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Top 6 Stocks to Buy for February

Focus on high-quality stocks that pay dividends or have buyback programs

By Sam Collins, InvestorPlace Chief Technical Analyst

With business inventories low, manufacturing up in December, an increase in housing starts in November, consumer confidence up, and the unemployment rate falling, the economy appears to be slowly improving. But global issues and especially problems in the EU still plague the market.

January started on a positive note with the Dow up over 3%, thus the familiar saying, “As goes the first week of the new year, so goes the month and so goes the year,” was frequently repeated. But on Jan. 26, the Dow and the S&P 500 executed “daily reversals,” and since then prices have been falling. All of our internal and sentiment indicators are overbought, and so the market could end the month on a negative yet still have delivered one of the most impressive bullish performances in years.

It is important for investors to focus on high-quality stocks that pay dividends and/or have a history of regular dividend increases. Some also have stock buyback programs in place to use part of their cash and reduce the number of shares trading. Both strategies should have a positive long-term impact on the companies’ stocks.

Here are your top stocks to buy for February:

Top Stock to Buy #1 – Barrick Gold Corp. (ABX)

Barrick Gold Corp. (NYSE:ABX), an acquirer, explorer and developer of gold, copper, silver and zinc, is charted using monthly rather than daily data. This long-term chart clearly shows a bullish cup-and-handle formation. But for the stock to break out it must close above $55. If ABX breaks $55, look for a major rally to $75 to $80.

Earnings are estimated at $4.94 in 2011 and $5.58 in 2012. The dividend yield is 1.21%. This stock is rated a “five-star strong buy” by S&P with a 12-month target of $80.

ABX Chart
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Top Stock to Buy #2 – Chevron Corp. (CVX)

Chevron Corp. (NYSE:CVX) primarily engages in exploration, refining, transportation and storage of crude oil and natural gas. The stock has formed a neckline at $110 after establishing a double-bottom. The overall pattern is an inverse head-and-shoulders — a very bullish development. All that is required to trigger a strong buy is for the stock to close above the neckline. This is a huge bullish formation with a technical target of $132.

S&P has CVX rated a “five-star strong buy” with a target of $132. The consensus estimated earnings for 2011 are $14.02 and $13.65 for 2012. The annual dividend is $3.24, providing a yield of 3.12%. The company is expected to continue to increase dividends and is executing a share buyback program.

CVX Chart
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Top Stock to Buy #3 – H.J. Heinz Co. (HNZ)

H.J. Heinz Co. (NYSE:HNZ), a producer of a wide variety of food products, has a new, more aggressive corporate strategy. Acquisitions in “emerging markets” began two years ago, and in 2011 that new direction accounted for 16% of total sales. Earnings for FY 2011 were $3.06 and are estimated to be $3.30 in FY 2012. HNZ has a dividend yield of 3.71% and a history of increasing dividends. The fundamental target for HNZ is $60.

Technically the stock has double-bottomed at $48 and formed a neckline of resistance at $54.50. A recent buy signal from our proprietary indicator, the Collins-Bollinger Reversal (CBR), tells us to buy now for a breakout and run to $62.

HNZ Chart
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Top Stock to Buy #4 – United Health Group (UNH)

The diversified United Health Group (NYSE:UNH) provides health care programs and retirement plans, has a life sciences group, and provides health plans to physicians, clinical services, etc.

Credit Suisse analysts consider UNH to be the best-positioned company in its field and look for earnings of $4.85 this year compared to $4.73 in 2011, and an increase to $5.60 in 2013. UNH has a dividend yield of 1.27%.

Technically the stock has consolidated in a broad cup. A break through $54 should produce a trading target of $62.

UNH Chart
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Top Stock to Buy #5 – Verizon Communications (VZ)

Verizon Communications’ (NYSE:VZ) earnings are expected to grow to $2.50 next year, up from $2.23 in 2011, and strong operating margins and network quality are expected to attract customers to its 3G and 4G networks.

The communications sector has been one of the strongest in the closing months of 2011, and VZ has been a leader of the group. But the sector, and Verizon, may have run too far too fast. An increase in sellers and a short-term sell signal from its stochastic warn that a correction is likely.

Buy VZ on a pullback under $38 for a longer-term advance to the mid-$40s.

VZ Chart
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Top Stock to Buy #6 – Whole Foods Market (WFM)

Whole Foods Market (NASDAQ:WFM), the operator of the largest chain of natural food supermarkets in theUnited States, appears headed to new highs. Sales are expected to increase by 15% in 2012, and earnings are estimated to increase to $2.27 from $1.93 in 2011 and $1.43 in 2010. The adoption of a new price strategy, more lower-priced offerings, and an expansion plan are expected to lead to better-than-average industry growth. The dividend will likely be increased from the current 56 cents per share, and the repurchase of shares is expected.

Technically WFM has been in a powerful bull channel for over a year, and while there is no reason to expect a change, the stock is currently in a correction and will most likely hold at the lower support line of the channel at the 50-day moving average at $70 where it should be bought. The target for a trade is $80 by the end of March. Longer-term buyers should expect continued growth and higher prices.

WFM Chart
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