Why I’m Steering Clear Of Centrica PLC, Soco International plc & WM Morrison Supermarkets PLC!

Today I’m looking at three FTSE-listed leviathans on shaky ground.

Past its sell-by date?

I believe battered supermarket Morrisons (LSE: MRW) is a risk too far for even the most optimistic stock picker.

News of a tie-up with Amazon last month was a huge statement in the firm’s fightback. The Bradford chain may have been late to the online party, but the deal to sell its goods via the American internet giant significantly boosts its position in this hot growth sector.

But the cyberspace battle is already an ultra-competitive one, with Aldi and Lidl poised to launch and take on established operators Tesco and Sainsbury’s, as well as premium vendors like Waitrose and Ocado.

Despite shoppers also leaving its ‘bricks and mortar’ stores in their droves — like-for-like sales slumped 2% in the 12 months to January 2016 — the City’s army of analysts expect Morrisons to stage a strong earnings recovery from this year onwards.

I’m not so convinced, however, and believe a prospective P/E rating of 19.3 times fails to fairly reflect the strong possibility of further bottom-line pain at Morrisons.

Powering down

Buoyed by a surging crude price, investors have been piling back into energy giant Centrica (LSE: CNA) like nobody’s business.

From plunging to levels not seen since before the millennium, shares in the company have surged by around a quarter in just over six weeks as Brent has hurdled the $40 per barrel marker once more.

However, this feeding frenzy leaves the business in danger of a severe price correction, in my opinion. Sure, a recovering oil price provides the company’s Centrica Energy arm with much welcome relief — the collapsing fuel price caused the unit’s operating profits to slump more than 60% in 2015.

But the outlook for the crude market is even worse than it was a year ago, with Chinese economic indicators still sinking; political and commercial roadblocks preventing much-needed production cuts; and global inventories running at record levels.

Meanwhile, Centrica’s retail division is struggling to fight off the charge of the promotion-led, independent suppliers. Britain’s ‘switching’ culture continues to steadily heat up, taking the scythe to subscriber numbers at British Gas, and forcing the company into rounds of fresh, earnings-sapping tariff cuts.

The City expects Centrica to swallow a 12% earnings slip in 2016, the third on the spin if realised and resulting in a P/E rating of 14.7 times.

I consider this reading far too heady given the firm’s high-risk profile, and should the firm’s fragile balance sheet prompt further dividend cuts, I would expect shares to shuttle south once again.

Risky business

And like Centrica, I believe fossil fuel explorer Soco International (LSE: SIA) is also in peril of disappointing investors thanks to the oil market’s worsening supply/demand imbalance.

The City expects losses at Soco International to continue until next year at the earliest. And while the company has a stronger balance sheet than many of its competitors, the capex-heavy nature of its operations — not to mention the unpredictable nature of fossil fuel exploration — could see the company fail to make the most of its impressive oil reserves.

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