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Why I would buy AstraZeneca plc, hold Compass Group plc and sell Tullow Oil plc!

Today I’m considering the investment prospects of three Footsie favourites.

In good health

Supported by an ever-improving product pipeline, I believe AstraZeneca (LSE: AZN) will prove a spectacular stock bet for patient investors.

The problem of crushing patent losses isn’t expected to evaporate just yet, however, and the Cambridge firm is expected to rack up further earnings dips of 9% and 1% in 2016 and 2017. This will mark six straight years of bottom-line declines if proved correct.

But I believe now is the time for shrewd investors to pile-in, particularly as AstraZeneca trades on P/E ratios of just 13.9 times and 14.4 times for this year and next.

The medicines play hiked research and development spend by 15% during January-March to bolster its long-term sales outlook, reflecting the impact of recent acquisitions like Takeda Respiratory.

And AstraZeneca’s decision to focus on other fast-growing areas like oncology and diabetes — not to mention bolstering its position in white-hot emerging markets — provides yet more reason to be cheerful. And a chunky 5% dividend yield through to end-2017 offers an extra reason for stock pickers to snap up AstraZeneca.

Tasty but expensive

I’m also bullish on the earnings outlook of catering and support services provider Compass Group (LSE: CPG). But unlike AstraZeneca, I believe the share is a tad on the expensive side to merit buying-in at the present time.

The share recently surged to record highs above the £13 milestone after announcing that group revenues leapt 5.8% during October-March, to £9.7bn. This was underpinned by further solid growth in North America where organic sales rocketed 8.3%.

Compass Group has an exceptional record of generating earnings growth year after year. And the City doesn’t expect this trend to cease any time soon — indeed, rises of 19% and 9% are pencilled-in for the periods to September 2016 and 2017, respectively.

However, subsequent P/E ratios of 21.6 times and 19.7 times sail well above the FTSE 100 average of 15 times. And dividend yields of 2.5% and 2.8% for these years fall short of the big-cap average of 3.5%. I reckon investors should wait for share prices to cool before taking the plunge.

Crude qualms

At the opposite end of the spectrum, I’m rather fearful over the earnings outlook over at Tullow Oil (LSE: TLW).

The fossil fuel explorer has been a popular pick with investors in recent times, the market excited by a potential sales explosion as Tullow’s TEN project in Ghana comes online later this year.

Still, the prospect of sinking crude prices makes the stock a risk too far, in my opinion.

Brent’s recent surge to seven-month peaks of $52 per barrel has led many to speculate that the worst could finally be over for the oil price. But I beg to differ, as production from OPEC and Russia chugs steadily higher, and washy economic indicators from China and the US signal a potential dip in energy demand.

So while Tullow Oil may be expected to bounce back into the black in 2016, with earnings of 4.2 US cents per share predicted by the City, I reckon a P/E rating of 84 times is far too high given the firm’s colossal risk profile.

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Royston Wild has no position in any shares mentioned. 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.