Whether it is tomorrow, October or December, when the Federal Reserve finally raises interest rates a tiny 25 basis points, or one-quarter of 1%, the market most likely sells off. The knee-jerk reaction may even scare investors enough for the indexes to retrace to the August lows. Investors looking to stay in the equity markets but insulate themselves from volatility may want to look at beaten-down high-yielding market leaders.
We screened the Merrill Lynch research universe database for mega-cap stocks that have already been sold-off and pay outstanding dividends. We found four top companies that have a long and successful track record but have been hit hard this year. All four make good sense for growth and income investors, and all are rated Buy at Merrill Lynch.
This company posted solid second-quarter numbers and the rest of the year looks promising. AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) has to be one of the most ignored dividend plays on Wall Street. In fact, AT&T is the third most underweighted security, and the most underowned by active fund managers, according to Merrill Lynch data.
While growth has been admittedly slower over the past few years, the company continues to expand its user base, and strong product introductions from smartphone vendors have not only driven traffic, but increased device financing plans, an area that many on Wall Street believe could lead to some earnings weakness.
Many think that finally closing the DirecTV deal will remove a lot of lingering questions, especially where the company’s big dividend is concerned. It is a good bet that the synergies created by the deal are being underestimated by Wall Street, and many analysts see upside to wireless margins, which were a positive earnings driver in the second quarter.
AT&T investors are paid an outstanding 5.78% dividend. The Merrill Lynch price target for the stock is $40, and the Thomson/First Call consensus price target is $37.02. Shares closed Tuesday at $32.86.
The maker of tobacco products and wine has posted very solid numbers through the first half of the year, and the third quarter is looking good as well. Altria Group Inc. (NYSE: MO) is a top mega-cap consumer discretionary stock to buy on Wall Street, and the company’s Marlboro brand remains one of the most recognizable in the world.
Many Wall Street analysts concede that the stock has solid downside support, owing to the generous dividend yield, which remains at a huge premium in relation to the 10-year Treasury rate. Cash flow generation and the return of cash to Altria shareholders remain key facets of the company’s total shareholder return, and the analysts expect support of the strong dividend, which they believe will continue to climb, and strong share repurchase activity.
Altria recently reaffirmed its full-year adjusted earnings outlook. The company said it still expects per-share earnings, excluding non-recurring items such as litigation charges and losses on the early extinguishment of debt, of $2.76 to $2.81. That compares with the current consensus of $2.81.
Altria investors are paid an outstanding 4.18% dividend. Merrill Lynch has a $59 price target. The consensus estimate is $57.33. The stock closed Tuesday at $54.11.