For all its quirks, the Dow Jones industrial average remains one of the most influential market gauges in the world. The Dow still makes headlines when it hits new highs, and additions to and deletions from the blue-chip index are watched with interest for what they show about the shifting composition of the U.S. economy. At its inception in 1884, the index that would later become the Dow was almost entirely populated by railroads. In the late 1990s, the Dow shifted abruptly toward technology with the additions of Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft and Intel. And when General Motors was removed in 2009, it was the first time in more than 100 years that the Dow contained no carmakers. Below you’ll find our rating (buy, hold or sell) on each of the 30 stocks in the Dow. Only two stocks warrant a sell rating, reflecting our view that the global economy will continue to grow, albeit modestly. And the holds greatly outnumber the buys because share prices have advanced so sharply over the past four years.
10 to buy
1. 3M. (symbol MMM) The maker of Scotch tape, sealants for airplanes, orthodontic appliances and much more is a fabulous company that’s feeling the pinch of a slow economy. Company officials recently lowered their forecast for 2013 profits. But 3M’s record of innovation, its diversified product base and its excellent prospects abroad signal a bright future. Even better, 3M has raised its quarterly dividend each year for the past 55 years.
2. Chevron. (symbol CVX) By investing heavily in exploration in recent years, the second-largest U.S. energy company has set itself up for years of solid growth. In 2012, for example, the company replaced the equivalent of every 100 barrels of oil and gas it extracted with the equivalent of 112 barrels of new proven reserves. Chevron is also increasing its exposure to liquid natural gas, with big projects in Australia and Canada in the works. The firm has boosted its dividend at an annual pace of 9% over the past five years.
3. Cisco Systems. (symbol CSCO) Cisco is the dominant player in routers, switches and other networking equipment. The company is seeking to maintain and sharpen its competitive edge in those areas by shedding lagging business lines and making acquisitions. But it is also expanding into faster-growing software and services, all the while maintaining its enviable profit margins.
4. General Electric. (symbol GE)GE has rediscovered its mojo. GE Capital, the finance unit that caused major headaches during the 2008 financial crisis, is smaller and healthier than it was a few years ago. The company’s core industrial businesses have sales backlogs large enough to last for years. And management is increasingly focused on returning cash to shareholders.
5. International Business Machines.(symbol IBM) Big Blue is suffering a temporary slump. The tech giant posted abysmal results in the first quarter, with its hardware and services units showing sluggish sales. But the company is working to sell off its least-profitable units and is in the middle of a vast cost-cutting effort. Once IBM rights the ship, its stock should deliver stellar gains.
6. Microsoft. (symbol MSFT)Investors who focus on how badly Microsoft is lagging Apple and Samsung in the mobile-phone wars are looking at Microsoft all wrong. The company is entrenched in the corporate world, where sales of its operating systems and applications software throw off steady streams of cash. The stock is plenty cheap, and Microsoft has raised its dividend at a 21% annual clip over the past three years.
7. Pfizer. (symbol PFE) The world’s largest drug maker has been smarting ever since losing patent protection on the hit cholesterol drug Lipitor in 2011. But with several potential new blockbuster drugs on their way to market, plenty of cash to keep its massive research-and-development machine ticking, and a stock that’s far from overpriced, these shares look appealing.
8. Travelers. (symbol TRV)The seller of business, home, auto and other insurance tends to err on the side of conservatism when it comes to underwriting policies and investing its spare cash. That’s been a boon in recent years and has helped fuel Travelers’ strong stock-price gains compared with its peers. Although low interest rates pose a challenge, Travelers has been able to cope by raising premiums.
9. United Technologies. (symbol UTX)The maker of elevators, escalators, refrigerators, helicopters, aircraft engines and more is generating large amounts of cash, which it’s using to buy back shares and pay down debt. Although any future cuts to U.S. defense spending could hurt results, strong sales to emerging markets should help keep growth on track.
10. UnitedHealth Group. (symbol UNH) It isn’t easy for new competitors to put together a network of health providers, so UnitedHealth, the nation’s largest health insurer, holds formidable advantages. Health care reform has been a mixed bag for business, bringing in new patients while increasing regulation. But the company’s number-one position and the stock’s attractive valuation tip the scales here.