Equity markets have had a good start to the year with themes such as Big Tech continuing to reign supreme among investors. The benchmark S & P 500 Index is up around 4% year to date after a 24% rise in 2023. However, ongoing political tensions, still-high inflation levels and uncertainty over when the U.S. Federal Reserve will cut interest rates have raised questions about which sectors — and stocks — will outperform looking ahead. For Kevin Teng, CEO of Wrise Wealth Management Singapore, which serves ultra-high-net-worth individuals across Asia, the Middle East and Europe, three top stocks stand out as good plays right now. Microsoft Top on Teng’s list is Microsoft . A member of the so-called Magnificent Seven — along with Google parent Alphabet , Amazon , Apple , Meta Platforms , Nvidia and Tesla — it was a top-performing stock in 2023. Microsoft remains a favorite for Teng this year as it is “strategically transforming itself amid declining PC sales [and] focusing on cloud computing and mobile technology.” “Despite its challenges in the PC segment, Microsoft’s Windows operating system dominates the PC market globally at around 90%. The company is also relying on robust revenue from other segments like Azure, Office 365 and Dynamic CRM to boost its revenue,” Teng, who was previously an executive director of private wealth management at Morgan Stanley, told CNBC Pro on Jan. 30. Microsoft last week reported a 17.6% year-over-year increase in its revenue for its quarter ending Dec. 31. Teng noted that the tech giant’s “diverse software applications make it a key player in the digital transition,” adding that its strong presence in cloud infrastructure and ties with OpenAI make it well-placed to meet the rising demand for generative AI. Over the last 12 months, shares in Microsoft are up almost 60%. Of 52 analysts covering the stock, 48 give it a buy or overweight rating at an average price of $460.37, according to FactSet data. This gives it upside potential of almost 12%. ExxonMobil In the energy sector, Teng likes oil and gas giant ExxonMobil given its “visible upstream growth, improved downstream/chemicals capacity, long-term potential from low-carbon investments and strong balance sheet supporting higher capital returns.” His optimism about the stock comes despite mixed sentiment on the energy sector following ongoing geopolitical uncertainties and fluctuating oil prices. The energy giant last week reported quarterly earnings that beat analysts’ expectations, but profit fell compared to a year before on lower oil prices. A key catalyst Teng sees for ExxonMobil is its acquisition of Pioneer Natural Resources in an all-stock transaction, valued at almost $60 billion. The deal is expected to close by mid-2024. Exxon has said its production volume in the Permian Basin located in West Texas and New Mexico would more than double to 1.3 million barrels of oil equivalent per day once the deal closes. Other opportunities include growth prospects from the company’s discoveries in Guyana between 2025 and 2026, Teng added. Over the last 12 months, shares in ExxonMobil are down over 8%. Of 29 analysts covering the company, 19 have a buy or overweight rating on the stock at an average price target of $124.94, giving it upside potential of around 22.5%, according to FactSet data. Barrick Gold Beyond tech and energy, Teng is also bullish on gold, naming Canadian miner Barrick Gold among his top picks. “We hold a positive outlook on gold due to geopolitical uncertainties, making it a reliable safe haven investment during economic challenges,” he explained. Spot gold prices are up around 7.5% over the last 12 months. “Despite the lag in performance among gold miners compared to the rising gold prices since 2023, Barrick Gold, being one of the largest gold miners, is poised to benefit from the expected price recovery,” Teng said. He is expecting a “sequential improvement” in the company’s output following the expansion in its production of copper production to 240,000 metric tons from the current 150,000 metric tons in its Lumwana copper mine in Zambia. A similar boost in production levels is also expected at its Reko Diq copper-gold project in Pakistan, Teng said. Barrick Gold’s expansion plans collectively “positions it for potential growth in the coming year,” he added. Shares in Barrick Gold are down over 15% over the last 12 months. Of 23 analysts covering the company, 16 have a buy or overweight rating on the stock at an average price target of 29 Canadian dollars ($21.52), giving it upside potential of almost 40%. — CNBC’s Jordan Novet and Fred Imbert contributed to this report.