The new year has come. It's time to hit the reset button on your tax accounting and your investment returns, and take a fresh look at the markets for 2016. To help you find investment ideas that look like good buys now, we asked seven Motley Fool contributors to share their favored stock ideas.
Read on to see why they came up with LinkedIn (NYSE:LNKD.DL), IBM (NYSE:IBM), Total SA (NYSE:TOT), Oshkosh (NYSE:OSK), Micron Technology (NASDAQ:MU), Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE:CMG), and Allergan (NYSE:AGN). And if you pay attention, you'll even find a little bit of Flannery O'Connor's genius along the way.
Andres Cardenal (LinkedIn): The most powerful investment ideas are the ones that can be easily explained and understood. LinkedIn is an undisputed market leader in remarkably promising areas such as professional networking and online employment opportunities, and this makes the company a top name to buy in 2016 and hold for years to come.
As of the third quarter of 2015, LinkedIn had 396 million registered members around the world, a big increase of 20% versus the same quarter the previous year, and 39,726 corporate solutions customers on the platform, a year-over-year increase of 31%. Individuals and corporations attract each other to LinkedIn in search of opportunities, and this creates a virtuous cycle driving sustainable growth over the long term.
Management is also translating the company's massive opportunities into rapid revenue growth. Total sales grew 37% to $780 million last quarter, with the acquisition of online learning platform lynda.com representing $41 million of that. LinkedIn's three growth engines are firing on all cylinders: Talent solutions for corporations grew 46%, while premium subscription sales increased 21%, and online advertising revenue jumped 28%.
LinkedIn is actively investing for growth, so profit margins are hard to predict in the short term. However, the company should be able to combine solid revenue growth and expanding profit margins in the years ahead.
Tyler Crowe (Total SA): It may not seem like the most fashionable investment given that the energy industry resembles a runaway dumpster fire right now, but one company that investors should have on their radar for 2016 is French oil giant Total SA.
As an integrated oil and gas company, it has assets across the value chain that have helped immensely to prevent cheap oil and gas prices from wreaking havoc on the company's earnings over the past year. What really makes Total interesting, though, is that the production side of the business seems to be built to handle low oil and gas prices much better than the other major oil and gas companies. Even more promising, the company's budget anticipates a significant reduction in spending over the next couple of years while maintaining production growth in the 5% to 9% range annually until 2019.
With investors shying away from energy investments, shares of Total now have a dividend yield greater than 5.7%. Also, the plans it has in place should allow it to at least maintain that dividend through this oil price downturn.
When energy prices rise -- who knows if that happens in 2016 or not, but we'll see -- Total will be in an excellent position to profit, and investors that own shares now can get a hefty dividend payment while they wait.
Rich Smith (Oshkosh): I first named Oshkosh my top stock pick back in September, when the stock cost $42 and change. Since then, the stock has gone down, and sells for $3 less. So am I supposed to dislike Oshkosh stock now?
No. To the contrary, I like it even more. (About $3 more, in fact).
You see, even in the process of picking Oshkosh back then, I warned investors: "I don't know whether Oshkosh will be the best-performing stock in the world in the month of September, but I've got a strong hunch about the next six months." And that hunch remains -- because the facts have not changed.
This past summer, Oshkosh was named the winner of the Pentagon's contract to build a next-gen "Humvee" -- an armored Joint Light Tactical Vehicle that will serve the U.S. military for decades to come. Oshkosh won an initial award to produce 17,000 vehicles for $6.7 billion. Ultimately, though, this is a contract that could swell to $30 billion or more for production, maintenance, and upgrade of approximately 55,000 JLTVs across all military branches.
So why hasn't Oshkosh stock moved in response to the contract? Mainly because rival bidder Lockheed Martin threw a monkey wrench into the contracts process, first protesting the JLTV award to Oshkosh, and then, when that protest was rejected, filing suit in court to try to win the contract away from its rival.
Personally, I think Lockheed Martin will lose that suit as well. After all, Lockheed's forte is in fighter jets, while Oshkosh is the military's premier supplier of trucks like JLTV, as well as the Army's M-ATV vehicle (a small, all-terrain MRAP). Perhaps recognizing this, AM General, the other company that bid against Oshkosh on JLTV and lost, declined to protest the award. Lockheed took the other road, but I expect it will be a dead end for Lockheed as well.
At which point, Oshkosh stock will be free to motor ahead.
Anders Bylund (Micron Technology): Shares of the memory chip producer fell a heart-stopping 60% in 2015. There's yet another price war bubbling through this notoriously cyclical industry. Micron's management no longer "expects" the DRAM market to stabilize in 2016 -- it's only a "hope" at this point.
Put all of these factors together, and you get a stock trading at 7.2 times trailing earnings.
That's at the bottom of the bargain bin. Micron is being priced as if the company were on the brink of total disaster. And you know what they say: Buy when there's blood in the streets.
