Face-Off on Stocks: Alcoa, Caterpillar, United Technologies

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It's no secret growth in China and other emerging markets is going to outpace expansion in developed markets like the U.S., Japan and Europe for years to come. Fortunately, U.S. investors looking for exposure to such growth needn't venture very far. Alcoa (AA), Caterpillar (CAT) and United Technologies (UTX) afford the safety and security of the bluest of blue-chip stocks (they're all in the Dow), while also being plays on a China-led global recovery.

Shareholders in Alcoa, the aluminum giant, would just as soon put 2010 behind them. The stock is off more than 11% so far this year while the broader S&P 500 ($INX) is up about 12%. Shares look cheap at these levels, seeing as Alcoa currently offers deep discounts to its own five-year average and the broader market on a forward earnings basis. On the other hand, aluminum prices can be very fickle, especially every time China moves to cool down its red-hot economy.

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Caterpillar, the largest global manufacturer of heavy construction equipment, is up a whopping 63% for the year to date. As commodity prices rise, so too does demand for the equipment needed to build mining and energy projects. To that end, Cat's recently acquired mining equipment maker Bucyrus in a $9 billion deal. If you're bullish on higher commodity prices, Cat looks intriguing. However, the stock's torrid 2010 has its relative valuation looking a bit stretched by some measures -- and there is the very real concern Cat may have overpaid for Bucyrus.

United Technologies, a conglomerate including Otis elevators, Carrier heating and cooling, Pratt & Whitney aircraft engines and Sikorsky helicopters, has been getting along on restructuring savings and overseas growth. The stock is up nearly 14% this year, which is about a couple percentage points better than the S&P 500. Domestic demand in commercial and industrial infrastructure remains sluggish, but sales to emerging markets and the jet engine business are encouraging. Shares are at a discount to the S&P 500 by forward earnings, but with 41% of UTX's sales coming from the U.S., slow growth at home could cause profit to come up short.
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