dividend. The $110 Merrill Lynch price target compares with the consensus target of $94.72. The shares traded on Friday at $85.40.

These four top companies in different sectors that all pay dependable and rising dividends. These are the kind of stocks long-term investors can put into a portfolio and forget about as they are leaders in their respective areas and will be around for years.