5 Merrill Lynch Defensive Portfolio Stocks That Can Survive a Market Crash

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Earnings reporting season is starting to wind down this week, and we are about to go into one of the typically slowest months on Wall Street. Traders leave for holidays, the IPO market dries up and there really is nothing to move stocks higher. One thing is for sure, the stock market is expensive, and as the massive sell-offs in Facebook and Twitter have proven, if you own momentum stocks and they miss badly, they will be crushed.

We checked out the Merrill Lynch Large Cap Defensive Portfolio, and it looks like just the ticket for those looking to stay in the market but who are getting nervous when they see stocks down 20% in a day on earnings blow-ups. Merrill Lynch said this when describing the composition on strategy for the portfolio members:

We note that the portfolio continues to have an estimated risk significantly below the broader market and remain focused on providing the best risk adjusted returns. A quality bias (high consistency of earnings, relatively low debt, improving cash flows, and above sector returns on capital) and overall portfolio risk management drive the Large Cap Defensive Portfolio’s construction.

We looked at the top ten holdings and found five stocks that look great for more conservative accounts. We purposely avoided the two technology stocks as, while they are more conservative, they have had big runs.

Visa

This top credit card issuer is becoming a huge leader in digital pay, and it is the largest holding in the portfolio. Visa Inc. (NYSE: V) operates the world’s largest retail electronic payments network. The company provides processing services and payment product platforms, including consumer credit, debit, prepaid and commercial payments, that are offered under Visa and related brands. According to Nilson estimates, the company is the largest global credit network (as measured by volume) and the second largest global debit network.

Visa is not a bank and does not issue cards, extend credit or set rates and fees for consumers. Visa’s innovations, however, enable financial institution customers to offer consumers more choices: pay now with debit, pay ahead of time with prepaid or pay later with credit products.

Visa remains very well liked across Wall Street as 77.9% of fund managers have shares of the company.

Shareholders receive a 0.6% dividend. The Merrill Lynch price target for the shares is $155, and the Wall Street consensus target is $157.06. The shares closed Friday at $140.71.

Raytheon

This company has a diversified mix of business and makes up 4.1% of the portfolio. Raytheon Co. (NYSE: RTN) is an industry leader in defense, government electronics, space, information technology and technical services. The company operates in four principal business segments: Integrated Defense Systems, Intelligence, Information and Services, Missile Systems, and Space and Airborne Systems.

Top Wall Street analysts feel that the company could be one of the biggest winners as the global threat environment has been heightened substantially this year, and with 31% of total sales from international, the prospects remain very positive. Many cite the Patriot Missile deal signed with Poland as a good example, which could propel 2018 earnings.

Raytheon also is expected to be the key supplier for the huge Saudi deal signed last year, and the company also has the balance sheet capacity to pre-fund its pension to take advantage of the currently higher tax deduction, which could eliminate or reduce mandatory pension funding and provide a lift to 2019 free cash flow and earnings.

Shareholders receive a 1.63% dividend. Merrill Lynch has a $245 price objective, while the consensus estimate is $235.71. The shares closed Friday at $196.18.