NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- One thing that 2012 has going for it that 2011 and 2010 didn't is that the American people are going to the polls to vote on who calls the White House home for the next four years. "On average, the April-May period for the Presidential election year is the weakest two-month period for the year -- down nearly 2.0%," Bank of America Merrill Lynch said Tuesday. "This is followed by the strongest three-month period in June-August -- up 5.0% -- that often moves the market to a new recovery in autumn." By that logic, the firm thinks the market could avoid a summer swoon so it may make sense to pursue a "buy the dips" strategy this month. It's sticking to the view that bigger is going to be better later in the year. "We maintain that leadership is emerging in the mega caps," B of A said. "We particularly favor those stocks with strong technicals that are also under-owned by institutional investors ... Stocks that are favored are: Caterpillar ( CAT), Chevron ( CVX), Intel ( INTC), Eli Lilly ( LLY), Procter & Gamble ( PG), Kimberly-Clark ( KMB), Coca-Cola ( KO), United Parcel Service ( UPS), DuPont ( DD), and Verizon ( VZ)." Tuesday's upbeat session aside, investors are still wary of what happens next for stocks after being burned the past two years. The economic data has shown some cracks of late with first-quarter GDP coming in a bit short, and a disappointing April jobs report on Friday would be difficult to explain away as a blip after the softness seen in March. There's also the continuing question of whether the Federal Reserve is going to placate Wall Street's appetite for more quantitative easing when Operation Twist runs out at the end of June. One potential warning sign for the bulls though may be that the financials are no longer showing the same leadership that they did in the beginning of the year. B of A said Tuesday it believes the group is still stuck in a secular bear market that began in 2008 and that "the sector likely has five to seven more years of being range-bound." Yikes. As for Wednesday's scheduled news, it's another big earnings day with credit card giants MasterCard ( MA) and Visa ( V) -- both market leaders this year, up more than 20% each -- opening their books.
Whole Foods Markets ( WFM) gets the spotlight treatment here. The Austin, Texas-based operator of natural and organic food supermarkets is slated to report its fiscal second-quarter results after the closing bell, and the average estimate of analysts polled by Thomson Reuters is for a profit of 59 cents a share in the March-ended period on revenue of $2.67 billion. The stock is up nearly 20% so far in 2012, but it's pulled back a bit since hitting a 52-week high of $86.35 on March 16. In early February, Whole Foods beat Wall Street's earnings estimate for its first-quarter results by 8% and lifted its profit outlook for the full year to $2.28 to $2.32 a share from a previous projection of $2.21 to $2.26 a share. At that time, the company said same-store sales to date for the second quarter were up 9.4% with total sales on pace to grow 13.3% year-over-year. Whole Foods has beaten the average analysts' view in eight straight quarters, delivering an average upside surprise of 9%. The sell side is bullish ahead of the report with 14 of the 24 analysts covering the stock at either strong buy (7) or buy (7) and the median 12-month price target at $89, implying potential upside of nearly 6% from Tuesday's closing price at $84.11. One concern for investors has to be valuation though as shares of Whole Foods trade at a forward price-to-earnings multiple of 31.5X, well ahead of Kroger ( KR) at 9.5X and Safeway ( SWY) ( SWY) at 9.4X. BMO Capital Markets lifted its price target on Whole Foods to $95 on April 24, while maintaining its outperform rating -- the equivalent of a strong buy -- on the stock. The firm said it views Whole Foods as a "core holding" for growth investors that merits an elevated multiple. "We view WFM as best-in-class owing to WFM's: 1) self-funded unit growth (~8% and accelerating), 2) EPS growth easily in the 16-20% range, 3) increasing ROIC
return on invested capital, 4) no debt, growing cash balance, dividend yield (albeit small but potentially increasing) and slight free cash flow yield post-dividend, 5) lack of competition, 6) economic resiliency if the macro environment remains challenging and the potential for meaningful top-line acceleration if the environment improves, and 7) very limited (if any) execution risk given management's strong track record," BMO explained in its research note to clients. The firm added later: " If for any reason -- the stock is weak on out-of-whack expectations (and we have no reason to believe this will be the case), we would take advantage of any weakness as a buying opportunity." Check out TheStreet's quote page for Whole Foods Markets for year-to-date share performance, analyst ratings, earnings estimates and much more.
Other morning reporters include Allergan ( AGN), AllianceBernstein ( AB), BankAtlantic Bancorp ( BKX), Barrick Gold ( ABX), Beazer Homes USA ( BZH), Clean Harbors ( CLHB), Clorox ( CLX), Comcast ( CMCSA), Cooper Industries ( CBE), Cooper Tire & Rubber ( CTB), CVS Corp. ( CVS), Devon Energy ( DVN), El Paso Electric ( EP), Energizer Holdings ( ENR), Garmin ( GRMN), Great Wolf Resorts ( WOLF), IntercontinentalExchange ( ICE), Kenneth Cole Productions ( KCP), Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia ( MSO), Parker Drilling ( PKD), Time Warner ( TWX), UBS AG ( UBS), Visteon ( VC), Vonage ( VG), and WellPoint ( WLP). The after-the-bell gang includes Acme Packet ( APKT), Alamo Group ( ALG), Allstate ( ALL), Atmel ( ATML), Boston Beer ( SAM), Edison International ( EIX), Georgia Gulf ( GGC), Green Mountain Coffee Roasters ( GMCR), Hertz Global Holdings ( HTZ), Intrepid Potash ( IPI), JDS Uniphase ( JDSU), Lincoln National ( LNC), Murphy Oil ( MUR), Skullcandy ( SKUL), Symantec ( SYMC), Transocean ( RIG), ValueClick ( VCLK), Weight Watchers International ( WTW), and Zillow ( Z). Wednesday's economic calendar features the Mortgage Bankers Association's weekly application activity index at 7 a.m. ET, the employment change report from Automatic Data Processing for April at 8:15 a.m. ET, factory orders for March at 10 a.m. ET, and the weekly crude oil inventories data at 10:30 a.m. ET. Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics, is looking for a strong ADP number on Wednesday morning, estimating the survey will show a gain of 200,000 in private payrolls vs. the current consensus of 170,000. He notes an even bigger beat could be in the offing. "Our model, which uses claims and the ISM surveys to predict movement in the ADP number, suggests today's report will show private payrolls up about 250K," he wrote in commentary on Tuesday. "We are inclined to be a bit cautious in light of the March experience, so our base case is that the increase will be about 200K." And finally, OpenTable ( OPEN) was the big loser in Tuesday's after-hours session. The online restaurant reservation company forecast non-GAAP earnings of 36 to 39 cents a share for its fiscal second quarter ending in June on revenue of between $38.5 million and $39.8 million. That view provides some downside to the current average estimate of analysts polled by Thomson Reuters for a profit of 37 cents a share in the quarter on revenue of $41.3 million. For the year, OpenTable sees adjusted earnings of $1.49 to $1.64 a share on revenue ranging from $158 million to $164 million. Wall Street's current consensus forecast is for a profit of $1.53 a share on revenue of $168.2 million. The stock was last quoted at $37.07, down 15%, on volume of more than 750,000, according to Nasdaq.com. Based on a regular-session close at $43.68, OpenTable shares were up more than 14% so far in 2012 but down more than 55% in the past year. -- Written by Michael Baron in New York. >To contact the writer of this article, click here: Michael Baron.