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Merrill Lynch US 1 List On Sale: 4 Top Dividend Stocks to Buy Now

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One thing investors need to always be wary of is Wall Street firms that tend to panic in a sell-off and immediately start shuffling around top picks, especially if those are underperforming the benchmark. Face it, if a stock on your list was good at the beginning of the year, a drastic early market slide does not change the fundamentals one bit.

One firm that always stand solidly behind its picks is Merrill Lynch, and since its launch, the firm’s US 1 list has dramatically outperformed the S&P 500. Early this year, it is trailing the index by just a little over 1.5%, and that’s a number that can easily be made up. We screened the list of the top Merrill Lynch picks for the dividend yielding stocks that are on sale and found four outstanding companies to buy now.

Assurant

Down 10% in just a little over a month, this top company is providing a very solid entry level for investors. Assurant Inc. (NYSE: AIZ) is a global provider of specialty protection products and related services to help guard customers against risk. The company’s diverse range of products and services includes: extended service products and related services for consumer electronics, appliances and vehicles; pre-funded funeral insurance; lender-placed homeowners insurance; property preservation and valuation services; debt protection administration; credit insurance; group dental insurance; group disability insurance; and group life insurance.

Assurant has constructed restructuring plans for the long-term growth of its business. Assurant is exiting both health and employee benefits to focus on specialty property and casualty and lifestyle protection. Specialty property is realigning the business, looking to add higher growth returns. The expected long-term earnings growth is currently pegged at 10.10%. In the fall, company management lifted the dividend 67% and initiated a $750 million stock buyback program.

Assurant investors receive a 2.52% dividend. The Merrill Lynch price target for the stock is $93. The Thomson/First Call consensus price target is $87.50. Shares closed on Friday at $79.47.


ConocoPhillips

This company may offer investors among the best total return possibilities for 2016, especially if oil starts to rally some. ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP) is the self-described world’s largest independent exploration and production company based on production and proved reserves. Headquartered in Houston, with operations and activities in 25 countries, ConocoPhillips has spent the past five years divesting assets. Although it is cash rich, it has somewhat dampened earnings and growth expectations in the past year.

Many Wall Street analysts feel Conoco can accelerate growth from reloaded portfolio depth in the Bakken and Eagle Ford, with visibility on future growth from a newly disclosed sizable position in the Permian. The company lowered its 2015 spending target in response to the lingering slump in crude prices.

Chairman and CEO Ryan Lance has said that oil prices are expected to start to move higher late this year, but Conoco is significantly reducing capital and operating costs, while maintaining its commitment to safety and asset integrity. He also said the company retains the flexibility to adjust capital spending in response to market factors. The 2016 capital budget was announced recently at $7.7 billion. Merrill Lynch feels that with the capex below $8 billion and additional asset sales, the dividend should remain safe, a key reason for investors to consider.

Conoco investors receive a strong 7.86% dividend. Merrill Lynch has a whopping $77 price target. The consensus target is $57.63, and shares closed Friday at $37.67.
Eli Lilly

This stock checks in high at many top Wall Street firms, and it is the only large pharmaceutical on the US 1 list. Eli Lilly and Co. (NYSE: LLY) is a global health care company with numerous core products in a number of primary-care pharmaceutical markets. It generates revenues from its pharmaceutical product and animal health segments

The product portfolio includes Zyprexa (for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder), Gemzar (pancreatic cancer), Evista (osteoporosis), Cymbalta (depression), Cialis (erectile dysfunction), Strattera (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), Erbitux (cancer) and Alimta (chemotherapy). Eli Lilly also has a strong presence in the diabetes market.

The company reported third-quarter earnings that were well above the consensus estimates, but revenues came in just under expectations, reflecting some potential generic competition for Cymbalta and Evista in the United States, as well as some negative currency movement. Trajenta, Strattera, Forteo and the animal health business should all help to offset the impact of genericization of former top-selling drugs. While fourth-quarter estimates were lighter than expected, the analysts at Merrill Lynch remain very positive on the stock.

The company’s new cancer drug Cyramza won FDA approval for label expansion last year. It treats patients suffering from metastatic colorectal cancer. This was the fourth Cyramza approval in a one-year period; it already has approval to treat advanced or metastatic gastric or gastroesophageal junction adenocarcinoma and metastatic non-small cell lung cancer.

Shareholders are paid a 2.47% dividend. The $108 Merrill Lynch price target is well above the consensus target of $99.50. Shares closed Friday at $82.48.

3M

This top industrial could really jump with an economic pickup and is one of the top 10 picks for 2016. 3M Co. (NYSE: MMM) is a diversified, global manufacturer. Its businesses are technology-driven and organized under five segments: Consumer, Safety and Graphics, Electronics and Energy, Health Care, and Industrial. Its popular brands include Scotch, Post-It, 3M and Thinsulate. The company also holds over 500 U.S. patents.

The stock was scorched in December when 3M released lowered year-end guidance for 2015, citing weak macroeconomic conditions across the globe. However, it did offer what Merrill Lynch feels is solid 2016 guidance, as the company anticipates GAAP earnings will increase 7% to 12% year over year. Organic local-currency sales growth is expected to be 1% to 3%, while free cash flow conversion rate is anticipated to be 95% to 105%. The analysts feel that the 2016 earnings growth will come in at the high end of the company’s peer group.

Merrill Lynch feels that the pullback makes for an outstanding entry point for new capital and accounts that are adding to positions.

3M investors receive a 2.95% dividend. The Merrill Lynch price target is $178, and the consensus target is $159.73. The stock closed Friday at $139.52.


Not only are all these blue chip dividend stocks on sale, they offer solid total return potential, and they all appear to be set up for a very solid 2016. Investors looking to add stocks that will fare well in a higher volatility world would do well adding these to growth portfolios now.

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