Merrill Lynch Raises Price Targets on 4 Blue Chips That Beat Estimates

April 28, 2017 by 247lee

The higher the market goes, the harder it is to justify many of the multiples being applied to shares. The big moves in the market since the election last November were due in part to big moves by tech stocks with very large market capitalization. With tail-risk mounting due to the upcoming French election finals round, the geopolitical situation around the world and some sociopolitical issues here at home, it makes sense for investors to go with lower multiple large cap growth stocks.

In a series of new research reports, Merrill Lynch analysts have raised price targets on four quality large cap growth stocks that makes good sense for growth investors looking to reposition their portfolios to account for perhaps more volatility the rest of 2017. With corporate optimism much stronger than some of the current data, playing it safe makes good sense.

General Dynamics

This company, like other major defense prime contractors, has had a very solid year and remains one the best ideas at Merrill Lynch in the space. General Dynamics Corp. (NYSE: GD) is engaged in business aviation, land and expeditionary combat vehicles and systems, armaments, munitions, shipbuilding and marine systems, and information systems and technologies.

Major products include Virginia-class nuclear-powered submarine and Ohio class replacement, Arleigh Burke-class Aegis, Abrams M1A2 tank, Stryker 8-wheeled assault vehicle, medium-caliber munitions and gun systems, tactical and strategic mission systems.

The company reported stunning first-quarter earnings that were well above the analysts’ consensus estimate. The earnings beat was driven by better than expected margins and lower taxes.

General Dynamics shareholders are paid a 1.72% dividend. The Merrill Lynch price target for the stock was raised to $225 from $210. The Wall Street consensus price objective is set at $203.06. The stock closed trading on Thursday at $195.03 per share.


This is one of the many top companies that have restructured and are now based in Ireland. Ingersoll-Rand PLC (NYSE: IR) is another top industrial stock to buy and, with the housing market continuing to grow, the company’s wide range of portfolio products should continue to sell well.

Many on Wall Street also see the stock as a good play on the replacement, upgrade and, ultimately, growth in the commercial and residential air conditioning markets. Trends in these markets have been highly correlated with overall commercial construction and are thus earlier in the cycle.

Ingersoll Rand has an outstanding portfolio of global brands and holds leading market share in all major product lines. The geographic and industrial diversity coupled with a large installed product base provides solid growth opportunities for the company within service, spare parts and replacement revenue streams.

The company posted stellar quarterly numbers, and the analysts noted this:

The company beat our and consensus estimates in both segments with organic growth accelerating in the first quarter to 4% vs. 2% in the fourth quarter of 2016. Ingersoll Rand raised the lower end of 2017 outlook by $.05 per share to $4.35-$4.50, on the first quarter beat, but we view the range as conservative. Margins were solid as material inflation headwind was more than offset by productivity improvement returning to a positive.

Ingersoll-Rand investors are paid a 1.8% dividend. Merrill Lynch raised its price objective on the shares to $96 from $85, and posted consensus target price is $85.94. The stock closed on Thursday at $89.25 a share.

Northrop Grumman

This top defense company was ranked as one of the top five defense contractors by sales last year. Northrop Grumman Corp. (NYSE: NOC) provides innovative systems, products and solutions in unmanned systems, cyber, C4ISR and logistics and modernization to government and commercial customers worldwide. The Aerospace Systems segment designs, develops, integrates and produces manned aircraft, unmanned systems, spacecraft, high-energy laser systems, microelectronics and other systems and subsystems.

The Information Systems segment offers advanced solutions for Department of Defense, national intelligence, federal civilian, state, international and commercial customers. The Technical Services segment provides logistics, modernization and sustainment services, as well as other advanced technology and engineering services.

This defense and aerospace giant also smashed earnings estimates and raised its guidance. The analysts noted this in their report:

The company reported first quarter diluted earnings-per-share from continuing operations of $3.63, above the consensus mean of $2.92. The beat in the quarter was driven by lower tax and better than expected revenue. Management raised 2017 EPS guidance to $11.80-12.10 from $11.30-11.60.

Shareholders of Northrop Grumman are paid a 1.45% dividend. The $265 Merrill Lynch price target was raised to $295. That compares with a consensus target of $258.06. The stock closed most recently at $248.40.

United Technologies

This is a very diversified company with large government contract exposure, and it is also on the Merrill Lynch US 1 list of high conviction stock picks. United Technologies Corp. (NYSE: UTX) is an industrial that provides high-technology products and services to aerospace industries and building systems worldwide. Its segments are UTC Climate, Otis, Controls & Security, UTC Aerospace Systems and Pratt & Whitney.

Many Wall Street analysts believe the company is strategically positioned to benefit from two megatrends in the long-term: urbanization and commercial aerospace. The company received good news recently as the military and foreign buyers are set to increase purchase of the F-135 Jets. UTC’s Pratt & Whitney division, which builds the F135 engine for the military, earns a superb 22.5% profit margin on its products.

This is another top blue chip that surpassed estimates, and the analyst said this in a recent report:

United Technology reported first quarter adjusted earnings-per-shares of $1.48 versus the Merrill Lynch estimate of $1.41 and the consensus estimate of $1.39. Management reaffirmed 2017 EPS from continuing operations outlook of $6.30-$6.60 on $57.5 to $59 billion in sales.

UTC investors are paid a solid 2.22% dividend. A $10 boost in the Merrill Lynch price target brought it to $140. The consensus target is down at $118.66, and the shares closed Thursday at $118.78 apiece.

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The strong market rally has lifted many of these companies, so investors may consider buying partial positions and seeing if the market pulls back some. However, beating estimates and raising guidance makes them a good bet going forward.