If the 2008 recession and stock market calamity taught one lesson to chief financial officers of major corporations, it was one of lowering leverage, issuing less new debt and taking very conservative outlooks on mergers and acquisitions, capital expenditures and any other cash outlay. While global debt has actually increased since 2009, this due in part to historically low interest rates, leverage or net debt to equity has declined to historical lows here and around the globe. A new research piece from UBS reports that corporations are generating an incredible $1 trillion a year in cash.
UBS also stresses that investors would be wise to focus on the consequences that this huge cash hoard means. In fact, the UBS team points out that dividends and share buybacks are likely to remain a focal point for corporate boards, especially given the ongoing search for yield from investors. While dividends have almost returned to cycle levels, share buybacks are still below the 2007 peak.
UBS has five top companies that they believe will stay focused on returning capital to shareholders.
Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F) remains a favorite stock to buy at UBS. The venerable car maker has reshaped its product line in recent years, and sales have been outstanding. With sales booming not only in the United States but in China, and six new models being introduced in Russia in 2015, the company is expanding market share, while maintaining a competitive pricing structure. The iconic F-150 pickup remains the top-selling truck in America, and it has been the top-selling vehicle for the past 32 years, despite strong challenges from the competition.
Ford investors are paid a very solid 3.65% dividend. The UBS price target for the stock is $19. The Thomson/First Call consensus price target is $16.82. Shares close Thursday at $16.38.
Delta Air Lines Inc. (NYSE: DAL) was named the 2014 Airline of the Year by Air Transport World magazine and also was named to FORTUNE magazine’s 50 Most Admired Companies, in addition to being named the most admired airline for the third time in four years. Delta has among the most extensive hedging policies among the airlines and owns and operates a refinery in addition to a sizable hedging book. The airline has participated in 80% of the oil price decline since July, and it was expected to post as much $160 million in hedging gains for 2014.
Investors are paid a tiny 0.6% dividend, which should be on the rise. The UBS target is $62, and the consensus price target for the airline is $64.78. The stock closed Thursday at $45.92 a share.
Gilead Sciences Inc. (NASDAQ: GILD) is a top large cap biotech that is looked on favorably for capital returns at UBS. The company announced in early February that it is taking a page from the big pharmaceuticals by initiating its first-ever dividend. While the stock has been hammered since the beginning of the year due to a price war with AbbVie for hepatitis C (HCV) drugs, it appears as though the data for the company’s top HCV drugs, Sovaldi and Harvoni, is positive, and they continue to sell well. Current estimates are tracking to come in at the high end of the 2015 guidance.
The UBS price target is $120, slightly higher than the consensus target of $119.4. The shares closed Thursday at $104.19.
Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ: MSFT) is also on the UBS dividend rulers list. The software giant disappointed on earnings and was sold off pretty hard in the middle of January, and we have seen insiders recently start to acquire stock. After an outstanding year in 2014, this sell-off in the stock gives investors a much better entry point into the venerable software giant. The company recently announced plans to start selling mobile phones and tablet computers in Africa that run on the U.S. company’s operating systems to tap surging demand for smart handsets on the continent. With potential to beat what was perceived by Wall Street as somewhat disappointing guidance, investors may want to buy shares now.
Microsoft shareholders are paid a 2.8% dividend. The UBS price target is $52, and the consensus target is lower at $47.97. Shares closed Thursday at $44.05.
Rockwell Automation Inc. (NYSE: ROK) is another favored stock to buy at UBS, and another recent addition to the divide rulers list. Rockwell Automation is the world’s largest company dedicated to industrial automation and information, and it operates in two massive segments: Architecture & Software and Control Products & Solutions. The company reported solid earnings at the end of January, but analysts noted it did tighten the forward guidance some.
Rockwell Automation shareholders get a 2.2% yield. While trading at $117 or so, the stock’s consensus analyst price target is only $120. The UBS target is $135, though. Shares have traded between $98.55 and $128.57 in the past year.
The UBS point is pretty spot on. With the market getting more expensive, investors focusing on companies returning capital to shareholders should be able to maintain a degree of portfolio balance that could prove especially valuable when the inevitable market sell-off comes along.