Scott Fields

About the Author Scott Fields

A media and finance professional with four years experience at Australia’s largest business newspaper: As a journalist, I have covered major economic and financial events, in depth and in a timely manner, building strong relationships with senior executive. I am twice the recipient of Citigroup’s Journalism Award for Excellence in Financial Markets coverage. Prior to my current role I held the role of senior editor at a capital markets publication and worked on the bond syndicate desk at a major bank.

Billionaire Ken Griffin Bets Big on These 3 “Strong Buy” Stocks

Ken Griffin built his impressive reputation as an investor early in life, founding Citadel Advisors when he was just 22, with $4.6 million in seed money. By 2003, when became the youngest self-made millionaire on the Forbes 400 list, his hedge fund controlled well over $1 billion in investment capital. Today, Griffin’s Chicago-based fund holds $212 billion in equity assets under management.

In the third-quarter, Citadel made 9-digit purchases in three particularly interesting stocks. All three are rated Strong Buys in the TipRanks database, and all three show unique combinations of strengths and weaknesses. We’ve pulled up the data on each, to find out what drew them to Griffin’s attention.

Baker Hughes Company (BKR)

America’s oil and gas industry has generated a slew of headlines and rightly so, for the increased oil and gas drilling – across the continent – pushed the US into the top spot among global oil producers six years ago. Drilling, however, is only one of many oil-related industries that has benefited. A whole service sector has evolved to support oil and gas operations, and Baker Hughes in a major player in it.

BKR provides the products and services that drilling companies need to complete their operations, from evaluating geological formations to completing the wells. The company deals in tools, machinery, and IoT technology for one of the country’s most important economic sectors. The scale of Baker Hughes’ operations is clear from the company’s sales numbers – in fiscal 2018, BKR brought in over $22.8 billion in revenues.

Between July 2017 and September 2019, BKR was affiliated with General Electric in a merger. Earlier this year, however, GE had divested itself of the controlling interest in BKR, and Baker Hughes was an independent company again before the end of September.

And now we get to the interesting point: In Q3, ending on September 30, Citadel bought just over 13 million shares of BKR stock. It’s not a controlling interest, but the holding is worth $293.9 million at today’s share prices.

Wall Street’s analysts have also been showing the stock some love. Deutsche Bank analyst Chris Snyder initiated coverage on BKR, writing, “Given our expectation of soft, range-bound commodity prices through at least 1H’20, we are drawn to BKR’s business lines which feature long-cycle businesses (LNG), more stable and diversified end-markets, strong international exposure and a service portfolio focused on technology and levered to production services… We forecast BKR will grow EPS at a 40% CAGR over the next two years, an impressive feat given the challenging backdrop.”

Snyder set a “buy” rating on BKR stock along with a $32 price target, suggesting room for 44% upside from the current share price. (To watch Snyder’s track record, click here)

Also bullish is Cowen analyst Marc Bianchi, who took care to point out the recent partnership. He wrote, “[We are] impressed with the C3 business and think BKR could be the first OFS company to take a meaningful bite out of the ~$39B TAM for Oil and Gas IoT… We continue to rate the stock among our top picks in OFS.” Bianchi gives BKR a $30 price target, implying an upside of 35%. (To watch Bianchi’s track record, click here)

BKR get a unanimous vote from Wall Street’s financial experts, with 9 Buy reviews on record. Shares are selling for $22.61, and the average price target of $29.38 indicates a 32% upside potential. It also doesn’t hurt that the company provide a healthy 3.18% dividend yield — more than 50% higher than the S&P average. (See Baker Hughes stock analysis on TipRanks)

Exelon Corporation (EXC)

Exelon is a major producer in the US electricity and natural gas sectors, with six utilities delivering power to 10 million customers across 5 states and the District of Columbia. The company puts more than 32,000 megawatts on the grid, and its combination of nuclear, gas, wind, and solar generation capability makes it one of the cleanest power providers in the US.

All of that sounds like a commercial, but well-planned marketing attracts both customer and investors, and Exelon leverages its marketing to good effect. Unfortunately, the company also practices an older form of political lobbying, and has been implicated in the state of Illinois in connection with “communications” directed at a State Senator from Chicago. A second probe, at the Federal level, has been opened by the SEC, and may expand the investigation of the company’s lobbying to other states. Exelon CEO Chris Cane declined to answer questions on the matter, saying only that the company is cooperating with investigators.

