Harvey Jones sizes up Marks & Spencer (LSE: MKS), Rio Tinto (LSE: RIO), BG Group (LSE: BG.), Legal & General Group (LSE: LGEN) and Old Mutual (LSE: OML).
Shopping for shares isn't easy, there's so much on offer these days! I feel spoilt for choice. Here are five stocks I've added to my basket lately, but should I buy?
Missing the Marks
After posing the question whether I should buy Marks & Spencer (LSE: MKS), I decided I would rather eat its food than buy its shares. One week later, I'm tempted to swallow my words, after it released forecast-beating first-half earnings and predicted growing profitability. I remain sceptical about its fashion sense, however. Clothing sales declined again in the second quarter, although at a more moderate pace. Pre-tax profits dipped around 3% to £270 million, compared to the first six months of last year. On the plus side, it does offer a stylish 4.5% yield. Christmas will be crunch time, but M&S has started poorly. The John Lewis snowmen now have nearly 2 million hits on YouTube. M&S could barely muster 200,000. It still has a long way to go to revive its brand, and it's a volatile market out there. Others have more faith in the stock. HSBC recently lifted its target price from £3.50 to £4.50 (it trades at £3.77, at time of writing).
Don't blame it on Rio
After asking whether I should buy Rio Tinto (LSE: RIO) at the end of October, I have watched this global mining giant fall another 5%, as global uncertainty continues to hammer commodity stocks. A recent rise in base metal prices on hopes of rising demand from China and the US has offered some support. Rio Tinto is a canary in the coal mine for the global economy. Once activity starts picking up again, shareholders will surely begin to sing. It's a good, strong, well-diversified company that currently yields 3%, trades on a modest price-to-earnings ratio of 9.1 times earnings, and should certainly fly in the longer run. The cheaper it gets, the more I like it. It may fall further, as that US fiscal cliff approaches, and I'll be scooping up shares when it does.
A bid for BG?
BG Group (LSE: BG) fell off a cliff of its own making last month, after warning investors they shouldn't expect any growth next year. For anybody who likes buying good shares on bad news, it looked like the perfect time to pose the question: should I buy BG Group? After dropping 25% to £10, the stock has recovered around 7% to £10.70 at time of writing, so maybe we have already missed the moment. Yet this rebound was largely due to takeover rumours, rather than any fundamental change in the company's fortunes. BG Group is tidying up its balance sheet, completing the sale of its 60% holding in Comgas for around £1 billion, and paying down £600,000 worth of debt. But if you plan to hold for at least five years, it remains a tempting buy.
In my initial review of these five FTSE favourites, Legal & General Group (LSE: LGEN) was the stand-out stock, due to its strong balance sheet, growing sales, expanding target market of elderly people, and international ambitions. Should I buy Legal & General Group? The answer is still a firm 'yes'. The share price has remained buoyant, on further takeover speculation. This time US insurer MetLife is rumoured to be the bidder, at £2.50 a share (today's price is £1.42). The shares may lose some of their froth if the rumour proves is unfounded, but you can still pocket that 4.5% yield until the next bout of takeover speculation comes along.
Feeling your age
Why buy a UK insurer that's taking pot shots at emerging markets when you can buy Old Mutual (LSE: OML)? It may be listed on the FTSE 100 (UKX) but it's heart belongs to Africa, where it was founded in 1845. Its emerging market potential has just been boosted by its recent purchase of a majority stake in Latin American AIVA Business Platforms, which should help beef up its distribution capability. Management remains cautious, although to be fair, who isn't these days? So should I buy Old Mutual? It yields just 2.9%, according to Digital Look, which you can easily better elsewhere, but that's the only thing stopping me.
Great when there's eight
So there are five stocks to consider. If that isn't enough, dividend investor supremo Neil Woodford at Invesco-Perpetual goes three better in this special in-depth report Eight Top Blue Chips Held By Britain's Super Investor.
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> Harvey doesn't own any of the shares mentioned in this article.