Investors looking for protection — and possibly even outperformance — this year will benefit from being more selective about the quality stocks they buy, according to Bernstein. The market has had a strong start to 2023, with all three major indexes up year-to-date. However, the potential of a recession and further interest rate hikes by the Federal Reserve have left investors uncertain as to how long the rally can last . Against such a backdrop, investors would normally buy into high-quality stocks. The problem this year, however, is that quality stocks are trading at a 12.5% premium to their historical valuation, analyst Sarah McCarthy said in a note. With this in mind, Bernstein compiled a list of quality stocks that are trading at a “reasonable price.” To do this, the firm screened for names that fall in the top 20% of their quality stock universe and excluded those that were also in the upper two quintiles of valuation. “If economic growth slows, and if the worst of increasing rate expectations are behind us, then we think Quality should outperform this year. [But] we strongly prefer ‘Quality at a reasonable price’ — i.e. excluding the most expensive Quality names – over an unfiltered Quality basket.” Take a look at 10 of Bernstein’s reasonably priced quality stock picks. Tech giant Microsoft came on top of Bernstein’s picks of cheap quality stocks with an upside. Microsoft has a forward price-to-earnings ratio of 26.67. A forward price-to-earnings ratio looks at a stock’s current share price, divided by its predicted earnings per share over the following 12 months. Shares of Microsoft gained more than 3% on Monday, bringing year-to-date gains to nearly 15%. The company announced its new artificial intelligence-powered Bing search browser last week, which has excited investors despite ongoing challenges in the PC market. Another tech stock that made the list is Meta Platforms , which has soared nearly 49% year-to-date. The company has announced multiple rounds of layoffs since November as part of its cost-cutting measures, which investors have welcomed. The stock has a Bernstein analyst rating of outperform and falls under its top quality decile. Payment network operator Visa has had a strong start to 2023, with shares jumping 10.5%. Visa has the highest forward price-to-earnings ratio on the list at 27.3. It also falls in Bernstein’s top quality decile and is rated outperform by the firm. The company’s fourth-quarter earnings and revenue exceeded analysts’ expectations . UnitedHealth also made the top quality decile. The stock is rated as market perform by Bernstein and trades at a forward multiple of 19.4. UnitedHealth shares have dropped almost 7% in 2023, while gaining 3.2% during the past 12 months. Danaher, Adobe, Pioneer Natural Resources, Applied Materials and Elevance Health also made Bernstein’s list. — CNBC’s Michael Bloom contributed reporting.
These 10 quality stocks are cheap and set to beat the market, Bernstein says