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Food & dining, an upgrade for a Dow stock and the energy trade ahead of OPEC

Key Points
  • The "Halftime Report" traders and UBS Head of Asset Allocation Erin Browne tackle Thursday's Trader Blitz picks.
  • Erin Browne is bullish on energy stocks ahead of Friday's OPEC meeting in Vienna.
  • Steve Weiss argued that Kroger has the "best management" in the grocery store industry.

The "Halftime Report" traders and Erin Browne of UBS Asset Management weighed in on some of the biggest market movers that made headlines on Thursday.

Darden Restaurants, the parent company of Olive Garden and Longhorn Steakhouse, hit an all-time high after topping analyst expectations for Q4 earnings. Joe Terranova sees no signs of the stock slowing down.

"This company is clearly hitting on all the metrics. No reason to believe it doesn't continue," he said.

Food & Dining in the blitz. Plus, an upgrade for a Dow stock, and the energy trade ahead of OPEC

Verizon traded higher on Thursday after Goldman Sachs upgraded the stock to a "buy" rating with a $56 price target. (16 upside from Wednesday's close.) Shares have fallen nearly 8 percent so far in 2018, but Goldman Sachs believes the company is "positioned as long-term leaders in broadband and 5G" and has an attractive valuation. Verizon currently trades at 10 times next 12-months' earnings, compared to 17 times for the broader S&P 500.

HPM Partners' Jim Lebenthal doesn't view the telecom company as positively as Goldman, and took a more skeptical view of Verizon's business strategy.

"I guess I'm colored by the last five years of this stock really going nowhere," Lebenthal said. "I thought the acquisition of AOL and Yahoo! might propel content and bigger revenue...I would wait to see more indications that their strategy is paying off."

Kroger shares recorded their best day in 9 years after the supermarket chain reported strong quarterly results. Short Hills Capital Partners' Steve Weiss was bullish on the stock.

Weiss argued that the grocery store chain's story "isn't fully told" and that despite the success of the Amazon/Whole Foods merge Kroger "has the best management" in the industry. Kroger shares have risen 27 percent over the past year.

Separately, OPEC oil ministers are set to meet for Friday's biannual meeting in Vienna, Austria, where potential easing of supply constraints will be in focus for investors. Erin Browne believes the meeting will serve as a catalyst that could send energy stocks higher. Energy ETF (XLE) has fallen more than 6 percent in the past month alone.

"I think [the selloff] is overdone," Erin said. "I expect that we're going to get an add tomorrow to global supply but it's going to be somewhat moderate and I expect that you'll see energy stocks bounce back."