The Bullish and Bearish Case for 3M, UTC in 2016 (Versus GE)

The year 2016 may have gotten off to a rock start, but investors are looking for their year ahead forecasts. In 2015, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) closed out at 17,425.03 for a drop of 2.2%. While the index performance does not account for individual stock dividends, the performance in conglomerates was very mixed. The total returns (or losses) for United Technologies Corp. (NYSE: UTX) and 3M Co. (NYSE: MMM) were -14.45% and -5.91%, respectively, including their dividend adjustments.

24/7 Wall St. wanted to see what may lie ahead for the Dow and the top stocks in 2016. It is still just too soon to call the rocky start of 2016 an end to a bull market. Still, the bull market would be seven years old if the performance gets positive again. Investors have to keep in mind that there has been a firm and unbroken theme for over four years in which investors bought up every single major sell-off.

So what lies ahead for the Dow’s conglomerates in 2016? A full 2016 outlook has been given for General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE), but United Technologies (UTC) and 3M need to be considered as well. While GE’s year-end market cap was about $315 billion, UTC’s market cap was $85 billion and 3M’s was almost $93 billion. So GE is worth over 50% more than 3M and UTC combined by a market cap measurement.

Where things get interesting in these conglomerates is that the DJIA is a price-weighted index. That means that, despite GE outweighing 3M and UTC in the S&P 500, GE’s weight in the Dow is worth only about 1.2%, the second lowest weighting of all 30 Dow stocks. UTC has close to a 3.8% weighting, and 3M is now the second highest weighting at over 5.8%. That means that these two stocks are worth less than two-thirds of GE in the S&P 500 but are over seven times the weighting of GE in the Dow.

3M ended 2015 valued at over 18 times expected 2016 earnings. That isn’t cheap for a stock, and it had been valued even higher prior to 3M’s disappointing earnings forecast in December. Still, 3M was listed very positively by Merrill Lynch in a 2016 outlook.

3M also closed out 2015 at $150.64, and the year-end consensus analyst target price from Thomson Reuters of $159.36 would imply a total return expectation of 8.51%, if you include its 2.72% dividend yield. The gain is not excessive on the surface, if you consider history, with a 52-week range of $134.00 to $170.50.

Some negatives do exist. 3M did announce layoffs in 2015 and its guidance already took the wind out investors’ sails. 3M’s year-end close was also far higher than the $143.00 share price that was seen after just four days of serious market selling at the start of 2016. That means that expectations could be tempered ahead.

United Technologies ended 2015 at $96.07 a share, with a forward earnings multiple that sounds cheap at 14.6 times the Thomson Reuters consensus earnings estimate. If the analysts are right, the year-end consensus price target of $108.47 would generate a total return of 15.57%, including UTC’s 2.66% dividend yield.

UTC was among the worst performing Dow stocks in 2015. Still, Merrill Lynch was positive on the stock’s prospects for 2016. The company is also engaged in a rather large stock buyback ahead. And its former Sikorsky Helicopters unit was sold to Lockheed Martin in 2015.

While GE was the best conglomerate of 2015, it actually has less implied upside to the consensus price target for 2016. That is because it gained 27.53% in 2015, with its nearly 3% dividend yield included in the total return. GE also remains one of the 24/7 Wall St. top 10 stocks to own for the next decade, although UTC or 3M could be runner-ups when their valuations are cheaper (like UTC is now).

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