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Analysts Say These 3 Stocks Are Their Top Picks for 2021

As the fourth quarter began, it’s a sensible time to start lining up stocks for the coming year. The investing environment is unsettled, at the least, with the coronavirus still behaving unpredictably, the election around the corner, and a strong, but somewhat unsteady, economic recovery in progress after the summer’s sharp recessionary pressures. It’s no wonder, then, that investors welcome the professional insight of Wall Street’s stock analysts.Those analysts have been working overtime through this eventful year, and with 2021 around the corner, they are starting to point out their best ideas for the new year. We used the TipRanks database to pull up the details on three stocks which the analysts describe as their ‘top picks.’ Let’s take a closer look.SLM Corporation (SLM)The first Top Pick we’re looking at today, SLM Corporation, is better known as Sallie Mae. It’s a major loan company in the secondary education sector, providing financing, debt management, and servicing for student loans, both private and US government-guaranteed. The company has been a great beneficiary of the expansion of student loan programs – and the increase in college tuitions – over the past few decades.The headwinds facing the company are real. The virus pandemic forced university closures in the spring, and pushed classes to online venues in the summer and going forward to the fall. This has resulted in lower tuition charges, just as the economic disturbances have made it more difficult for loan recipients to make payments. Student loans are famously non-dischargeable through bankruptcy, but payments can be deferred – and that has been happening.With all of that, Sallie Mae started 2020 on a true high note. Revenues, and earnings, both spiked sharply upward in the first quarter, with the top line reaching $692 million and EPS coming in at 79 cents. There was an ominous sign, however, as earnings missed the forecast by 10%. That warning was borne out in Q2, when the coronavirus hit. Both revenues and earnings fell sharply. Revenues dropped by well over $300 million, and EPS turned deeply into negative territory. The EPS loss for Q2, at 22 cents, was far below the 6-cent profit expected. Wells Fargo analyst Moshe Orenbuch, rated 5-stars at TipRanks, believes that SLM has better prospects going forward should President Trump win reelection, but would still fare well under a Biden Administration. He writes, “[We] believe that SLM will rerate upward in a Trump repeat and eventually as investors realize that in a Biden presidency free public school tuition for all is a low priority with a high price tag…” Orenbuch goes on to add that SLM has a solid base in a social reality: “We think that the value proposition of graduating from college, especially for upper-middle class borrowers, entails a shoot at premium jobs/careers. As long as the vast majority of companies require college degrees, we expect little change to demand for higher education…”With solid demand as a base, and adequate prospects going forward no matter who wins in November, SLM earns Orenbuch’s Top Pick status and a Buy rating. Orenbuch gives SLM a $12 price target which suggests a 48% upside for the coming 12 months. (To watch Orenbuch’s track record, click here)Overall, SLM has a Strong Buy rating from the analyst consensus, based on 4 reviews breaking down to 3 Buys and 1 Hold. The shares are selling for $7.97, and their average price target of $9.33 indicates room for a 17% one-year upside. (See SLM stock analysis on TipRanks)Booking Holdings (BKNG)The next stock on our Top Picks list is a holding company. Booking Holdings is a leader in the online travel sector, with subsidiaries providing ticketing, bookings, and other travel services worldwide. Booking Holdings operates in 220 countries and 40 languages, and last year customers used the service to book 7 million airline tickets, 845 million hotel room nights, and 77 million car rental days. The company’s best-known brands are Booking.com and Priceline.As can be imagined, the travel restrictions put in place to combat the corona pandemic put a damper on BKNG’s business. This was reflected in the financial results; revenues and earnings plummeted in the first half of the year, with the Q2 results getting as low as $630 million at the top line. Earnings for the second quarter were even worse, at a net loss of $10.81. While the stock has partially recovered from the mid-winter market slide, it is still down 15% so far this year.Covering this stock for Cowen, analyst Kevin Kopelman sees Booking Holdings in a good place compared to its competition. He writes, “BKNG gained share vs the overall Hotel industry this summer (est Aug rev -45%, vs -55% for global industry), driven by large selection of Alternative Accommodations and strong position in Europe Leisure Travel. While Europe has become a short-term negative in Sep (est BKNG falling to -50%, global Hotel flattening at -55%), BKNG has nevertheless shown it is relatively well-positioned.”Looking at the travel and leisure sector as a whole, and reflecting on BKNG’s current status, Kopelman adds, “While bad news may not be over, we think this [price] represents a buying opportunity.”To this end, Kopelman selected BKNG as his top pick. The analyst rates the stock an Outperform (i.e. Buy) along with a $2000 price target. This figure suggests a 15% one-year upside potential. (To watch Kopelman’s track record, click here)Overall, with 11 Buys and 10 Holds set in recent weeks, Booking Holdings gets a Moderate Buy rating from the analyst consensus. Shares are selling for $1,700, and the average price target of $1,915 implies a 12% upside from current levels. (See BKNG stock analysis on TipRanks)Dynatrace, Inc. (DT)Last but not least is Dynatrace, an AI software company in the cloud sector. The company’s platform is designed to monitor and manage system architecture and cloud software as an all-in-one tool, giving network managers everything needed to minimize system strain and tag problems in one place.In these days of the ongoing corona crisis and a mass shift to remote working and virtual office spaces, Dynatrace’s product line has become more valuable than ever. This is clear from the company’s share performance – DT has only been trading publicly since August of last year, but in that time the stock has gained 71%.The quarterly results show this, too. The company’s first profitable quarter was Q4 of last year, and revenues continued to grow sequentially in Q1 and Q2 this year. In Q2, the top line was reported at $155 million, with EPS of 9 cents. The earnings beat the forecast by 80%. Not many companies have shown sequential revenue and earnings growth throughout the pandemic period – it’s a clear sign of strength for Dynatrace.Kash Rangan, 5-star analyst from Merrill Lynch, has chosen DT as his top pick, and explains why in a detailed note: “We walked away incrementally positive post the company’s first analyst day that was hosted virtually. It re-affirmed our view that Dynatrace has a highly differentiated technology, addressing a large and growing market ($30bn+), with a durable and balanced business model. Now that the move to the new platform and recurring revenues has been completed, in our view, DT can accelerate execution on becoming even more strategic with Global 15,000 customers (each with $1bn+ in revenues), which face increasingly complex multi-cloud environments.”Accordingly, Rangan gives DT shares a Buy rating, with a $50 price target that implies a 20% upside for the year ahead. (To watch Rangan’s track record, click here)All in all, Dynatrace has a Strong Buy analyst consensus rating, based on 10 Buys and 2 Holds from recent reviews. The stock’s $48.91 average price target suggests room for 17% upside growth from the current share price of $41.81. (See Dynatrace’s stock analysis at TipRanks)To find good ideas for stocks trading at attractive valuations, visit TipRanks’ Best Stocks to Buy, a newly launched tool that unites all of TipRanks’ equity insights.Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the featured analysts. The content is intended to be used for informational purposes only. It is very important to do your own analysis before making any investment.

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