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3 Stock Ideas for March

By Joe Lepera – Mar 18, 2014 at 8:44AM

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Hit the ground running into earnings season.

After a disappointing January, stocks have rallied. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up roughly 3.5% since the end of January, while the Nasdaq and S&P 500 have both gained close to 4.5%. Despite these gains, many are still skeptical that stocks have much room to run after a five-year bull market. Earnings season next month will shed light on where the market is headed, so many investors are holding their breath until then. However, I would argue that March is a good time to buy three stocks in particular.

One stock that was notably flat in February was Bank of America (BAC 0.91%). However, the stock has gained about 5% this month. Many believe this breakout could be the start of the bank's rise to $20 per share (it currently trades at a little more than $17). A catalyst I believe could send it there this month is the result of the Federal Reserve's stress test. For the past two years, the stock has climbed higher upon the bank's successful completion of each test. This year, many analysts see Bank of America boosting its dividend and share repurchases after the Fed releases its comprehensive capital analysis on March 26. While the Fed has previously denied B of A's requests for dividend increases, the company now holds an additional $62.3 billion in tangible equity compared to 2005, which certainly suggests that it qualifies for a dividend hike.

Bank of America has come a long way since its 2008 woes. Its earnings last quarter exceeded its entire fiscal 2012 earnings. This beat primarily owes to its success in driving down legal expenditures stemming from the financial crisis, namely Countrywide. While its mortgage growth has declined of late, B of A hopes to offset that with growth in Merrill Lynch. With a price-to-book ratio of 0.81 and a forward P/E of 10.5, the stock is arguably worth well more than $20, and I believe it will get there this month.

The most beaten-up sector lately has been retail. However, one retail stock near all-time highs is Tiffany's (TIF). Last week, Citigroup upgraded the stock from neutral to buy, citing efforts to increase gross margins given stabilizing trends in silver jewelry and diamond costs. Furthermore, Tiffany's new management team plans to prioritize marketing self-purchases -- i.e., purchases made for the buyer, rather than another recipient such as a spouse or significant other. I like Tiffany's because its target demographic has done the best in the recovery. According to The Wall Street Journal, 95% of of the income gains from 2009 to 2012 have gone to the wealthiest 1%. Likewise, that group is reaping the biggest rewards from the market gains of 2013. Last quarter, Tiffany's beat earnings estimates by 25%. In its report, Citi issued a $110 price target on them. Soon after Tiffany's reports earnings on Friday, I see the stock breaking $100. 

In the stock market, there are two kinds of tech companies. On one hand you have fast-moving companies like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Tesla, which trade at astronomical valuations. On the other hand, you have old-school tech giants like Cisco and IBM, which trade at low multiples due to doubts about their future growth in an ever-changing industry. One company that falls into the latter camp is Oracle (ORCL 0.30%), currently trading at a P/E of about 16. Yet in contrast to its ponderous peers, Oracle has done well in the transition to cloud computing. In particular, it has acquired several big-name cloud companies, such as cloud marketing software companies Eloqua and Responsys. Unfortunately, Oracle now faces competition from the likes of Box and Dropbox, both of which have stellar growth rates and will undoubtedly be hot IPOs. Yet Oracle has the advantage of a sterling reputation as the biggest name in big data. It also has Larry Ellison, one of the most revolutionary minds of our age, at the helm. Consequently, Oracle's existing customers need not look elsewhere now for cloud services. Perhaps these reasons have the company trading near its highest level since 2000. 

In terms of financials, Oracle boasts some of the best. The stock has a price-to-cash-flow ratio of 12.5, compared to an industry average of 22.3. Moreover, its five-year EPS growth rate of 15.9% towers above the -5.45% industry average. It reports report Q1 earnings after market close today, and after finishing 2013 strongly, Oracle should see clear skies ahead in 2014.

Joe Lepera has a position in Bank of America. The Motley Fool recommends Bank of America, LinkedIn, Tesla Motors, and Twitter. The Motley Fool owns shares of Bank of America, Citigroup, LinkedIn, Oracle., and Tesla Motors. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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