Stocks have soared to new heights over the last few years. Does this mean there are no longer any good buys out there? According to three of our contributing writers, that's not the case.
1. Broad-market exchange-traded funds (John Maxfield)
Believe it or not, the world's best investors often use the least exciting strategies. Warren Buffett has characterized his approach as "lethargy bordering on sloth," while George Soros has said, "If investing is entertaining, if you're having fun, then you're probably not making any money."
With this in mind, it's my opinion that one of the stocks the smartest investors are buying right now is the Vanguard S&P 500 ETF (NYSEMKT:VOO). As its name suggests, this is a low-cost exchange traded fund that tracks the S&P 500, which, of course, is an index of many of the best publicly traded companies in the world.
And you don't have to take my word for it; here's what Buffett wrote in his latest shareholder letter:
My advice to the trustee [of my wife's share of my estate] could not be more simple: Put 10% of the cash in short-term government bonds and 90% in a very low-cost S&P 500 index fund. (I suggest Vanguard's.) I believe the trust's long-term results from this policy will be superior to those attained by most investors -- whether pension funds, institutions or individuals -- who employ high-fee managers.
2. Gilead Sciences (Keith Speights)
With shares soaring over 40% year to date, you might think smart investors would be selling Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ:GILD). But while some could certainly be taking profits, this biotech still looks like a great buy.
Gilead's hepatitis C drug Sovaldi hit the market less than a year ago and racked up sales topping $8.5 billion in the first nine months of 2014. Although the frantic growth of Sovaldi slowed a little in the third quarter, that's primarily because many physicians and patients were waiting on its successor, Harvoni. This recently approved drug should enjoy even greater success than Sovaldi.
Meanwhile, Gilead's powerhouse HIV franchise continues to perform well, with sales jumping 18% year over year in the third quarter. The company claims two current HV blockbusters, Atripla and Truvada. Three others are right on track to hit the billion-dollar sales mark this year -- Complera/Eviplera, Stribild, and Viread.
This strong product lineup is expected to drive earnings growth of nearly 24% annually over the next five years. Gilead's price-to-earnings multiple of 19 is only slightly higher than that of the S&P 500 index. These figures make the biotech's stock quite attractive for investors looking for growth at a good price.
3. Pfizer (Leo Sun)
Ever since the patent expiration of Lipitor in 2011, Pfizer's (NYSE:PFE) top-line growth stalled out, declining 4% year over year in the first nine months of 2014. Pfizer's future top-line growth depends heavily on two experimental drugs -- the breast cancer drug palbociclib, and the the PCSK9 cholesterol drug bococizumab. The company also made a failed $120 billion bid for AstraZeneca, which revealed its desperate need to grow its pipeline.
However, Pfizer stock is fairly cheap, at 19 times forward earnings, pays a solid forward annual dividend yield of 3.5%, and is trading near its 52-week low. Pfizer's biggest strength, which investors often overlook, is that it protects it bottom line and dividend growth at all costs -- by cutting jobs, spinning off and selling business units, and raising drug prices. As a result, Pfizer's earnings per share rose 213% between 2010 and 2013, even as annual revenue fell 21%. Pfizer boosted its dividend annually during that period, from $0.74 in 2010 to $0.98 in 2013. Pfizer also spent 96% of its FCF on buybacks and dividends over the past 12 months.
Therefore, I believe Pfizer's shareholder-friendly strategies make it a smart pick for income investors, as long as they don't expect the stock to rally.