Merrill Lynch Makes Big Q4 Changes to US 1 Stock List

With third-quarter earnings reports streaming in, and the fourth quarter well underway, many of the top companies we follow on Wall Street are making some changes to the lists of their high-conviction stock picks for clients. As the market is showing volatility not seen in years, it makes sense to examine the lists and make some changes, because the rest of the year could have additional volatility as the political and geopolitical cycle could prove to be a very explosive component.

In a recent research note, the analysts at Merrill Lynch made a big move by adding Ferrari N.V. (NASDAQ: RACE) and PayPal Holdings Inc. (NASDAQ: PYPL) to the firm’s well-respected US 1 list of top stocks to Buy. Automatic Data Processing Inc. (NYSE: ADP) and NetApp Inc. (NASDAQ: NTAP) were removed, but both remain rated Buy.

Given the jump in volatility, and the possibility that many investors are resetting their portfolios for the end of the year run, we screened the US 1 list for other good total-return dividend-paying stocks, and found four that are solid choices for more conservative accounts now.

Exxon Mobil

This remains a top energy pick and is on the US 1 list at Merrill Lynch. Exxon Mobil Corp. (NYSE: XOM) is the world’s largest international integrated oil and gas company. It explores for and produces crude oil and natural gas in the United States, Canada, South America, Europe, Africa and elsewhere.

The company also manufactures and markets commodity petrochemicals, including olefins, aromatics, polyethylene and polypropylene plastics, and specialty products, and it transports and sells crude oil, natural gas and petroleum products.

Exxon Mobil reported second-quarter profits that fell short of analysts’ expectations, marking the fourth time in the past five periods the company has disappointed. The miss was largely due to weaker earnings in Exxon’s refining and marketing segment due to heavier-than-anticipated maintenance and operational problems. Exxon’s business producing oil and gas bolstered earnings, with the company saying it is favoring oil output over gas drilling in its U.S. shale fields. Third-quarter numbers are due on November 2.

Exxon investors are paid a very solid 4.03% dividend. The Merrill Lynch price objective for the shares is $110, while the Wall Street consensus target is $88.88. The shares ended trading on Wednesday at $81.50.

Goldman Sachs

This stock trades at a reasonable 9.35 times estimated 2019 earnings, and it is a top financial services member of the Merrill Lynch US 1 list. Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. (NYSE: GS) has a gigantic institutional equity, debt and derivatives business, an ultra-high net worth clientele, top investment banking and capital markets expertise. The firm continues to be a dominant force around the world, one of the most sought-after banks one of the very few firms that dictate who can be a client.

In investment banking, the company has the preeminent client franchise. Goldman Sachs advised on more than $1.5 trillion of announced mergers and acquisitions transactions last year, the highest level the bank has ever recorded. It also has maintained a leading market share over the past 25 years.

Third-quarter profit exceeded analysts’ estimates on better-than-expected revenue, and the Merrill Lynch team had this to say:

Overall, it was a good quarter and we raise our estimates and reiterate our Buy, given favorable revenue trends/initiatives, positive operating leverage, rising book value and return on equity, building capital ratios, and an attractive valuation.

Goldman Sachs shareholders are paid a 1.50% dividend. The Merrill Lynch has a price target of $280 for the stock, and the consensus target was last seen at $275.39. The stock closed Wednesday’s trading at $228.28, up almost 3% on the day.

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