5 Merrill Lynch US 1 Stocks Are Top 2018 Total Return Plays

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With the market continuing to grind higher, many investors are asking what to do now, and current worries are with good reason. We are about ready to observe the 30th anniversary of the infamous Black Monday, when on October 19, 1987, investors were treated to a massive loss that was, and currently remains, the largest percentage decline in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, a stunning 22.6% in one day.

While nobody expects another day like Black Monday, the reason for concern is well placed. Right now, it may make sense for investors to shift from momentum to a total return strategy. Again total return is the combined increase in a stock’s value plus dividends. For instance, if you buy a stock at $20 that pays a 3% dividend, and it goes up to $22 in a year, your total return is 13% — 10% for the increase in stock price and 3% for the dividends paid.

We screened the Merrill Lynch US 1 stock list, which is the firm’s highest conviction stock picks, for companies that were reasonably priced and paid a good dividend. We found five that make good sense for investors now.

Coca-Cola European Partners

The former Coca-Cola Enterprises reported solid earnings and is a very safe play for investors. Coca-Cola European Partners PLC (NYSE: CCE) is the leading Western European marketer, producer and distributor of nonalcoholic ready-to-drink beverages and one of the world’s largest independent Coca-Cola bottlers.

The company is the sole licensed bottler for products of Coca-Cola in Belgium, continental France, Great Britain, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden. It operates with a local focus and has 17 manufacturing sites across Europe, where the company manufactures nearly 90% of its products in the markets in which they are consumed.

In 2016 the company merged Coca-Cola Erfrischungsgetränke in Germany and Coca-Cola Iberian Partners, which serves Spain and Portugal. Based on revenues, the company is the world’s largest independent Coca-Cola bottler. It serves over 300 million consumers across Western Europe.

Investors are paid a solid 2.4% dividend. The Merrill Lynch price target is for the stock is $48, and the Wall Street consensus target is $49.91. The stock closed trading on Monday at $42.

Comcast

This broadcasting-related stock could have continued solid upside potential. Comcast Corp. (NASDAQ: CMCSA) is the largest U.S. provider of cable services, with over 22 million basic subscribers. It owns NBCU, which includes the NBC TV Networks, Telemundo, MSNBC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, E!, CNBC and several other cable networks, as well as Universal Films and Universal Theme Parks.

Comcast has invested in technology to build an advanced network that delivers among the fastest broadband speeds and brings customers personalized video, communications and home management offerings. The company reported very solid second-quarter results, and the analysts noted at the time: “Comcast reported strong second quarter 2017 earnings, with healthy results across all business lines.” Third quarter results are due next week.

Comcast investors receive a 1.72% dividend. Merrill Lynch has a $50 price objective, and the consensus target price is $45.97. The shares closed Monday at $36.61 apiece.