3 stocks dividing investors: Tesco plc, Persimmon plc & Aviva plc

In the wake of the referendum housebuilders, supermarkets and insurers were heavily sold-off. Investors were divided over whether Brexit spelled trouble for these firms’ core markets. Things have calmed down since then, but uncertainty remains.

In this article I’ll take a closer look at the outlook for key sector players Tesco (LSE: TSCO), Persimmon (LSE: PSN) and Aviva (LSE: AV). Should we be buying or selling?

A slow-burning recovery?

Tesco remains by far the UK’s largest supermarket, with market share of about 28%. The firm’s shares have bounced back strongly since the referendum. They’re now 2% higher than they were on 23 June and 14% higher than at the start of 2016.

I’m confident that Tesco’s fortunes will continue to improve. Chief executive Dave Lewis has done an impressive job so far, reducing net debt from £8.4bn to £5.1bn and returning the UK business to sales growth.

I don’t believe Brexit will make much difference to Tesco. What concerns me more is that Tesco and its peers may not have gone far enough with their cuts. I think there’s a chance that more store closures may be needed.

Tesco shares currently trade on a 2017/18 forecast P/E of 18. However, with profits only just starting to recover, I believe the shares should climb further over the next few years.

This could be a bargain

Insurance firms like Aviva were hit hard in the wake of the Brexit vote. Although the firm issued a statement saying that after “extensive analysis” it believed leaving the EU would have “no significant operational impact,” investors weren’t convinced.

Aviva shares are still worth 13% less than they were on 23 June and so far in 2016, Aviva stock has lost 25% of its value. Of course, this doesn’t mean the Aviva business has lost 25% of its value this year.

The shares now trade slightly below their book value of 389p per share and have a forecast P/E of just 8. We’re told that cash generation remains strong, so I’m confident the 6% forecast yield will be delivered.

Sentiment has turned against Aviva, but I think the fundamentals suggest it could be a profitable buy.

Where next for housing?

Shares in FTSE 100 housebuilder Persimmon are worth 24% less than they were on 23 June. Although the stock has bounced back from its post-referendum low of 1,170p to today’s 1,580p, investors are still divided over the outlook for the housing market.

Data released today by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors shows that house price growth slowed in the month before the referendum. The number of new buyer enquiries also fell.

Persimmon’s 5 July trading update was more upbeat. The firm’s average selling price rose by 6% during the first half, while group revenues rose by 12% to £1.49bn. But management admitted that it’s too soon to judge the effect of the referendum result.

Persimmon’s forecast P/E of 8.5 looks cheap, but this could rise sharply if earnings forecasts continue to fall. With the stock trading at almost twice its book value of 800p, I believe investing in Persimmon does require a reasonably positive view on the housing market.

Personally, I’ve decided to take no action until more data becomes available. But it’s your choice.

A better buy for income?

If you're undecided about housing and insurance and are looking for ultra-reliable dividend growth, then I'd urge you to read 5 Shares To Retire On. This exclusive new report from the Motley Fool's top experts features five income stocks our analysts rate very highly.

Each of these stocks has a proven defensive moat and an impressive track record of earnings and dividend growth. This 'must-read' report is free and carries no obligation.

To receive your copy today, simply click here now.

Roland Head owns shares of Tesco and Aviva. The Motley Fool UK has no position in any of the shares mentioned. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.