(Adds 2011 performances for the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average.)
BOSTON (TheStreet) -- After the equity market's gut-wrenching, roller-coaster ride this year -- resulting in a break-even performance that scuttled even the most conservative of experts' predictions -- it's a good time to shuffle one's portfolio and replace the losers with fresh picks that are consensus "buys" from Wall Street's most respected stock pickers.
But it's important to realize that although they may agree on what are now the most appealing stocks, no investment expert can give you a clear-eyed outlook for next year's market performance.
Typical of the muddy outlook, S&P Capital IQ's Investment Policy Committee said last week that it puts the odds of a double-dip recession in the U.S. at 35%, down from 40% in the summer. "Yet the heightened European sovereign debt crisis, as well as the U.S. government impasse, make things less certain," its analysts say. Mutual fund and equity analysis firm Morningstar sees some sunbeams through the clouds. "We sense the beginnings of a shift under the surface, and we now have a decidedly optimistic outlook for the market in 2012," it said last week. Morningstar's criteria for what are favorable stocks sound arch-conservative. "While the global economy will certainly continue to struggle for growth, well-positioned companies with little to no debt on their balance sheets should benefit from growing pockets of strength," the firm said. So TheStreet compiled a list of companies that appear on several investment advisory firms' best "buy" lists, including Standard &Poor's Capital IQ, Morningstar's "Ultimate Stock-Pickers" list (gleaned from the holdings of several top-performing mutual funds), as well as from Wall Street investment banks such as Goldman Sachs and Bank of America/Merrill Lynch, and a host of mutual funds. Given the uncertainties ahead and the poor performances of many investment advisers' top picks last year, it's no surprise that their "buy" lists for 2012 comprises mostly familiar, large-cap stocks with minimal downside risk. In some cases, investors have already been richly rewarded. MasterCard (MA) and Visa (V), which are outlined below, have risen 67% and 45% this year, respectively. But the S&P 500 Index of the biggest U.S. companies was little changed this year, with today being the final trading session of 2011. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up almost 6% for the year. Here's a list of 21 stocks that the experts give among the most "buy" ratings:
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