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Buffett's Favorite Dow Stocks: Earnings Preview

Stocks in this article: PG KFT JNJ MCD

BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- Earnings of Dow stocks Procter & Gamble (PG), Kraft (KFT) and Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) will be scoured the most by billionaire investor Warren Buffett, whose Berkshire Hathaway (BRK/B) is among the top four shareholders of each.

Those three companies, and the other Dow consumer-goods stock McDonald's (MCD), will start reporting earnings Jan. 24.

Procter & Gamble, Kraft, Johnson & Johnson and McDonald's had virtually flat earnings last year, according to analysts' estimates. Nevertheless, Buffett has made a fortune by buying large and steady companies. (He also owns Coca-Cola (KO).) As the economy rebounds this year, not only growth stocks such as Apple (AAPL) and Netflix (NFLX) may outpace the S&P 500 Index, but also laggards including Dow Jones Industrial Average stocks.

The 2010 share-price returns of the four Dow consumer stocks are led by McDonald's, at 27%, and bracketed by Johnson & Johnson, with a decline of 0.7%. Dow stocks gained 11% last year, while the S&P 500 rose 15%. The Dow industrials have advanced a mere 7% over the past decade, trailing small- and mid-cap stocks.

But large-cap stocks are considered undervalued, based on current price-to-earnings ratios versus historical norms, and are overdue for a breakout, according to fund managers including Bruce Berkowitz of the Fairholme Fund and Donald Yacktman of the Yacktman Fund. So these companies could soon shine, especially as inflation quickens when they can pass on rising costs to customers.

Among the challenges faced by food-industry firms McDonald's and Kraft is rising agricultural commodity prices, which put pressure on profits in the fourth quarter. They are expected to bump up prices because of that.

Another common issue is the push for a bigger geographic footprint. Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble are long-standing international forces. Kraft bought the U.K.'s Cadbury, a candy maker, about a year ago to boost its international business. And McDonald's is pinning much of its growth prospects on China, where business is booming.

Buffett's investing philosophy includes buying high-dividend-paying stocks with strong fundamentals and some sort of "moat" such as a strong brand name, market dominance and industry leadership.

And each of those companies have those characteristics.

Buffett is also known as a buy-and-hold investor. As evidence of that, the three companies were also among the top seven holdings of Berkshire Hathaway at the end of 2008.

What follows are the fourth-quarter earnings expectations of four companies in the Dow's consumer-products sector, arranged by reporting dates, starting with McDonald's.

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