To the company’s credit, earnings are steady and positive, showing again the value of providing an essential commodity. In the Q3 report, EXC showed 92 cents EPS, beating the forecast by 4.5% and exceeding the 80 to 90 cent guidance range. The positive earnings came despite a drop in revenues, which at $8.9 billion were down the $9.04 year-ago figure.

During the third-quarter, Griffin’s Citadel saw fit to boost its holding in the stock by 61%. The fund bought 1,599,064 shares of EXC, worth $70 million at current prices. The purchase brings Citadel’s stake in the company to 4,259,392 shares, valued over $187 million. This is $18 million lower than the disclosed purchase price, but Citadel stands in a good position to recoup that loss. Exelon pays a 3.3% dividend, and the stock is expected to show strong gains in the next 12 months.

Despite describing the stock as “remaining in the penalty box” due to the investigations, 4-star Well Fargo analyst Neil Kalton remains bullish on the stock, reiterating a “buy” rating and $54 price target. He writes, “Our Outperform rating reflects our belief that shares do not adequately reflect the value of the nuclear fleet given potential policy support.” His price target implies a 22% upside. (To watch Kalton’s track record, click here)

Steve Fleishman, from Wolfe Research, gives some additional detail in his note on EXC: “The utility offers attractive 6-8% EPS growth that can be funded internally with help from strong cash flows at the merchant business.  EXC’s integrated generation-retail model has provided stability and strong cash flows for debt reduction and utility growth funding… we see value from either expanded credits or portfolio rationalization.  EXC is growing the dividend 5%/yr.” Fleishman’s $55 target suggests potential growth of 25%. (To watch Fleishman’s track record, click here)

These opinions form the bullish end of the continuum on EXC, but the stock does hold a Strong Buy consensus rating. While the analysts are not unanimous, they give Exelon 7 Buys against just 2 Holds. The average price target of $51.56 indicates that there is room for 17% upside to the current trading price of $44.01. (See Exelon stock analysis on TipRanks)

Willis Towers Watson (WLTW)

The third stock we’re looking at here is a big name in the insurance industry. Willis Towers Watson is the world’s third largest insurance broker, and offers services in multinational risk management. The company was previously known as Willis Group; in 2016, it conducted a merger of equals with Virginia-based Towers Watson to form the current corporate iteration. After the merger was compete, Willis Group shareholders owned 50.1% of the combined entity.

Insurance is a lucrative industry and WLTW’s earnings reflect that. The company beat the forecasts for both revenues and EPS in Q3. Quarterly revenue came in at $1.99 billion, $130 million higher than the year-ago quarter, and earnings were reported at $1.31, just above the $1.30 estimate. While the beats were only modestly higher than the estimates, they were solid. In addition to the steady earnings, the company also paid out its 65-cent quarterly dividend. While not spectacular, the dividend has been increased steadily over the past 3 years, and is easily sustainable at current EPS levels.

So, Willis Towers Watson has gigantism on its side, giving it an inertia that makes current growth rates likely to continue. This is the background to Citadel’s 1,437,846 share purchase of WLTW in the third quarter. The purchase brought the firm’s total holding to more than 1.439 million shares, worth more than $280 million. This is almost $3 million more than Citadel’s declared purchase price, so this move by Griffin is already profitable.

Jay Gelb, 5-star analyst from Barclays, sees WLTW as a good buy. He puts a $235 price target on the stock, writing as his justification, “We view WLTW as a strategically favorable combination that shifts Willis from being a pure-play global insurance broker to adding core capabilities in consulting, employee benefits and private health insurance exchange.” His target suggests a 20% upside to the stock.

Assessing WLTW for Jefferies is 4-star analyst David Styblo, who writes as his bottom line, “WLTW is delivering on its commitment to produce more consistent results. The +6% marks the fifth consecutive quarter of 5-6%. Operating margins also expanded 120bps and are up 150bps YTD, recognizing ASC 606 has driven about half the expansion. The solid performance is broad-based, again another marker of consistency. Management continues to expect at least 15% FCF over the next 3 years…” Styblo gives Willis a $234 price target, in line with Gelb’s stock price forecast.

Like Baker Hughes above, WLTW has a unanimous consensus rating – 6 analysts have given this stock an up-check in recent weeks. Shares are not cheap, at $195.43, but the $223 average price target suggests a 14% upside for investors. (See WLTW stock analysis on TipRanks)

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