Jim Cramer's charitable trust Action Alerts PLUS recently traded Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, UPS and Unilever. We asked an independent analyst to evaluate the stocks.
NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Uncertainty about oil prices and interest rates likely will keep a lid on the broader stock market until investors have more clarity. Despite Wednesday's 1% bounce in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, S&P 500 and Nasdaq, the three major indices are still down by more than 1% in 2015. So after a five-year bullish run, investors are now looking for safety and better ways to hedge their bets. Here are four companies to help you do just that.
With roughly $1.4 trillion worth of assets under its watch, Morgan Stanley, the world's third-largest wealth management firm, knows how to make money for its customers. And with its stock gaining 24% in 2014, Morgan Stanley knows how to make money for its investors, too. The company is benefiting from higher trading volumes in its fixed-income commodities and currencies, known as FICC.
In the most recent quarter, that business surged almost 20% year over year, suggesting Morgan Stanley was gaining share from (among others) JPMorgan Chase (JPM - Get Report) and Citigroup (C - Get Report) . And if interest rates do rise, they should help Morgan Stanley because they are likely to spark higher trading volumes, which means higher fees for the company and more profits for investors.
In November, this bank was forced to take a $400 million charge in litigation costs to resolve matters related to its foreign exchange business -- effectively turning its surprise third-quarter profit into a loss. And this came on the heels of Bank of America's record $16.7 billion settlement with the U.S. Justice Department over mortgage probes. Can this company be trusted?
Altbhough Bank of America has taken some strides to improve its operations, CEO Brian Moynihan has delivered five quarterly losses since taking over the bank in 2010. With a market cap of $178 billion, BAC carries has a lot of muscle. But it also carries risk, and that's not what investors want in an already jittery market. So avoid Bank of America. Wells Fargo (WFC - Get Report) is the best way to play the retail banks.
The economy is improving, making UPS a strong buy. Consumers are also spending more online, increasing shipping demand from retailers. And UPS expects this trend to continue. At its investor day conference in November, UPS raised the bar on its performance, suggesting it plans to take share from rival FedEx (FDX - Get Report) .
For the next four years, UPS said it expects sales growth to be in the range of 5% to 7% -- almost two percentage points higher than fiscal 2014. Operating profit is expected to grow in the range of 8% to 11%, while earnings per share are projected to grow 9% to 13%. To prepare for this growth UPS said Wednesday that it expanded its Worldwide Express Freight service. This comes after its December announcement that it added three buildings and expanded a fourth, giving it capacity to support new business. Betting on UPS when it's betting on itself is a smart play, especially with its dividend yield of 2.47%.
With just 1% stock gains in 2014, Unilever was a relative disappointment. But like Procter & Gamble (PG - Get Report) , another conglomerate, Unilever has begun to focus on higher margin and higher growth markets, specifically its home care and personal care products. The latter account for 36% of its sales. Meanwhile, due to weak volumes, the company is slowing exiting its food business. While food makes up 27% of its sales, its has the lowest margins.
In recent years, its divestments have included Slim-Fast, Ragu pasta sauce and Wish-Bone salad dressing. So it's going to take more time for things to come together. But like UPS, as the economy continues to improve, Unilever's businesses should also improve. More money in consumers' pockets means more spending on personal care and home care products. Plus, with the company having a high analyst 12-month target of $46.58, why leave the potential for 22% gains on the table? And with its yield of 3.95%, Unilever is worth the wait.
To find out if Jim Cramer bought or sold these stocks, and to see all the stocks in his charitable trust, go to www.actionalertsplus.com.