Apple Tops 6 Stocks to Gain on Consumer Strength

NEW YORK (TheStreet) - Apple (AAPL), Nike (NKE), Procter & Gamble (PG), Kraft Foods (KFT), Companhia de Bebidas Das Americas (AmBev) (ABV) and Sony (SNE) are six stocks that investors can consider, as consumer spending is on the rise.

U.S. retail sales registered their biggest annualized gains last month, at the strongest pace in more than a decade, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. Better-than-forecasted U.S. third-quarter GDP at 2.8% and higher home sales numbers also indicate economic recovery. An improving employment outlook and increased income security have also spurred spending.

These six stocks are highly rated by analysts, with 50% to 91% of analysts calling them a buy. In addition, Ambev, Nike and Apple have been major outperformers, gaining more than 30% during the last year.

The stocks are stacked in terms of percentage buy ratings, higher to highest.

6. Companhia de Bebidas Das Americas (AmBev) ( ABV) is a Brazil-based company that produces and sells beer and other non-alcoholic and carbonated beverages across North and South Americas and Europe.

Overall, revenue grew at 5.4% and net profit zoomed 47% year-over-year. However, operating margin came lower at 9.1%, due to lower margins in Europe. Going forward, management expects higher operating profit on stable sales and control of operating expenses.

Lower interest costs, foreign exchange gains and a lower tax rate resulted in a higher-than-expected net profit. Overall, volumes increased 4.1%, higher than the consensus estimate of 3% during the quarter. The company has been trading at a discount for the last five years, with sales and net profit growing at 14% and 40%, respectively, in as many years. The company has a dividend yield of 3.5%. The stock gained 35% in the last year.

5. Sony ( SNE) is a Japan-based conglomerate that manufactures and sells consumer electronic products, both audio and video, and engages in other businesses such as games, motion pictures and music.

During the second quarter, the company reported a 4.3% increase in revenue to $20.8 billion. However, revenue was lower-than-expected on account of unfavorable foreign exchange rates. Operating income was $827 million during the quarter, compared to an operating loss in the same quarter last year.

The consumer, professional & devices segment, which accounts for around half of company's revenue, could come under pressure going forward. Analysts at JPMorgan, Yoshiharu Izumi and Masashi Hayami, report: "We expect a negative impact from yen appreciation and see a risk of stiffer price competition in North America. However, we believe prices are in line with expectations and sales are still growing at a double-digit pace on a local-currency basis."

Management has revised its sales forecast downward by 3%, compared to July 2010, while the forecast for operating income and net income has been revised upward by 11% and 17%, respectively.

4. Procter & Gamble ( PG) is a Fast Moving Consumer Goods, or FMCG, company.

During the September quarter, net sales increased 2%, due to broad-based volume growth. Overall, volumes were up 8%, driven by robust growth across all major geographies.

After the results, management indicated that the company re-launched products like Tide, Acti-Lift and Crest in North America. P&G did brand re-orientation of products like Pantene in Asia and Downy in North America during the quarter. These initiatives could be the reason for brisk volumes. Market shares inched up in most of the P&G's markets during the quarter.

Earnings were higher-than-expected and diluted earnings per share came in at $1.02 per share, 5% higher than the company's initial guidance.

For the December quarter, management guided a net sales growth of 2% to 4%, and 3% to 5% in fiscal 2011. The company also said that net earnings per share would grow at 11% to 14% for 2011 on a continuing operations basis and 7% to 9% on a core basis.

3. Nike ( NKE) is engaged in the manufacture of athletic footwear, apparel, equipment and accessories.

Nike reported revenue of 10%, beating analysts' estimates in the September quarter. The top-line punch came from North America, its biggest market, accounting for more than one-third of sales. The Nike brand footwear segment grew at 11% year over year, as running, women's training and basketball shoes grossed higher returns.

Net income for the second quarter was up 22% in the period. Gross margins increased 80 basis points to 45.3% during the second quarter. However, rising input costs could be an issue over the next few quarters, but the selective price increases and inventory management could mitigate those costs.

Nike's higher return on equity of 20% over the past 12 months and net profit margin of 10% for 2010 are other positives. Besides, cash and other investments at the end of September stood at $4.8 billion, an increase of 19% since last year.

2. Kraft Foods ( KFT) is the world's largest confectionery, food and beverage company.

During the third quarter, organic growth was lower-than-expected at around 2.5%. Europe grew slower at 1.7%, while developing markets were more robust. Overall, emerging markets grew at 7.4%, with a volume addition of 5.3%.

Management is confident about its fourth-quarter outlook, as it expects to leverage on its scale and portfolio of brands to deliver organic revenue growth of 4%. It's annual growth target is 3%-4%.

In February 2010, the company acquired Cadbury for $19.6 billion. Regarding the acquisition, Irene Rosenfeld, Chairman and CEO, said in a press release, "The Cadbury integration has proceeded smoothly and quickly, and we're already benefiting from significant cost synergies. I remain confident that we will achieve our goals for 2010 and accelerate our growth in 2011."

Going foward, an improved North American showing and sustained top-line growth should fortify earnings. The company has a decent dividend yield of 3.8%.

1. Apple ( AAPL) designs and markets a range of PCs, mobile communication and media devices, and portable music players. The company derives around three-fifth of its revenue from international sales.

During the fourth quarter, the company posted revenue of $20.34 billion, compared to $12.21 billion in the same quarter last year. Net profit increased from $2.53 billion to $4.31 billion during the same quarter. However, gross margin for the September quarter was 37%, compared to 42% last year.

Apple's Mac and iPhone sales picked up during the fourth quarter -- 3.9 million Macs were sold during the quarter, a 27% increase in volume over the year-ago quarter. Besides, the company sold 14.1 million iPhones in the same quarter, a 91% volume increase year over year. However, iPods saw an 11% unit decline in September.

Steve Jobs, Apple's CEO whose health issues have been in the spotlight lately, sounded optimistic after the results. He said in a press statement dated October 18, 2010, "iPhone sales of 14.1 million were up 91% year-over-year, handily beating the 12.1 million phones RIM sold in their most recent quarter. We still have a few surprises left for the remainder of this calendar year."

Peter Oppenheimer, Apple's CFO, indicated the company's expectations for the first quarter or 2011 in a statement, "Looking ahead to the first fiscal quarter of 2011, we expect revenue of about $23 billion and we expect diluted earnings per share of about $4.80."

This commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet guest contributor program. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of TheStreet or its management.

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