Simply put, Micron is more in control of its own destiny than the naysayers would suggest. The company is introducing next-generation products in all categories, including 3D NAND Flash memory that promises to drive production costs per bit way down. Thanks to a strong balance sheet, healthy cash flows, and a taste for opportunistic buyouts, we're now looking at the third-largest memory producer in the world. Micron's global market share in DRAM chip sales has nearly tripled in three short years.
There's very little structural risk here, thanks to the cash flows and rock-solid balance sheet I already mentioned. Market makers can still push Micron shares around until the memory pricing trends settle down again. So you might not want to back up the truck to Micron right now, because the bears may not be quite done punishing this stock for sins imagined. But if you monitor the memory market and buy in thirds along the way, Micron shares bought in 2016 should reward you when that cyclical market turns back up again.
Asit Sharma (Chipotle Mexican Grill): The great southern writer Flannery O'Connor titled her final short story collection Everything That Rises Must Converge. But the stock market teaches us that a related, opposing corollary is also often true: Every great stock that falls must converge -- with the valuation of its peers, that is.
Take Chipotle Mexican Grill, which has witnessed its forward one-year price-to-earnings (PE) ratio shrink 35% from nearly 37 to 24 in the span of just 12 weeks, due to its much publicized E. coli and norovirus food contamination crises.
Chipotle's valuation has converged with former parent McDonald's Corporation's forward P/E ratio of 23. It's also converging with the average for the sleepy, large-cap, consumer-oriented stocks in the S&P 500 Consumer Staples sector, which collectively hold a one-year forward P/E of 20.
This valuation range is compelling because it reflects the market's assumption that Chipotle will experience a dramatic curbing of growth next year. And from everything we know today, that certainly appears to be the case.
But this temporary convergence is the long-term investor's opportunity. At the moment, there is no single competitor with Chipotle's scale and product quality which can quickly step in and supplant the company from the niche it has dominated for several years. If Chipotle can fix its food supply issues, any lost market share is its own to regain.
And the Mexican-themed chain has already proven that it can expand aggressively. The 2016 store opening schedule (still unrevised, although I believe it will be dialed back slightly early this year) calls for an 11.5% expansion of Chipotle's locations in a single year.
So if Chipotle regains consumer trust -- and I believe this very capable management team will succeed in doing so -- its stock has the significant possibility to rebound to a much higher multiple, in line with the company's historic growth potential. This resurgence might not occur in 2016. But Foolish investors know that the best investments take time.
Tim Green (IBM): It's easy to be pessimistic when it comes to International Business Machines. The company has suffered from 14 consecutive quarterly revenue declines, earnings are expected to slump in 2015, and the stock has declined by more than 10% in each of the past two years.
But a combination of factors makes IBM one of my top stocks going into the 2016.
The stock is cheap, trading at less than 10 times the low end of the company's earnings guidance for 2015. This would be meaningless if IBM's earnings continue to fall, but one of the biggest issues for the company in 2015 was a strengthening U.S. dollar. IBM is a global company, and its revenue and profits have slumped as foreign currency translated into fewer U.S dollars over the course of the year. On an adjusted basis, IBM's revenue was flattish in 2015, not exactly the disaster that the headline numbers suggest.
In addition to currency woes, all of IBM's major growth initiatives, what the company calls strategic imperatives, are long-term in nature. IBM's cognitive computing system Watson, for example, is being used in a variety of industries, including healthcare and finance, but each application requires training the system, a process that can take years. IBM is playing the long game, something that long-term investors should be cheering.
2016 will be another year of transition for IBM as it continues to invest in fast-growing parts of its business. If currency exchange rates don't do anything crazy in 2016, the big revenue declines of 2015 should be a thing of the past. And revenue could potentially return to growth if IBM's strategic imperatives counteract weakness in other parts of the business. Investors need to be patient as IBM continues its transformation, but I don't see a better deal going into 2016.
George Budwell (Allergan): Allergan is my top stock pick for 2016 because it offers investors two routes to market-beating returns with little downside risk. Of course, the most obvious catalyst that should loom large in Allergan's near-term future is the proposed merger agreement with Pfizer that was initially valued at $363.63 per Allergan share, or 15% higher than the stock's current price.
While this merger could still fall through for any number of reasons, Pfizer's need for a major M&A deal in order to shed its flagging legacy products business strongly suggests that the two companies will more than likely complete their merger as planned.
If the unexpected occurs, though, Allergan still has the goods to deliver market-beating results as a stand-alone company. After all, its branded products business posted impressive 13% revenue growth in the third quarter, when excluding the negative impacts of foreign exchange, Namenda IR, and divestitures.
Most importantly, this double-digit top-line growth should continue unimpeded in 2016 as the drugmaker launches additional products into several high-growth markets, such as the injected therapy Kybella for submental (below the chin) fat and the acute bacterial skin and skin structure infections treatment called Dalvance. That's why some analysts had Allergan's 12-month price target at $400 before the Pfizer deal was announced.
It all adds up to Allergan being my top pick for 2016.