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Don’t buy AstraZeneca plc, Wolseley plc and Great Portland Estates plc until you read this!

Today I’ll be taking a closer look at pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca (LSE: AZN), plumbing and heating supplier Wolseley (LSE: WOS), and property development and investment company Great Portland Estates (LSE: GPOR). Should you be risking your money on these London-listed companies right now?

Short-term pain

Anglo-Swedish pharmaceuticals giant AstraZeneca has faced its fair share of problems in recent years, with a gradual decline in sales and earnings due to generic competition and patent expiries. Under the circumstances the company’s share price has held up pretty well, supported by a strong dividend maintained at 280¢ per share since 2011. Management has also been making moves to turn the business around with increased investment into Research & Development, as well as cost-cutting measures to improve the company’s bottom line.

However, it may take some time for the R&D to bear fruit, with further earnings pain expected in the near term. Indeed, analysts expect profits to shrink by 8% this year to £3.4bn, before levelling-off in 2017. This would leave Astra trading on 14 times forecast earnings for both this year and next. I believe the increased emphasis on R&D should help boost earnings in the long term, but until then patient investors should be content with the healthy dividends on offer, currently yielding over 5%.

Further growth ahead

Major plumbing and heating supplier Wolseley has been boosted by a number of bullish recommendations from leading brokers this month and it’s not difficult to see why. The FTSE 100 firm has demonstrated strong growth since the start of the decade despite revenues remaining flat. Underlying earnings have soared from 142.9p per share to 230.2p over the last five years, whilst investors have seen their shares double in value.

Growth is set to continue with market consensus pointing to a 6% rise in earnings this year, followed by an even better 11% improvement in FY2017. In my opinion, the shares are attractively priced given the earnings outlook, trading on 15 times forecast earnings for the current year, falling to 14 for the year to July 2017.

Sky-high valuation

London-focused property firm Great Portland Estates has also enjoyed superb growth in recent years, with pre-tax profits rising from £155m in 2012 to £555m for fiscal 2016. However, the company’s valuation has been sky-high and could be ready for a correction when the pace of growth finally slows. Indeed, consensus forecasts suggest that profits will rise by just 6% this year, in contrast to the double-digit growth reported for the last three years.

The FTSE 250 real estate investment trust currently trades on a premium rating of 52 times forecast earnings for this year, falling to 42 for fiscal 2018, far too high for a property firm that pays only a token dividend and is showing signs of slowing growth. I feel there are far better opportunities out there for investors looking for exposure to the real estate sector.

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Bilaal Mohamed 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.