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Grading the Graders: Analyst Stock Picks for 2012

Stocks in this article: AAP AXP AMT APA ATW AVT CELG CVX COH KO CMI CVS DELL ELNK EMC ESRX GIS HRS HME LRCX

20. Chevron (CVX)

Company profile: Chevron is the second-largest oil company in the U.S. and one of the biggest integrated energy companies in the world with exploration, production and refining operations worldwide.

Investor takeaway: Its shares are down 3.8% this year to $103.68, and have a three-year, average annual return of 19%. They carry a 3.19% dividend yield. S&P's year-end price target is $132.

S&P analysts say: "We view positively its aim to develop (liquefied natural gas) projects and build a top gas supply position in emerging Asia-Pacific markets."

19. General Mills (GIS)

Company profile: General Mills is a leading global manufacturer and marketer of branded consumer foods, such as ready-to-eat breakfast cereals, refrigerated dough and other baking items, snack foods, ice cream, and yogurt. It is the second-biggest producer of ready-to-eat cereals in the U.S. and has recently partnered with Nestle (NSRGY) to distribute cereal products in more than 130 countries. Last July it bought a controlling interest in the maker of Yoplait yogurt.

Investor takeaway: General Mills' shares are down 2.6% this year to $38.87, but have a three-year, average annual return of 19%. They carry a 3.15% dividend yield. S&P's year-end price target is $44.

S&P analysts say: "We believe that (it) has opportunities to bolster long-term profit margins through a focus on areas such as manufacturing and spending efficiency, global sourcing, and sales mix."

18. Apache (APA)

Company profile: Apache is an independent energy company that explores for, develops and produces natural gas, crude oil, and natural gas liquids. Its portfolio is highly diverse and includes oil and gas, offshore and onshore, domestic and international, and near-term and longer-dated assets.

S&P analysts say: "Apache has a proven track record of unlocking value from acquired assets, and it has focused on integrating and exploiting mature reserves and directing capital to large projects."

Investor takeaway: Its shares are up 2% this year to $94.52, and have a three-year, average annual return of 11%. S&P's year-end price target is $145.

17. Coca-Cola (KO - Get Report)

Company profile: Coca-Cola is one of the world's largest beverage companies selling a variety of sparkling and still beverages under the Coca-Cola, Sprite, Dasani, Powerade and Minute Maid brands. It generates 70% of its revenue and about 80% of its operating profit from outside the U.S.

Investor takeaway: Its shares are up 4.3% this year and have a three-year, average annual return of 20%. S&P's year-end price target is $78. S&P analysts say they like the company's "capability to generate strong free cash flow, which we believe will be returned to shareholders through dividends and stock repurchases."

16. Atwood Oceanics (ATW)

Company profile: Atwood is an offshore-drilling contractor that engages in the drilling and completion of exploratory and developmental oil and gas wells worldwide.

Investor takeaway: Its shares are up 4.4% this year to $42.89 and have a three-year, average annual return of 24%. S&P's year-end price target is $53.

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