Apple, Microsoft: Tech Stocks For The Rest of 2013

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Many of the more conservative members of the investment community have the impression that technology stocks are a risky, cyclical, high beta sector. Bank of America Merrill Lynch's head of U.S. equity and quantitative strategy, Savita Subramanian, sees it differently, with Apple ( AAPL) and Microsoft ( MSFT) being two of the top picks for the rest of 2013.

Subramanian said this is the sector that has become exactly where some of the most risk-averse retail investors should be exploring for good deals.

Technology as a whole is one of the only two sectors, the other being healthcare, that actually grew earnings over the last recession in 2009. What's more, a closer look at tech shows "pristine," cash-loaded balance sheets of many large-cap companies across the tech industries following the last decade's waves of consolidations, Subramanian noted after a recent Bank of America mid-year conference in New York.

Despite these positive factors, many growth investors have basically given up on large-cap tech companies in favor of smaller cap, secular growth stories such as 3-D printing and cloud pure-plays. Value investors have largely brushed off the sector as a whole. For income investors and new investors, this situation is presenting an entry point into companies with the arsenal to deploy massive amounts of cash as highlighted by Apple's announcement in April that it plans to return $100 billion to shareholders by the end of 2015 through increased dividend and share buybacks, said Subramanian.

"The dividend story's starting to percolate" in tech said Subramanian. Furthermore, tech is "the new, high quality sector."

For a more conservative retail investor, Subramanian recommends traditional software companies, such as Microsoft, because its recurring revenue cycles and long-dated contracts offer clearer visibility into the future. The strategist said though the outlook for global PC sales has been weak, Microsoft is far too deeply embedded in the corporate environment, particularly in financials, to be losing its prominence in the tech world just yet. Instead, the software giant is actually transforming into a slower-growth, cash return story.

"I wouldn't go so far as to say that they are a regulated utility, but they're closer to a regulated utility than a high-beta growth company," she said of large-cap software companies.

The Bank of America Merrill Lynch head of U.S. equity and quantitative strategy added that semiconductors are another place to look for big, cash rich, cyclically exposed stock that are reinventing themselves as mature, stable "cash return vehicles."

Written by Andrea Tse in New York

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