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Investing Rookie? Start With These 3 Stocks

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To get your investing career off on the right foot, our analysts suggest a trio of companies with solid businesses, strong balance sheets, and history of paying off for shareholders.

Taking control of your stock portfolio can be a daunting task. There are literally thousands of publicly traded companies, after all. 

So, in an effort to help simplify the process for you, we asked three of our contributors for stocks they think would be solid first picks for a rookie investor. They recommended Pfizer (PFE 0.55%)3M (MMM -0.43%), and Waste Management (WM 1.59%). Here's a look at why they think these particular stocks are a good starting point for new investors. 

Man staring at a screen with stock prices.

Image Source: Getty Images.

Every rookie needs a big pharma stock

George Budwell (Pfizer): Big pharma stocks should be a core component of any well-rounded portfolio because of their strong track record of producing enormous and stable free cash flows, better-than-average shareholder rewards, and most importantly, sky-high returns on capital. 

So which big pharma stock is your best bet? For my money, I think it's Pfizer. Despite the company losing $23 billion worth of revenue over the last five years due to various drugs losing market exclusivity as their core patents expired (the much-discussed "patent cliff"), this extremely profitable blue-chip stock still more than doubled investors' total capital during the period. (Total return on capital assumes that a dividend reinvestment strategy is being employed.)

PFE Total Return Price Chart

PFE Total Return Price data by YCharts

The secret behind Pfizer's success is management's dedication to both a rich shareholder rewards program and a heavy investment in its clinical pipeline.

Digging into the details, Pfizer doled out a whopping $12.3 billion in shareholder rewards via share repurchases and dividends in 2016. Moreover, the company raised its dividend for the eighth consecutive year recently, despite already sporting one of the richest yields (3.73%) among large-cap pharmaceuticals.

On the clinical front, Pfizer sports an incredible 41 product candidates in late-stage development -- several of which have megablockbuster potential, such as the immuno-oncology drug candidate avelumab, which it's co-developing with Merck KGaA. Pfizer is working diligently toward bringing its next-generation of products online to finally push past the patent cliff. 

All things considered, Pfizer has one of the best clinical pipelines in the game, a solid balance sheet, and an excellent shareholder rewards program that's created value for investors even during the worst of times. That's why rookie investors should feel fairly comfortable buying this top pharma stock, and perhaps holding it for the long haul.   

This stock could be one of your best beginner bets

Neha Chamaria (3M): If you're just beginning to invest, you should start with companies that will not only be around for decades, but also thrive over time. Such companies usually possess strong business models with a track record of earnings and cash flows growth, have a strong financial footing and are committed toward shareholders. 3M is one such great stock to put your money into.

If you've ever purchased Post-it Notes or Scotch tape, you've already bought 3M products. But mind you, 3M isn't just about these ubiquitous minor office products. Today, the conglomerate owns 100,000 patents and has almost 60,000 products that serve customers in nearly 200 countries across a broad spectrum of industries including consumer, industrials, healthcare, electronics, and energy. Thanks to its diversity, focus on growth, and management efficiency, 3M has proved its mettle over the years.

MMM Revenue (TTM) Chart

MMM Revenue (TTM) data by YCharts

3M's financials are equally impressive, with the company currently having nearly as much in debt as equity, but boasting an incredible average 10-year interest-coverage ratio of nearly 36. That simply means the company's operating earnings have been strong enough to cover its interest payments 36 times over during past decade. That's an incredible sign of financial fortitude. Shareholders have been richly rewarded too: 3M has increased its dividends for 59 consecutive years.

You can rest assured 3M's dividend-raising streak won't break anytime soon, what with the company currently paying out only about half its profits in dividends, and projecting its earnings per share to grow by between 8% and 11% annually through 2020. With that kind of growth potential and dividend security, you likely won't go wrong starting your investing journey with 3M stock.

One person's trash is another person's treasure

Chuck Saletta (Waste Management): Garbage hauling and recycling titan Waste Management runs a fairly straightforward business. It takes what you no longer want and it gets it out of your way. It handles waste hauling, landfill operations, and recycling, and it also has a hand in energy generation through things like landfill gas recovery.

You may not want one of Waste Management's facilities in your backyard, but frankly, that's part of what makes it an appealing investment. Like it or not, waste is a part of life, and all that stuff has to be dealt with somewhere by somebody. As Waste Management is the largest company in the industry, it already has substantial facilities to deal with trash. That gives it an advantage over other businesses that may want to move in on its turf, and which would face "Not In My Back Yard" pressures from those who don't want new waste facilities nearby.

From an investment perspective, Waste Management has been doing a great job of turning trash into treasure for its shareholders. It recently increased its dividend to $0.425 per quarter, continuing a string of annual dividend increases that goes back well over a decade. At recent prices, investors get a respectable 2.3% yield, which is slightly better than the average for dividend payers in the S&P 500. 

Selling at around 21 times its projected forward earnings, Waste Management's stock isn't exactly trading at bargain-basement levels at the moment. Still, with earnings growth expected to clock in at around 10% annually over the next five years, it's not an outrageous price to pay for a company that fills such a critical need in our economy. 

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Stocks Mentioned

Pfizer Inc. Stock Quote
Pfizer Inc.
$50.94 (0.55%) $0.28
3M Company Stock Quote
3M Company
$129.77 (-0.43%) $0.56
Waste Management, Inc. Stock Quote
Waste Management, Inc.
$151.25 (1.59%) $2.37

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

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