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3 Top Large-Cap Stocks to Buy in February

By Rich Duprey, Neha Chamaria, and George Budwell - Updated Apr 24, 2019 at 11:55PM

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Gilead Sciences, Eaton, and British American Tobacco are three large caps investors can ride to higher gains.

After the shocking volatility of December, stocks regained some of their balance in January. Investors, obviously, prefer things kept on an even keel, and that's why many of them turn to large-cap stocks, because they offer a measure of stability.

Not that they can't get beaten up too -- all three stocks below have suffered big swings of their own -- but time has a way of smoothing out the hills and valleys for large caps. Following shifts in fortune, check out why Gilead Sciences ( GILD 0.37% ), Eaton ( ETN 2.23% ), and British American Tobacco ( BTI 1.48% ) are three top large-cap stocks to consider buying in February.

Looking up the rising sun peeking through at soaring trees.

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A light at the end of the tunnel 

George Budwell (Gilead Sciences): After a tumultuous three-year period, Gilead Sciences finally appears to be nearing an inflection point from a business standpoint. So its shares could be a nice addition to a large cap-oriented portfolio this year.

What's the backstory? Gilead's shares have been severely punished over the last three years due to the company's inability to ward off competitors like AbbVie's Mavyret for treating hepatitis C. However, Gilead seems to be moving past the worst of these hepatitis C headwinds and into a far brighter period characterized by new drug launches. These include the game-changing HIV medication Biktarvy, as well as a host of high-value clinical readouts in cancer, nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), and rheumatoid arthritis.

As an added bonus, Gilead's novel cancer cell therapy Yescarta is also beginning to contribute in a meaningful way to the biotech's top line after a slower-than-expected debut. Now, Yescarta still has a long way to go to live up to its multibillion-dollar peak sales projection. But the therapy is at least gaining traction in the marketplace, and it might even be a key reason Gilead ends 2019 in positive territory from a top-line perspective. 

In all, Gilead has a number of commercial and clinical catalysts on the near-term horizon that could boost its shares in a big way this year. And Wall Street, for its part, seems to agree with this positive outlook. A handful of analysts, after all, have already issued noteworthy upgrades and price target hikes for the biotech early in the new year. 

Check out the latest Gilead Sciences earnings call transcript.

This stock's recent price drop is an opportunity

Neha Chamaria (Eaton): Eaton is an industrial conglomerate, and that itself should give you an idea why the stock is down nearly 20% since October 2018. It's been a really rough few months for the industrials sector, what with geopolitical concerns and the ongoing trade tensions between the U.S. and China, in particular, triggering fears of decelerating growth among industrial manufacturers.

Yet Eaton, which calls itself a "power management company," has weathered many a storm in the past and looks well poised to do so in the future. As my colleague and fellow Fool Reuben Gregg Brewer aptly illustrated in this article, Eaton's earnings remained in the black even during the 2007 recession, evidencing the company's resilience. Since then, Eaton has diversified further and become bigger, positioning itself better for any downturn. Today, Eaton operates six divisions -- including the newly formed high-potential eMobility business targeted at the electric vehicle market -- that serve several key sectors such as oil and gas, utilities, healthcare, mining, aerospace, food, and transportation.

In October, Eaton upgraded its full-year adjusted earnings guidance to $5.30 to $5.40 per share, representing 15% growth over 2017 at the midpoint. More importantly, Eaton continues to generate solid cash flows: It generated nearly $2.7 billion in cash from operations (CFO) in the trailing 12 months, which is considerably higher than its five-year average CFO. Now consider that the stock is trading at only around 11 times price to CFO, which is well below its five-year average P/CFO. With Eaton shares also doling out a good 3.7% in dividend yield and the company most likely to reward shareholders with a dividend increase in coming weeks, this is one large-cap stock you might want to get your hands on now.

Check out the latest Eaton earnings call transcript.

A beaten down stock with potential

Rich Duprey (British American Tobacco): Although there's little question about the declining fortunes of cigarette manufacturers, shares of British American Tobacco, which have lost more than half their value over the past year, still represent a great opportunity for investors. The company is profitable, has strong pricing power, and is investing considerable sums of money in next-generation cigarette alternatives that promise to carry the tobacco giant well into the future.

Industry cigarette volumes continue to fall as people either give up the smoking habit or turn to alternatives. British American Tobacco has spent more than $3 billion on alternatives to traditional cigarettes and arguably has the most diverse range of products. Whether it's smokeless tobacco, electronic cigarettes, or heated tobacco products, there seems to be something for everyone.

Although the Juul e-cig has captured a better-than-70% market share in the U.S., it is under scrutiny from the FDA and may see sales restricted because of its unusual popularity among teens. As a result, there could be a wide opening for heated tobacco products like British Tobacco's iFuse glo and Philip Morris International's IQOS device.

Obviously there are a lot of risks still, and the FDA moved to ban menthol cigarettes, the market for which British American owns 50% with its Newport and Camel brands. The prospect for some middle path seems likely.

Because the tobacco giant's stock has been beaten down, its dividend currently yields an eye-popping 8.2%. Although dividend growth is likely to slow, the payout still appears to be safe, which ought to make British American Tobacco a buy at this discounted level.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis – even one of our own – helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.

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Stocks Mentioned

Eaton Corporation plc Stock Quote
Eaton Corporation plc
$170.16 (2.23%) $3.72
Gilead Sciences, Inc. Stock Quote
Gilead Sciences, Inc.
$69.82 (0.37%) $0.26
British American Tobacco p.l.c. Stock Quote
British American Tobacco p.l.c.
$34.93 (1.48%) $0.51
Philip Morris International Inc. Stock Quote
Philip Morris International Inc.
$91.40 (2.26%) $2.02
AbbVie Inc. Stock Quote
AbbVie Inc.
$121.54 (2.26%) $2.69

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

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