Merrill Lynch's Top Technology Stock Picks for 2015

As we get further into the first trading month of the year, more of the top firms on Wall Street that we cover are getting the top stock picks out to clients. A new note from the investment strategy team at Merrill Lynch boils down the 50 top stock picks from the 50 covered industries in their research universe of 3,320 total companies. The Merrill Lynch research investment committee team, continues to favor stocks over bonds in the United States in 2015. With many anticipating the beginning of a slow, but steady series of rates increases from the Federal Reserve starting as early as this summer, the chances that stock returns outperform bonds continues to grow.

Here are some of the top technology stock picks from Merrill Lynch for 2015.

Cognizant Technology Solutions Corp. (NASDAQ: CTSH) is the top Merrill Lynch pick in the information technology services industry. The company provides IT consulting, and business process outsourcing services worldwide. It offers consulting and technology services, such as IT strategy, program management, operations improvement, strategy and business consulting services.

The Merrill Lynch price target for Cognizant is $63, and the Thomson/First Call consensus target is $60.50. The stock closed trading on Friday at $55.04 a share.

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FireEye Inc. (NASDAQ: FEYE) was absolutely crushed in the mid October sell-off and was just fighting its way back when its reported earnings in November far below estimates. Investors still have the opportunity to add a top software security stock at a very reasonable entry point, as the stock is Merrill Lynch’s top security play for 2015. The company is a favorite for product resellers focused on advanced persistent threat protection for clients, and with high-profile hacking seemingly everywhere, this is a solid tech subsector to be in.

The Merrill Lynch price target is $44. The consensus price objective is $38.05. The stock closed on Friday at $32.89. Note that FireEye traded to almost $100 a share last year.

Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ) is trading at a very low 9.3 times 2015 estimated earnings, and it is the top Merrill Lynch pick for 2015 in IT hardware. The company has had a remarkable comeback under the leadership of Silicon Valley veteran Meg Whitman. Whitman’s most important point for 2014 was her plan to use free cash flows in order to reduce the existing debt, repurchase new shares and maintain the dividend payout policy. Shareholders can rest assured she stays the course in 2015. The Merrill Lynch team, and other analysts on Wall Street, feel that the company is cheap.

HP investors are paid a 1.6% dividend. Merrill Lynch has a $47 price objective, and the consensus target is $41.71. Shares closed Friday at $38.34.

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NXP Semiconductors N.V. (NASDAQ: NXPI) is the top Merrill Lynch pick in semiconductors, and it is also on the firm’s U.S.1 list. The company announced last year that it is the world’s number one supplier for small-signal discretes. The Merrill Lynch analysts and others are focused on the huge possibilities in technology in what is called the “connected car.” They see automotive generating 20% of total revenues, and say that growth could outgrow the broader chip market over the next couple of years.

The Merrill Lynch price target for the stock is $96, and the consensus is much lower at $82.61. The stock closed trading on Friday at $77.91.

Pandora Media Inc. (NYSE: P) is the Merrill Lynch top pick in the Internet/e-commerce industry for 2015. The company is clearly not the only company with a big desire to be in the music streaming business, but it is the current leader in installation and use in the automotive world, with a penetration rate right at 70%. Many on Wall Street expect a higher rate of Pandora adoption in new and used vehicles, which can help drive increased listenership and monetization of existing ad inventory.

The Merrill Lynch price target is $31, while the consensus figure is slightly lower at $29.14. The stock closed trading on Friday at $15.91.

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The Merrill Lynch technology picks make good sense for aggressive growth accounts. The analysts have focused their top picks on companies that are among the leaders in the respective industries. In what could be a volatile year for stocks, that is a good path to follow.

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