Will Barclays PLC Or J Sainsbury plc Return To Favour In 2016?

In today’s ravaged markets, buying opportunities are blooming all around. The question is which ones to pluck first. Some big names are now selling at discounted prices after falling out of favour with the market, and two of the biggest are Barclays (LSE: BARC) and J Sainsbury (LSE: SBRY).

Barclays bombs

Barclays has suffered a dismal six months with its share price plunging 35% in that time, while the FTSE 100 as a whole fell less than 10%. It has also fared worse than rival banks Lloyds Banking Group, down 21%, HSBC, down 15% and even Royal Bank of Scotland Group, which fell 26%. So where did it all go so wrong at Barclays?

The “dark pools” scandal hasn’t helped, although that seems to be done and dusted after it paid US regulators $70m to settle claims. Falling profits have been a bigger problem, which forced the bank to slash 1,200 positions in January to focus on regions and market segments in which it could best compete. Barclays will close offices in nine countries across Asia, the Americas and EMEA, as it retracts its global claws. The worry is that this leaves Barclays exposed to the slowing UK economy (and the US for that matter).

Barclays is no longer the swashbuckling bank of yore. Some investors will miss that, especially as the scandals keep on coming anyway. Yet I can’t help thinking that the punishment has been overdone, given that profits before tax are forecast to rise from £6.69bn in 2015 to £8.1bn this year, with earnings per share (EPS) expected to rise 21%. By the end of the year, the bank is forecast to yield a well-covered 3.6%, while still only trading at 8.6 times earnings. If the global economy struggles further Barclays won’t go unpunished, buy I still think it looks like a buy today.

Sainsbury’s sags

I exited the supermarket sector three years ago and have had very little desire to return to the scene of the great grocery share price massacre. Of the established players, Sainsbury’s is the one that has impressed me most, holding onto its market share and quasi-upmarket brand image with reasonable success. Over the last six months it has marginally outperformed the FTSE 100, falling just 7.5% in that time. By comparison, Tesco fell a crunching 21% over the same period.

Sainsbury’s is in the heat of a bid for Argos owner Home Retail Group with press reports suggesting its 150p offer falls short of the 170p being demanded. A figure somewhere in-between could satisfy shareholders and would give SBRY’s chief executive Mike Coupe access to the Argos online delivery service and underpin its drive to diversify from low-margin food into higher-margin non-food sales.

The grocery sector is still J Sainsbury’s bread and butter and that looks set to remain tough fayre, as Aldi and Lidl continue to woo cash-strapped shoppers. I would choose Sainsbury’s over Tesco any time, but with the dividend recently dropped, and EPS forecast to fall 2% in the year to March 2017, I would prefer Barclays over either of them.

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Harvey Jones has no position in any shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK has recommended Barclays. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.