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The second-quarter earnings season has just started, but smart investors don't let themselves get too much tunnel vision by focusing merely on a single quarter's results. What's far more important is how a company is positioned for growth in the long haul.
That's why in this article, I'm not going to talk about this quarter, or even this year. Rather, to help you get a more forward-looking view of the investments you own, let's take a closer look at the 30 stocks of the Dow Jones Industrials (INDEX: ^DJI ) to identify which ones have the best growth prospects next year.
The five stocks at the top of the list for growing their earnings per share in their fiscal 2013 years have something in common: They've all been victims of the recession and resulting economic woes. But each stock has reacted differently to the recession and the ensuing rebound.
Analysts expect Alcoa (NYSE: AA ) to have the fastest growth in earnings per share in 2013, more than doubling from $0.30 in 2012 to $0.77 next year. But before you get too excited about those prospects, keep in mind that even if the aluminum giant accomplishes that task, it will just barely be ahead of where its earnings finished in 2011. Over the past year, Alcoa has suffered greatly from weak aluminum prices that have kept its profits down, and anything short of a full recovery for the company's aluminum business would be a very bad sign both for Alcoa and the overall economy.
The next two companies on the list both hail from the financial industry: Bank of America (NYSE: BAC ) and JPMorgan Chase. Analysts see B of A continuing its recovery track, growing earnings per share at a 68% clip, while they expect JPMorgan to reverse a slight earnings contraction in 2012 with a 26% rise in earnings per share next year.
For both banks, future success will rely heavily on their ability to get past recent controversies. Both B of A and JPMorgan were involved in the foreclosure problems that led to a $25 billion settlement with federal and state regulators, and JPMorgan's trading miscues only added fuel to the fire of those calling for more oversight of too-big-to-fail banks. Yet going forward, what the banks need to grow is higher loan volume, especially in the mortgage area, where transaction-based income isn't quite as dependent on interest-rate spreads.
Defending your portfolio
Finally, rounding out the top five are defense-related companies Boeing (NYSE: BA ) and United Technologies (NYSE: UTX ) . Analysts expect Boeing's earnings per share to jump 24% after an anticipated drop of almost 15% in 2012, while they see United Technologies adding on to slight gains this year with a 21% rise for 2013.
Much of the attention around both companies has come from concerns about the U.S. defense budget. With the specter of spending reductions constantly looming on the horizon, both companies are vulnerable to cutbacks, even though United Tech got a big order last week from the military worth $7.3 billion.
But where both Boeing and United Tech have huge growth potential is in the commercial aircraft industry. Boeing has lined up huge orders for its 787 Dreamliner and 737 MAX aircraft, with enough backlog to last for years. But its biggest challenge has been in actually getting those planes built and delivered on time. If it wants to make good on analysts' hopes, Boeing needs to do a better job of avoiding delays and getting deals done.
Similarly, United Tech's coming merger with Goodrich will bolster its position in the aerospace area, thanks to Goodrich's aircraft components business joining hands with United Tech's existing Pratt & Whitney subsidiary. Strength in aircraft orders eventually falls through to United Tech's businesses, and with unrelated segments like climate control and elevators giving it some valuable diversification.
Grow as an investor
Of course, focusing too much on earnings estimates can get you in a lot of trouble. All too often, the analysts who produce those estimates get things dramatically wrong, and their mistakes can cost you a lot of money.
That's why it's important not to take this list of stocks as a sure thing. Rather, by going beyond those estimates to look at the fundamentals of the underlying businesses of those companies, you'll give yourself the best chance to pick the best stocks you can find.
Growth is important, but another key element of success for stocks comes from what they pay in dividends. Let us show you some stocks that offer the powerful combination of lucrative dividend payouts and future growth potential. Our latest special report on the Dow is absolutely free, so get your copy today.