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Are AstraZeneca plc, International Greetings plc And easyJet plc On Track To Beat The Index?

Greetings cards and gift packaging supplier International Greetings (LSE: IGR) has today released an upbeat trading update for the Christmas period that shows it’s on track to meet full-year expectations.

Encouragingly, all of its divisions traded profitably during the Christmas period and this reflects the company’s investment in staff and in fast pay-back capital equipment, with the new giftwrap manufacturing facilities in Wales and The Netherlands allowing high volumes to be produced quickly. Furthermore, the Chinese and US operations have performed relatively well, with record sales in the latter and further development taking place in the former.

Looking ahead, International Greetings is forecast to increase its bottom line by 7% in the current year. This is roughly in line with the wider market’s growth rate but with International Greetings’ shares trading on a price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of 15.3, they appear to be relatively expensive. As such, it may be prudent to await a lower share price before piling-in.

Ready for take-off?

One stock that appears to be much more attractively priced at the present time is easyJet (LSE: EZJ). Its shares trade on a P/E ratio of just 10.9 and yet the budget airline is forecast to post an increase in earnings of 8% in the current year. This equates to a price-to-earnings growth (PEG) ratio of just 1.4 and, having beaten the FTSE 100 by 12% in the last year, easyJet looks set to continue to beat the index moving forward.

A key reason for that is the improving economic outlook, with consumer confidence being higher now than in recent years. This is being aided by real-terms wage growth in the UK as well as the potential for improving consumer demand in Europe following the ECB’s decision to implement quantitative easing. Additionally, a low oil price is likely to aid the wider sector and should allow for improved profitability and investor sentiment over the medium term.

Bright future?

Also offering a bright outlook is pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca (LSE: AZN). Its difficulties in recent years are gradually fading as its acquisition programme continues to turn its drug pipeline around. Most recently, AstraZeneca agreed to purchase a majority stake in Acerta Pharma for an initial consideration of $2.5bn, with a further $1.5bn payable by the end of 2018, or on receipt of the first regulatory approval for acalabrutinib (a potential cancer treatment) in the US.

As well as an improving pipeline, AstraZeneca also offers sound income prospects. Despite profit having fallen in recent years, dividends have been maintained and are currently covered a healthy 1.4 times by net profit. This indicates that there’s scope for AstraZeneca’s yield of 4.3% to move higher over the medium term, which should help to improve investor sentiment in the stock. And with it having a P/E ratio of 15.2, it appears to be attractively priced given its improving long-term outlook.

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Peter Stephens owns shares of AstraZeneca and easyJet. The Motley Fool UK has recommended AstraZeneca. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.