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Top Technology Stock Removed From Jefferies Franchise Picks List

With just over six weeks remaining in a year that, for the most part, has been pretty forgettable, Wall Street firms that we cover at 24/7 Wall St. are all doing a little fine-tuning on their list of top stocks to buy. With the Nasdaq the only index with a real shot at a double-digit gain this year, more and more investors are casting an eye that way for potential end of the year winners.

In a new research report, Jefferies makes a move in its Franchise Picks list of top stocks to buy, actually removing a technology stock.

VMware Inc. (NYSE: VMW) is down 30% since August and was removed from the Franchise Picks list, but it may be more of a case of guilt by association. The company is a global leader in cloud infrastructure and business mobility. VMware’s industry-leading virtualization technology solutions deliver a brave new model of IT that is fluid, instant and more secure.

Of course the big issue is how many of the company’s shares will hit the tape as a result of the Dell deal with EMC, which has been a concern even before the deal surfaced. The analysts at Jefferies feel that VMware will continue to trade at a discount to intrinsic value because of the overhang, and that could be one of the main reasons the stocks is removed.

The Jefferies rating remains Buy and the price target is set at $83. The Thomson/First Call consensus target is $77. The stock closed Monday at $59.46.

ALSO READ: 3 Top Tech Stocks That Beat Earnings Estimates and Raised Guidance

While no replacement for VMware was named, the list does include solid dividend paying stocks that have lagged this year. We found three that may offer outstanding total return potential for investors the rest of this year and into 2016.

AT&T

This company posted very solid third-quarter numbers, and many on Wall Street think the fourth quarter will be good as well. AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) is clearly one of the most ignored dividend plays on Wall Street. In fact, AT&T continues to be one of the most under-owned securities by active fund managers. Trading at a very cheap 12.07 times estimated 2016 earnings, AT&T 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.

AT&T posted outstanding third-quarter results last week and reiterated 2015 guidance for double-digit revenue growth and continued consolidated margin expansion. Management expects capital spending to increase sequentially and estimates that free cash flow could be better than $4.5 billion. Third-quarter wireless subscriber additions came in higher than many Wall Street estimates, and DirecTV saw positive video additions where many expected losses.

AT&T investors receive an outstanding 5.57% dividend. The Jefferies price target for the stock is $40, and the Thomson/First Call consensus estimate is $36.96. Shares closed Monday at $32.84.

ALSO READ: UBS Adds Top Dow Blue Chip to Dividend Rulers Portfolio

AbbVie

This is one of the two top global pharmaceutical stocks on the Franchise Picks list. AbbVie Inc. (NYSE: ABBV) is a global, research-based biopharmaceutical company formed in 2013 following separation from Abbott Labs. Its mission is to use its expertise, dedicated people and unique approach to innovation to develop and market advanced therapies that address some of the world’s most complex and serious diseases. AbbVie employs more than 26,000 people worldwide and markets medicines in more than 170 countries.

The stock fell 10% in late October after the FDA warning about liver risk with the company’s hepatitis C products. However, Jefferies points out that this applies to a small sub-population of cirrhotics who are 5% or less of the total patient population. Additionally, the next generation HCV product could be launched as early as 2017, and even of the entire Viekira Pak/Technivie business were lost over the next two years, it represents only 4% of net value.

With numerous clinical read-outs for the stock over the rest of 2015, many on Wall Street think that over time the stock could have anywhere from $15 to $25 per share upside from current levels. Jefferies points out that it expects several updates on the Humira franchise soon, including more visibility on the issued and pending patent estate for Humira and an update on the clinical profile of “new Humira.”

AbbVie investors receive a solid 3.61% dividend. The Jefferies price target is $85, among the highest on Wall Street. The consensus target is much lower at $75.43. Shares closed Monday at $63.23.

ALSO READ: 4 Blue Chip Dividend Growth Stocks Trading Under 12 Times Forward Earnings

Western Digital

This is a leader in the total addressable hard disk drive (HDD) market and a long-time innovator in the storage industry. Western Digital Corp.’s (NASDAQ: WDC) storage solutions help to create, manage, experience and preserve digital content. It is responding to changing market needs by providing a full portfolio of compelling, high-quality storage products with effective technology deployment, high efficiency, flexibility and speed. Its products are marketed under the HGST and WD brands to original equipment manufacturers, distributors, resellers, cloud infrastructure providers and consumers.

The most compelling news is that the company made a stunning $19 billion purchase of SanDisk. This could be a strong addition to the Western Digital current offerings, and it could significantly benefit from SanDisk’s technology and portfolio leadership in the NAND flash semiconductor and enterprise flash systems market.

The drop off in the PC business helps to spur initiative in the company’s cloud business, and analysts estimate that the company’s gross profit contribution from business critical (cloud) drives will exceed that of PCs by the second half of next year. Of all the stocks beaten down due to the poor PC environment, Western Digital may have the most upside potential — especially when Jefferies notes that in 2016 Enterprise HDD’s will have an average three-year cost of $100 per year, versus $500 per year for NAND.

Western Digital investors receive a 3% dividend. The $95 Jefferies price target is lower than the consensus target of $97.59. The stock closed Monday at $66.61.

ALSO READ: 3 Recent Hot IPOs That Could Still Have Big Upside Potential

Stocks that pay dividends have lagged badly in 2015, as nervous investors fret over interest rates spiking higher when the Federal Reserve starts to raise rates. The reality is that the rates increases will be slow, small and at a very measured pace. Buying stocks with solid growth potential, paying dividends higher than the 10-year Treasury debt, makes good sense now.