LONDON -- It's easy to look back on the past month and pick the biggest risers. But it's a bit harder to decide which ones might have further to go, especially when we're looking at closely followed FTSE 100 shares.
But here's my pick of five March winners which I think could still have further shareholder value yet to be realized:
How often do 92 billion pound giants enjoy double-digit growth in just a month? Vodafone Group did during March, as its shares soared 20.5 pence (12.4%) to 186 pence. The shares had fallen during the tail-end of 2012, but they're now up 20% since the start of the new year.
The recent rise is partly due to renewed speculation that Vodafone will sell off its 45% stake in Verizon Wireless and pay a large one-off special dividend. But even after the rise, there are still annual dividends of between 5% and 6% on the cards, with the shares on a forward price-to-earnings ratio of around 12 -- there's plenty of scope for further rewards there.
I came close to highlighting Wm. Morrison Supermarkets, whose shares recovered a healthy 5.5% over the month, but that was eclipsed by a more impressive 8.7% rise from J Sainsbury , taking its shares up 30 pence to 376 pence and setting a new 52-week record in the process.
A fourth-quarter trading update released on March 19 told us that total sales for the 10 weeks to 16 March were up 7.1%, with like-for-like sales up 4.2%. But have you missed out on the rise? Well, Sainsbury's shares are still on a forward P/E of less than 13, lower than the FTSE 100 average, and there's a 4.5% dividend forecast -- the boat has not yet sailed.
For some time, investors have feared that the dependence of AstraZeneca on the blockbuster drugs model could leave it vulnerable to the expiry of its patents and to increasing competition from generic drugs.
But on March 21, chief executive Pascal Soriot announced plans for the company to "return to growth" and "achieve scientific leadership". There will be no deviation from AstraZeneca's basic business model, though, with Soriot insisting: "Our vision is clear -- to be a global biopharmaceutical company with a focused portfolio in core therapy areas, underpinned by distinctive science and a growing late-stage pipeline."
The shares leapt on the news, gaining 253 pence (8.4%) over the month to reach 3,248 pence. It could be the start of something good.
An engineer doing well? Yes, BAE Systems shares picked up 29 pence during March for an 8% rise to 384 pence, which makes a gain of 42% since a June 2012 low of 270 pence. Since last summer, we've had a full-year dividend yield of 5.8%, and forecasts put the yield for this year at 5.2%. And that's from shares which, though they have soared, are still on a forward P/E of only 9.
Now, there might be some people who don't think that looks like a screaming bargain and would turn their noses up at BAE shares at today's price. But I'm certainly not one of them.
Who says utilities companies are dull cash cows that only pay dividends? Not Centrica , the owner of the domestic British Gas brand, whose shares gained 15 pence to 367 pence for an overall March rise of 4.2%.
The dividend is there as well, of course, with the company having paid out 16.4 pence per share last year for a yield of 4.9%. And if you buy the shares now, even after a 15% rise in the share price over the past 12 months, you'll still be in line for a forecast yield of 4.8% for this year, with analysts expecting 5.1% in 2014.
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