2018 Outlook: How Exxon, GE, IBM, Merck and Disney Could Be the Top Dow Stocks

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It’s a raging bull market, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average has enjoyed incredible gains in 2017. As 2018 gets ever closer, investors have to decide how they will invest their money in the new year. The Dow is up about 22% year to date and up about 25% over the past year, and the indexes have all rallied more than 200% from the Great Recession’s bottom, which is now nearing nine years ago.

Even this raging bull market has left many well-known companies behind. Some key Dow stocks have quite simply been major disappointments, and some of them for more than a year. That makes them raging duds. The question is whether the past will mirror the future. It turns out that some down and out stocks don’t always stay down, and sometimes great turnarounds and recoveries can create huge victories for opportunistic and visionary investors.

24/7 Wall St. has been reviewing and creating initial forecasts for 2018. It turns out that it’s very hard to find well-known Wall Street strategists who currently think that the stock market is set for a big fall in 2018. S&P is calling for corporate earnings to keep growing, and most ratings agencies and international governmental agencies are now calling for global growth to pick up in 2018. Of course anything is possible, and we have to consider that there will be midterm congressional elections late in 2018.

Be advised that these are not to be considered formal forecast or formal predictions for 2018. We still have to get through December before making formal 2018 forecasts. These should be considered guides to what would set the stage for these Dow laggards to begin rewarding shareholders again.

Another consideration for investors is the reminder that the Dow’s price-weighted calculation makes it quite different compared with the S&P 500 and other indexes. Low-priced stocks just cannot swing the Dow, and that means that high-priced stocks would have to rise to help the Dow in 2018.

There are also many issues to consider about the Dow at the end of 2017. Here are some factoids about the Dow so far in 2017:

  • Only four stocks (GE, Exxon, IBM and Merck) have seen their shares give negative returns so far in 2017.
  • There are 11 Dow stocks up over 30% so far this year.
  • The median gain in the Dow was 19%.
  • The Dow’s 30 components have a combined market cap of roughly $6.7 trillion.
  • The median Dow dividend is 2.18%, and nine Dow stocks yield 3% or higher.

As of the start of December, the top five gainers were more than impressive so far in 2017. Boeing was up about 75%, Caterpillar was up 51%, Apple was up 46%, McDonald’s was up 42% and Walmart was up 41%. After performance like that, it gets hard to keep them as the expected biggest Dow winners ahead.

Investors should at least take into consideration that Wall Street forecasting has been muted compared to the real world gains that have been seen. At the start of 2017, the Dow was already cheering after double-digit gains in 2016. And the target of 21,422 in 2017 seemed aggressive for more than an 8% gain. And even in late October it looked like a shoo-in for DJIA 25,000 in 2018. That felt bold then, but now it might feel muted now that the Dow crossed 24,000. Now we have the S&P 500 valued at just over 20 times expected 2017 normalized earnings and valued at roughly 19 times expected 2018 normalized earnings.

Here is the path that could allow the lagging stocks of Exxon Mobil, General Electric, IBM, Merck and Walt Disney to be among the top performing Dow stocks of 2018.