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If you sell Woolworths Limited and Suncorp Group Ltd now, you might regret it

With the ASX slumping by almost 11% in the last year, many investors may be considering selling up and walking away. That’s especially the case since the outlook for the stock market is highly uncertain and, realistically, things could get worse in the coming weeks and months ahead. As such, by selling up now further losses could potentially be avoided.

The problem with that strategy, though, is that volatile periods are often the best times to buy rather than sell. In other words, high quality businesses which may be enduring challenging outlooks tend to trade at discounted prices during such periods, and this makes their long term total return prospects significantly higher.

For example, Woolworths Limited (ASX: WOW) has posted a share price fall of 25% in the last year and, with there having been major reshuffles in the company’s management team and board in recent months, it could be argued that Woolworths appears to be rudderless at the present time. And with the pressure from no-frills discounters such as Aldi and Costco mounting, such a situation is not appealing to investors.

However, the outlook for Woolworths may be better than at first glance. Certainly, pricing is coming under pressure from lower cost alternatives and this is hurting Woolworths’ sales and margins. But with the economy beating GDP growth expectations in the September quarter and consumer confidence remaining above the key 100 level for two months in a row in November and December, consumer spending may prove to be more resilient than is currently being priced in.

Despite this, Woolworths’ bottom line is due to fall by 27% in the current financial year and by a further 1.3% next year. Although that performance would be disappointing, Woolworths’ current valuation appears to take into account the expected decline in profitability, with it trading on a price to sales (P/S) ratio of just 0.47 and a price to earnings (P/E) ratio of 13.7. Therefore, buying it now could be a sound move, while selling Woolworths could lead to regret over the long run.

Also posting a fall in its share price in the last year is diversified financial company Suncorp Group Ltd (ASX: SUN). Its shares are down by 20% in the last 12 months and as a result of this, Suncorp trades on a price to book value (P/B) ratio of only 1.09. This is lower than the ASX’s 1.2 and the wider insurance sector’s 1.87.

Looking ahead, Suncorp is forecast to increase its earnings by 8.7% in the next financial year which, when combined with its P/E ratio of 12.4, equates to a price to earnings growth (PEG) ratio of 1.4. And with Suncorp due to deliver around $170m in cost savings over the next three years, it looks set to become a more efficient and profitable business over the longer term, too. Alongside this is a strategy to improve business intelligence between its multiple divisions so as to aid in cross-selling, with Suncorp having significant potential to do so due to its relatively wide range of products and operations.

In addition, Suncorp has a yield of 6.8% which is 200 basis points higher than that of the ASX. With interest rates being low and the outlook for the ASX being uncertain, selling a slice of Suncorp now even after a disappointing period could be an unwise move.

Despite this, there are 3 other ASX stocks that I believe could outperform Woolworths and Suncorp.

In fact, they have recently been named as The Motley Fool's 3 Top Blue-Chips For 2016 and could make a real impact on your bottom line as we move through the year. As a result, it's well worth finding out more about them.

Click here to do so – it's completely free and comes without any obligation.

Motley Fool contributor Peter Stephens has no position in any stocks mentioned. Unless otherwise noted, the author does not have a position in any stocks mentioned by the author in the comments below. The Motley Fool Australia has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson.

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