Harvey Jones sizes up Admiral Group (LSE: ADM), Sainsbury (J) (LSE: SBRY), HSBC (LSE: HSBA), National Grid (LSE: NG.) and Royal Dutch Shell (LSE: RDSB).
Shopping for shares isn't easy, there's so much on offer these days! I feel spoilt for choice. Here are five stocks I've added to my basket lately, but should I buy them?
Full steam reverse
When I asked whether I should buy Admiral (LSE: ADM) three weeks ago, the UK motor insurer was sailing ahead in full pomp, its share price up 35% this year to £11.56. That turned out to be the high watermark for the stock, which has since sprung a leak and dipped 9% to £10.56. I said the time to buy Admiral Group is on one of its regular dips, and now we have one. Should I steam in? The company reported a 2% drop in turnover to £570 million in the three months to 30 September, and analysts fear Admiral's earnings growth could continue to slow. Given the news, a price-to-earnings ratio of 12 times earnings for a motor insurer looks toppy, especially now. The dip leaves Admiral on a yield of 3.4%, which I can't get too excited about, either. This isn't the time to climb aboard.
Shopping at Sainsbury's
Fool users questioned my preference for Sainsbury's (LSE: SBRY) over Tesco (LSE: TSCO) when I compared the two supermarkets. Several were taking profits on Sainsbury's, one or two were even recycling them into Tesco. Fellow Fool BigJC1 described Sainsbury's as a "plodding, safe dividend machine", which has its uses if you ask me, but he also warned it is "way over-priced given its limited growth prospects and management ambitions". Should I buy Sainsbury's? Call me suggestible, but I've just bought Tesco. Buy on the dips, not the rallies, that's always been my motto. Now let's just hope Tesco has a good Christmas.
Buy this bad boy
When I asked whether I should buy HSBC (LSE: HSBA), I concluded it was the best of a bad banking bunch. There was little good about its third-quarter pre-tax profit, which fell from £2.3 billion to £2.19 billion, below consensus forecasts. HSBC has had to make yet more provisions for PPI mis-selling, and also set aside $800 million against the anti-money-laundering investigation in the US. That's on top of the £700 million it set aside earlier this year (and there may be more to come). Still, that's what it's like to invest in the banks these days, especially one with a "pervasively polluted" culture, as the US Senate recently described HSBC. Despite its troubles, the HSBC share price has only dipped slightly. Investors know what to expect from the banks. They hold them on the assumption that in the long run, you can't keep a bad bank down. HSBC still looks a buy for me.
I couldn't get too excited about pipes and wires utility National Grid (LSE: NG), even on a 5.6% yield. Looking back, I was a bit hard on the stock. After all, it does yield 5.6%, that's more than 11 times base rate! Should I buy National Grid? For many investors, that yield is reason enough on its own. National Grid did cause a small storm in the wake of Hurricane Sandy in the US, where it was blasted for its "antiquated" equipment, after several power outages and service interruptions, but the damage looks limited. National Grid isn't that cheap, and its dividend isn't that well covered, and it is also trading close to its 52-week high. That's a lovely yield, if it holds, but once again, I still can't get excited.
Still sure of Shell
With Brent Crude firmly above $100 a barrel, you would think the big oil majors would be motoring. But large, vertically integrated oil companies such as Royal Dutch Shell (LSE: RDSB) have deliberately shielded themselves from oil price swings, by diversifying into refineries, storage, transportation, chemicals and retail. I like Shell. I hold Shell. Should I buy more of Shell? Last time, I said yes, and I'm still keen, even though its third-quarter 2012 earnings fell to $6.1 billion, compared to $7.2 billion in the same quarter last year. Analysts were expecting worse, due to falling oil and gas prices, and lower chemicals margins. They were impressed by Shell's operating performance and its management's growth strategy. Plus, of course, the dividend, which was raised 2.4%. Everybody should have a drop of Shell in their portfolio. You simply have to decide how much.
Eight more ideas
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> Harvey owns Royal Dutch Shell and Tesco. He doesn't own any other shares mentioned in this article. The Motley Fool owns shares in Tesco.