Top Large-Cap Stocks to Buy in 2016

Don't miss out on these great companies simply because they're big now.

Jason Hall
Jason Hall, George Budwell, Evan Niu, CFA, Steve Symington, and Matthew DiLallo
Dec 30, 2015 at 11:02AM

Investors often make the mistake of assuming they have to buy small-cap stocks to grow their wealth. And while small, more growth-oriented companies have a place in almost everyone's portfolio, large-cap stocks shouldn't be ignored; after all, large-cap companies are the small caps that made it big. 

Instead of ignoring them, embrace them! We've asked five of our top contributors to each give us a large-cap stock that investors should short-list for 2016. They gave us companies still early in their growth, such as Tesla Motors (NASDAQ:TSLA) and LinkedIn (NYSE:LNKD.DL), two dominant dividend dynamos in their respective industries in ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) and Pfizer (NYSE:PFE), and one of the cogs in the wheel of North America's economic infrastructure, Canadian National Railways (NYSE:CNI)

Is one (or more) of these large-cap stocks right for your portfolio in 2016? Here's why our contributors think so. 

Evan Niu, CFA
Tesla has had a pretty tame 2015 in terms of share performance. Shares are up a modest 6% year to date, which is still technically enough to outperform the S&P 500's relatively flat performance this year. That's not to say that 2015 has been an uneventful year for the electric-car maker.

On the contrary, one of the most important story lines for Tesla this year has been massive investments in capital infrastructure. After everything is said and done, Tesla will have spent about $1.7 billion in capital expenditures. Most of this spending is related to the Gigafactory (which will be crucial to bringing down battery costs over the long term), ramping up manufacturing capacity, and Model X development.

Looking ahead, Tesla has some important potential catalysts for 2016. The first is the broader launch of the Model X. The company unveiled the electric SUV a few months ago, but hasn't meaningfully ramped up deliveries quite yet. Model X will be an important driver of unit sales growth, since Tesla is expanding into a new vehicle category. On top of that, 2016 could also be an important year financially for Tesla. It could represent the first full year of profits, and Tesla is expected to become free cash flow-positive in 2016.

All of that said, Tesla's valuation still isn't for the faint of heart. Investors should expect plenty of volatility because of lofty valuation metrics, but fundamentally Tesla looks like it will have a lot going for it in 2016.

Matt DiLallo
The past year and a half has been tough on the oil industry, which is in the midst of one of the worst downturns in decades. No one is quite sure when conditions will improve, especially with oil prices continuing to weaken. Because of those weak prices, there is a concern that oil companies with weak balance sheets might not survive to see the next upcycle.

That's not a worry for ExxonMobil, which boasts the best balance sheet in the oil patch and an AAA credit rating that puts it in the global elite. Furthermore, thanks to its diverse asset base filled not only with low-cost, low-decline oil and gas assets around the world but also with refining and chemical assets that benefit from low commodity prices, Exxon continues to produce a ton of cash flow. So far this year, the company has generated $26 billion in cash flow from operations, easily funding its $23.6 billion in capex spend, leaving it with plenty of excess to return to shareholders.

Suffice it to say that Exxon will make it through the downturn with ease. That will enable it to capture the upside of the looming upturn, which could very well come at some point in 2016. In the meantime, investors can sit back and collect Exxon's healthy 3.7% dividend.

Steve Symington
With less than two weeks left in 2015, shares of LinkedIn currently sit slightly lower than they started this year. But in light of LinkedIn's impressive third-quarter results released in late October -- in which it revealed that members increased 20% year over year to 396 million, revenue climbed 37% to $780 million, and adjusted net income grew more than 50% to $103 million, or $0.78 per share -- I think the relative pause offers long-term investors a perfect opportunity to open or add to their positions in the business-centric social media site as we enter 2016.

After all, revenue from LinkedIn's core Talent Solutions segment climbed an impressive 46% last quarter and would have risen a solid 34% even excluding revenue from its $1.5 billion acquisition of online learning company this past April. And Lynda, for its part, not only increases LinkedIn's value to the key members and recruiters that frequent its site but also gives it an effective way to better monetize its existing base. Going forward, we can be sure LinkedIn will work to accelerate revenue growth from this "learning and development" niche.

At the same time, investors should keep in mind that LinkedIn isn't consistently profitable based on generally accepted accounting principles, primarily as LinkedIn invests heavily to maintain its growth and, to borrow the words CFO Steve Sordello, hone its "focus on areas that drive the greatest long-term business impact, while scaling our platform to create the most value for our members and customers." For patient investors willing to watch this growth story continue to unfold, I'm convinced LinkedIn stock is poised to pay handsome rewards over the long term.

George Budwell
Pfizer is the large-cap stock that has my attention heading into 2016. After the drugmaker raised its dividend payout by 7% this month, Pfizer now offers one of the highest yields in the healthcare sector at 3.7%, helping to offset its somewhat sluggish top-line growth lately.

Putting the dividend aside for the moment, however, I think the main reason Pfizer is going to have a strong 2016 is its proposed merger with Allergan (NYSE:AGN). This deal will significantly bolster Pfizer's innovative products business, and should set it up to start the much-needed process of spinning off its problematic legacy-products segment.

The key point is that an Allergan-Pfizer tie-up has the potential to create one of the fastest-growing pharma companies in the world. After all, Allergan is currently generating double-digit top-line growth, and its balance sheet should be far healthier once the deal to sell its generic-drug unit is completed in early 2016.

Heading into this proposed merger, Pfizer is also expected to dramatically amp up its share-buyback efforts, which should help to shore up the company's bottom line over the next few quarters. So this combination of a healthy dividend payout and a stable bottom line should be enough to see the drugmaker into this transformational deal with Allergan, where shareholders are likely to experience a major leap in value. 

Jason Hall
There's not much that makes investing in a railroad sexy or exciting. It's also not the kind of industry that has huge growth potential, or the ability to disrupt or transform the way we do anything. But it's also one of the most important industries in North America, comprising the arteries that connect commerce and the economy, with nearly every single good consumed in the U.S. traveling by rail at some point. 

So what Canadian National Railways -- or CN, as the company is commonly known -- lacks in pure growth upside, it makes up in sheer importance of its operations. CN is one of the largest railroads in North America, connecting major ports on both sides of the Continental Divide in the U.S. and Canada. CN is also one of the best railroads at turning revenues into profits, operating at the highest efficiency rate of any of the major Class I railways. 

Since going public, CN has consistently turned this operating excellence into strong shareholder returns, regularly increasing its dividend and buying back shares in addition to strategic growth and expansion. That's made it an excellent investment for long-term shareholders. However, the stock price has fallen more than 20% over the past year, and largely on some short-term cyclical impacts, not any long-term weakness with CN itself. 

That makes now a great time to invest in this best-in-class railway -- not just for 2016, but for decades to come.