Shopping for consumer staples stocks

As consumer staples stocks reach for new highs, some laggards are being eyed by analysts as "catch up" plays.

The S&P consumer staples sector was at an all-time high Wednesday morning, and the defensive group has been rising even as the S&P 500 sets record highs.

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One stock analysts are watching is Hershey, which is down around 1 percent this year. The chocolate maker missed Wall Street's earnings estimates and lowered its 2014 forecast in its third quarter earnings, citing higher dairy prices and mixed international sales growth.

With Hershey stock now sitting 11 percent off their recent high, Athlos Research's Jonathan Feeney says the stock's growth prospects are bright.

"I really like Hershey going into next year," Feeney said. "I like that the price is coming up significantly and the industry showed some discipline, and while the valuation is still a little bit above historical average, it's well off its highs."

Hershey's
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Avon Products is the biggest laggard in the sector, currently trading more than 40 percent off its 52-week high. The beauty product company's sales have been slammed over the past two quarters in the midst of a global restructuring plan.

Still, many Wall Street pros expect the price of Avon to rise more than 25 percent, based on price target ratings of 17 analysts polled by FactSet. BTIG analyst April Scee recently reiterated her buy rating on Avon, saying the recent underperformance represents a buying opportunity.

"We believe financial analysts underestimate the health of Avon's brand," Scee said in a research note. "The brand stands for something, which resonates with the millennial consumer."

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Another beauty company that could be ripe for return is Estee Lauder. The stock is off about 7 percent from its recent high and has struggled this month by losing 4 percent of its value. Shares tumbled after Estee Lauder lowered its guidance in its first quarter earnings, citing weakness in Asia.

However, analysts remain bullish expecting Estee Lauder's stock price to increase by more than 13 percent over the next 12 to 18 months, according to FactSet. Stifel Nicolaus' Mark Astrachan reiterated his "buy" rating on the stock following the earnings release.

"We maintain our Buy rating and $85 per share price target," Astrachan said in a research note. "We believe Estée continues to gain share of the global prestige beauty category, a trend we anticipate will continue longer-term given a best-in-class collection of brands and further developing market growth."

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