NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The U.S. consumer is gaining ground as gasoline prices continue to fall, jobs continue to be created and wage growth increases -- albeit slowly.

That's why TheStreet's Stephanie Link, co-portfolio manager of the Action Alerts PLUS portfolio, is bullish on select consumer discretionary stocks headed into 2015.

She explained to TheStreet TV's Jill Malandrino that Dollar General (DG - Get Report) is one of her top picks. The company's potential merger with Family Dollar (FDO) could create $1.50 to $2 per share in combined synergies. 

If the deal doesn't go through, then the stock still offers investors a low valuation, reasonable growth and potential for margin expansion. 

Lululemon Athletica (LULU - Get Report) is another stock Link likes on the long side. While 2014 saw a lot of "heavy investment" from the company, which had product and management issues, 2015 could be a brighter year

The company should start to see improved same-store sales next year as a result of all of its investments this year. Plus, with Advent International back on board as a shareholder, there's likely a "floor" of support near $42 per share. 

Finally, Link's third pick is Panera Bread (PNRA) . Like Lululemon, the company had dropped the ball operationally. As a result, management has invested heavily over the past two years to fix its restaurant inefficiencies. In 2015, Panera should slowly start to reap the benefits of those investments, Link predicted.

Unlike McDonald's (MCD - Get Report) and Yum Brands (YUM - Get Report) , consumers actually want Panera's product, she commented.

In 2015, sales should increase, traffic trends should improve and gross margins should expand. If all three of these things happen, earnings per share should increase as a result, Link concluded. 

-- Written by Bret Kenwell 

Follow @BretKenwell


TheStreet Ratings team rates DOLLAR GENERAL CORP as a Buy with a ratings score of A. TheStreet Ratings Team has this to say about their recommendation:

"We rate DOLLAR GENERAL CORP (DG) a BUY. This is based on the convergence of positive investment measures, which should help this stock outperform the majority of stocks that we rate. The company's strengths can be seen in multiple areas, such as its revenue growth, solid stock price performance, growth in earnings per share, good cash flow from operations and largely solid financial position with reasonable debt levels by most measures. We feel these strengths outweigh the fact that the company shows low profit margins."

You can view the full analysis from the report here: DG Ratings Report