5 Top Merrill Lynch US 1 List Stocks to Buy for 2015

All the major firms that we cover on Wall Street have essential lists of stocks that are maintained for clients with the firms’ top recommendations. More often than not, those lists have very demanding criteria for stocks to make it on. A new report from Merrill Lynch updates the firm’s US 1 list with an addition and two deletions to the recommendations. We had a chance to review the current stocks on the list and selected some of the stocks to buy that make good sense for 2015.

We screened the Merrill Lynch list for stocks in sectors that are preferred this year by Wall Street strategists, and also for the stocks that had the biggest upside potential to the Merrill Lynch price target. All the stocks on the list are rated Buy.

Check Point Software Technologies Ltd. (NASDAQ: CHKP) remains one of the top tech stocks to buy on Wall Street for a security presence, and the Merrill Lynch analysts, like many on Wall Street, think the company is one of the best in helping customers protect against advanced persistent threats. Check Point is considered a worldwide leader in securing the Internet, providing customers with uncompromised protection against all types of threats, reducing security complexity and lowering the total cost of ownership. Check Point first pioneered the industry with FireWall-1 and its patented stateful inspection technology.

The Merrill Lynch price target for the stock is $85. The Thomson/First Call consensus estimate is set at $80.20. Shares closed Thursday at $79.99.

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Community Health Systems Inc. (NYSE: CYH) was a top Merrill Lynch catalyst-driven idea for 2015, and the thesis is predicated on coverage expansion under ACA reform providing a substantial boost in 2015 and beyond, and a large asset base providing geographic diversification and scale advantages. This is one of the stocks that the Merrill Lynch team sees as most levered to the states where Medicaid expansion could be the greatest, more exposed to Health Care Reform than any other company in the firm’s coverage universe. They also expect fourth-quarter earnings to come in very strong.

The Merrill Lynch price target is $72. The consensus price objective is much lower at $62.74. Shares closed Thursday at $50.35.

Equinix Inc. (NASDAQ: EQIX) provides data center services to protect and connect the information assets for enterprises, financial services companies and content and network providers primarily in the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and the Asia-Pacific. The company connects more than 4,500 clients directly to their customers and partners inside the world’s most networked data centers located in 32 strategic markets. The company converted to real estate investment trust (REIT) status effective on January 1.

Merrill Lynch has a large $260 price target, while the consensus figure is much lower at $242.88. Shares closed Thursday at $229.15.

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Michael Kors Holdings Ltd. (NYSE: KORS) has been a hot retail name in clothing and clothing accessories, and it could be the epitome of the social media advertiser. As one of the fastest growing luxury brands in the world, the company has the cushion of the high-dollar consumer, but that has not stopped it from pursuing an aggressive social media branding and sales agenda. The stock is off huge from its highs of a year ago and may be offering investors the perfect entry point.

The Merrill Lynch price target is an astonishing $120, and the consensus target is much lower at $91.88. Shares closed trading Thursday at $69.08.

Panera Bread Co. (NASDAQ: PNRA) has been a momentum player’s delight over the past couple of years, and in the process mauled most of the short sellers. It is the Merrill Lynch top restaurant pick for 2015. The company operates 1,845 bakery-cafes in 45 states and in Ontario, operating under the Panera Bread, Saint Louis Bread Co. and Paradise Bakery & Café banners. Its menu offerings have attracted a very loyal customer base, which has helped the company keep up an aggressive expansion plan.

The Merrill Lynch price target is posted at $185, while the consensus target is $171.94. The stock closed at $171.08.

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With the market just getting back to even for this year, investors have the opportunity to step in now and buy some of these top companies far cheaper than in recent memory. While not suitable for some conservative accounts, all these stocks offer growth investors solid upside potential for 2015.

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