Credit Suisse's Top Stocks to Buy for a Difficult 2014

When the tide is rising across the board, one easy way for investors to make money is to go the simple route and buy an S&P 500 index fund. In a year like 2013 that was the easy and smart trade. The market pressed higher all year long, and investors that took the indexing route ended up with an almost 30% gain. This year so far has not been the same story. A 6% sell-off in the first two months and continued volatility has made one thing clear, stock pickers may outperform index players this year.

In a new research report, the Credit Suisse quantitative analysts point out that with equity valuations back to more normal levels, future returns are likely to be more muted and alpha will explain much more of portfolio performance. Luckily, they conclude that there are a number of signals that suggest the market is primed for good stock pickers to succeed in 2014. They focus on fundamentally attractive stocks, with low S&P weightings.

Here are some of the top Outperform rated stocks that fall into the Credit Suisse stock-picking theme for the balance of what may be a very volatile 2014.

Autozone Inc. (NYSE: AZO) has become the retail stock that momentum traders have fallen in love with. With Americans having the oldest average car age in almost two decades, it may stay strong. This year’s unusually cold winter has been a source of frustration for drivers, but it has been a boon for car maintenance specialists and auto parts dealers. Cold weather and icy roads means more accidents and more car parts failing. Just what the doctor ordered for Autozone. The Thomson/First Call price target is set at $567.53. Autozone closed Thursday at $533.

Cameron International Corp. (NYSE: CAM) is a top energy stock rated Outperform at Credit Suisse, and it recently showed up on the Goldman Sachs list of the 40 cheapest stocks. Cameron is a specialist manufacturer of high specifications of subsea systems and blow-out preventers for the offshore drilling companies. The consensus price target for the stock is $69.23. Cameron closed Thursday at $62.84.

Cognizant Technology Solutions Corp. (NASDAQ: CTSH) provides information technology (IT), consulting and business process outsourcing services worldwide. The company operates through four segments: Financial Services; Healthcare; Manufacturing, Retail, and Logistics; and Other. It offers consulting and technology services, such as IT strategy, program management, operations improvement, strategy and business consulting services. The consensus target is $55.90. The stock ended Thursday at $49.62 a share.

Discover Financial Services (NYSE: DFS) is the top pick in credit cards at Credit Suisse. Not only did the analysts raise their numbers dramatically for the year, they also think that the rest of Wall Street is way low on modeling asset growth for the company. Lower cost Internet deposits, better performing student loans, lower charge offs and slower delinquent account repricing will support margins. Investors are paid a 1.4% dividend. The consensus target is $63.13, and Discover closed Thursday at $58.72.

KeyCorp (NYSE: KEY) is another top financial name to make the Credit Suisse list. KeyCorp operates as the bank holding company for KeyBank National Association, which provides various retail and commercial banking services to individual, corporate and institutional clients in the United States. Investors are paid a 1.6% dividend from this top regional banking name. The consensus price target is $14.19. The stock closed Thursday at $14.43.

Tesoro Corp. (NYSE: TSO) is a somewhat contrarian play on the Credit Suisse list. The company is an independent refiner and marketer of refined petroleum products in the western United States. A major advantage for the company is the scale and diversification benefits afforded by its portfolio of seven refineries. More than a few Wall Street firms like Tesoro’s solid long-term competitive position on the supply-constrained California market. Shareholders are paid a 1.9% dividend. The consensus price target is $67.26. Tesoro closed Thursday at $51.70.

The term “stock pickers” market may seem old and clichéd, but after a stellar run like last year, the tag really may have a good fit. Investors need to focus on stocks with a solid earnings and growth profile. Plus, after a huge run, it may be time to avoid momentum stocks and focus on quality names that will not get shellacked should the market have a substantial correction.