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Reuters (Toru Hanai)

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Five high-quality, low-risk U.S. stocks Add to ...

Over the years, I have been consistent in the themes that I apply to my fundamental research. I tend to focus on earnings growth at a reasonable price, a strong balance sheet and financial condition, and dividends – though not always at the same time.

This week, I’m combining these themes to seek out the best companies that fit the following criteria:

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-Earnings-per-share revisions greater than the S&P 500 over the past month. I used the past month because that captured the heart of earnings season.

-Price-to-earnings ratio less than that of the S&P 500 on a market-capital-weighted average.

-Standard & Poor’s credit rating of BBB or better; I was only interested in investment-grade companies.

-Dividend yield greater than the S&P 500 dividend yield, which now stands at about 2.2 per cent.

The search, using the Bloomberg Professional Service, yielded 14 results based on those criteria. To refine that list, I decided to apply some disciplined analysis over and above those results.

The first decision that I made was to exclude those stocks of financial companies because, as we have seen, with sovereign debt, banks, broker-dealers (witness what just happened with MF Global, insurance companies and other financial institutions, the credit ratings agencies have a poor track record and are unreliable.

I then carefully went through the data to insure accuracy of the data points, double-checking with other informational sources such as Telemet Orion, Yahoo! Finance and company financial reports. This process knocked out nine companies from the search results.

Let’s take a closer look at the following five high-quality stocks at reasonable valuations.

Intel

Intel is the world’s leading semiconductor manufacturer. While sales of personal computers are no longer a huge growth factor for Intel, the boom in mobile computing devices is propelling future growth for the company. Furthermore, Intel’s engineering has allowed it to maintain and expand its technological advantage over competitors such as Advanced Micro Devices.

Recently, Intel reported third-quarter earnings of 65 cents (U.S.), which was better than consensus estimates of 61 cents. This resulted in upward full-year EPS consensus revision of 9 cents for the company from 47 analysts. For the fourth quarter, analysts expect Intel to earn 69 cents, which is 4 cents more than it was a month ago.

Intel, one of the top-yielding electronics stocks, shows up on a list of 10 Dow Stocks With Lowest P/E Ratios.

Norfolk Southern

Norfolk Southern , along with CSX and Union Pacific, is one of the three largest publicly traded commercial railroad companies in the U.S. since Burlington Northern was acquired by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. Railroads are increasingly important in the shipment of raw materials and finished goods within our nation and to the coasts for transportation to our many shipping partners, especially in Latin America, Europe and the Far East.

Recently, Norfolk Southern reported third-quarter earnings of $1.59, which was better than consensus estimates of $1.41. This resulted in upward full-year EPS consensus revision of 19 cents for the company from 26 analysts. CSX and Union Pacific did not fare as well as Norfolk Southern when it came to third-quarter earnings performance and upward revisions. For the fourth quarter, analysts expect Norfolk Southern to earn $1.38. which is 5 cents greater than it was a month ago.

Norfolk Southern is one of TheStreet Ratings’ top-rated railroad stocks.

Time Warner

Time Warner is one of the premier media content providers in the world, operating in three segments: filmed entertainment, TV/cable networks and publishing. Among its highly recognizable brands are HBO, Cinemax, CNN, TBS, TNT, Sports Illustrated, People, Fortune, Warner Brothers and New Line Cinema. Long known for one of the worst mergers and acquisitions of all time with the original America Online (AOL was spun off in 2009). The company has had to trim itself down by cutting debt, focusing on cash flow and spinning off companies.

Time Warner Cable (TWC) was spun off in its entirety in 2009; prior to that it was a tracking stock of which Time Warner held an 84 per cent stake. As part of that spinoff, Time Warner offloaded a considerable amount of long-term debt (an estimated $20 to $22-billion) onto Time Warner Cable’s balance sheet. Now the more thin Time Warner can operate as a cash cow, paying off more debt, repurchasing stock and paying a dividend. I expect a dividend increase in early 2012.

The rapid emergence of digital delivery of content will no doubt favor the content providers in the future, which will work to Time Warner’s advantage.

Time Warner reported earnings of 79 cents, which was better than consensus estimates of 76 cents. This resulted in upward full-year EPS consensus revision of 1 cent for the company from 11 analysts. For the fourth quarter, analysts expect Time Warner to earn 86 cents, which is unchanged from a month ago but 2 cents greater it was two months ago.

Time Warner, one of the highest-yielding media stocks, shows up on a recent list of 5 Media Companies With the Most to Win and Lose.

General Dynamics

General Dynamics is a global aerospace and defense contractor. The company consistently beats analysts’ consensus estimates and generates high single-digit to low double-digit earnings growth. While budgetary concerns in Washington, D.C., may lead one to believe that General Dynamics may feel the fiscal pinch, I think that may be a naive generalization. With the Arab Spring continuing into the Arab Fall and likely beyond, continued problems in Afghanistan, piracy on the high seas and the increasing military needs of nations with emerging economies, General Dynamics should continue to generate reasonable earnings growth.

Selling 8.78 times 2011 estimates and 8.39 times forward estimates with a near 3 per cent dividend, this company’s shares are quite reasonably valued. Recently, General Dynamics reported third-quarter earnings of $1.83, which was better than consensus estimates of $1.77. This resulted in upward full-year EPS consensus revision of 4 cents for the company from 16 analysts. For the fourth quarter, analysts expect GD to earn $1.98, which is 3 cents greater than it was a month ago.

General Dynamics, one of the top-yielding aerospace and defense stocks, shows up on a recent list of 10 Top Stock Picks From Morgan Stanley.

Hubbell

Hubbell is a global manufacturer and distributor of electrical and electronic products for commercial and residential construction. You might think that Hubbell is in the wrong business given the depressed nature of the housing and commercial construction in industry in the U.S. but that would be short-sighted. The company has returned robust results during the construction boom and after its bust.

Recently Hubbell reported third-quarter earnings of $1.37, which was better than consensus estimates of $1.28. This resulted in upward full-year EPS consensus revision of 9 cents for the company from seven analysts. For the fourth quarter, analysts expect Hubbell to earn $1.09, which is 3 cents greater than it was a month ago.

Scott Rothbort has over 25 years of experience in the financial services industry. He is the Founder and President of LakeView Asset Management, a registered investment advisor specializing in customized separate account management for high net worth individuals. In addition, he is the founder of TheFinanceProfessor.com, an educational social networking site; and, publisher of The LakeView Restaurant & Food Chain Report. Rothbort is also a Term Professor of Finance at Seton Hall University's Stillman School of Business, where he teaches courses in finance and economics. He is the Chief Market Strategist for The Stillman School of Business and the co-supervisor of the Center for Securities Trading and Analysis.

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