Best Stocks to Buy in 2012

With the Federal Reserve Board’s estimate that the economy will continue its slow recovery throughout 2012 many investors are looking for relatively safe places to invest. While U.S. government bonds are considered among the safest of investments, their current rate of return make them less than ideal.

Bonds of other countries, notably the European countries may have a higher rate of return but given the uncertain nature of the Euro at the beginning of the year it is understandable if investors look at Euro-bonds with wariness. For those who are risk averse but desire to see better than average rates of return on investments, the U.S stock markets remain the investment vehicle of choice for those able to invest.

When selecting stocks to buy for 2012 it is essential to look for three factors.  These factors are growth potential, safety and dividends. In the case of growth, while the company’s ability to grow in market share is certainly important, also important is the potential for the stock price to grow in value over time. When it comes to safety, it is best to see if the management team is stable, doesn’t have an excessive salary for the CEO and has a history of making the right moves and has an ability to weather an uncertain economic future as measured by past performance.  Lastly, look for a company that pays dividends and has done so over time with a strong history of increasing dividends on a very regular basis. 

Companies worthy of investing in for 2012 include Johnson Controls (JCI), Abbott Laboratories (ABT) and Bristol-Meyers Squibb (BMY).

Johnson Controls is narrowly focused conglomerate in the business of providing automotive interiors, automotive batteries, products and services designed to maximize energy efficiency. Its automotive interior business is well established making it a Tier One provider to the automotive industry which allows the investor to take advantage of growth in the automotive industry segment. Its battery division includes batteries for hybrid automobiles and Johnson Controls recently (September 2011) acquired a Li-ion battery business that it had previously been engaged in with Saft Group.

The building controls division includes an extensive inventory of commercial, educational and government building control and security contracts along with the necessary industrial production facilities to supply their needs and to market equipment worldwide. While the dividend yield (2.5%) is a little lower than the other recommended stocks, it does have a strong history of raising annual dividends while also having great potential for growth in both the vehicle industry and on the alternative energy sector in the future.

Abbott Laboratories (ABT) is one of the leading companies in the healthcare sector and primarily deals with wholesalers and healthcare facilities although its nutritional products line is marketed to consumers. Sporting a dividend yield rate of 3.5% the company is a very attractive investment. With the company’s acquisition of Solvay Group’s pharmaceuticals business, Starlims Technologies Limited, Facet Biotech Corporation, and Piramal Healthcare Limited’s Healthcare Solutions business, the company is expanding its reach within its core business area and the potential for growth is above average provided management keeps an eye on debt.

Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) is another healthcare sector company that targets wholesalers, retail pharmacies, hospitals, medical providers and governments for marketing and sale of their product. It has also engaged in a number of acquisitions including  Zymo Genetics and Amira Pharmaceuticals.  With a dividend return rate of 3.9% it is also a very attractive equity to invest in for the coming year.  Bristol-Meyers Squibb has managed its debt ratio better than Abbott Laboratories but both represent good buys for 2012.

Noticeably absent from these recommendations are strict automotive stocks and energy stocks and their volatility is the primary reason for this omission. The decision to invest in a particular company is a deeply personal one driven by many factors and the responsibility for investment decisions must rest with the individual investor. In the interests of full disclosure, the author does have a long position with Johnson Controls and anticipates making additional investments in the near future.