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5 Rocket Stocks to Buy for December - views
BALTIMORE (Stockpickr) -- Well, the weather outside is frightful, but the market is… well, the market is looking a whole lot better than it was just a couple of weeks ago.
Today marks the first trading day of December, and there are more than a few headlines trying to scare investors this month: the looming fiscal cliff; the ongoing drama in the eurozone; even the "end of the world" on December 21 is conspiring against Mr. Market. But those factors aren't scaring off a bounce off of a key support level down at 1350 for the S&P 500.
For that reason, there's a lot of commonality between this winter and last winter. Both periods were filled with investor anxiety, both had Mr. Market at the mercy of Capitol Hill (then, it was the debt ceiling) -- but last winter was followed up by a massive rally into the second quarter.
That's a big part of why sentiment has been shifting for the better lately. And it's why we're taking a closer look at five new Rocket Stocks to start the week.
For the uninitiated, "Rocket Stocks" are our list of companies with short-term gain catalysts and longer-term growth potential. To find them, I run a weekly quantitative screen that seeks out stocks with a combination of analyst upgrades and positive earnings surprises to identify rising analyst expectations, a bullish signal for stocks in any market. After all, where analysts' expectations are increasing, institutional cash often follows. In the last 179 weeks, our weekly list of five plays has outperformed the S&P 500 by 74.5%.
Without further ado, here's a look at this week's Rocket Stocks.
First up is IP networking giant Cisco Systems (CSCO). Cisco is the world's biggest supplier of computer networking hardware and software, making the firm a critical link in the global internet infrastructure chain. As users' needs continue to balloon, Cisco is enjoying the increased enterprise IT spending that's been filling its coffers for the last few years.
Cisco also enjoys a strong position building consumer-grade networking hardware, after acquiring Linksys back in 2003. The success may have been a bit dangerous, however -- it spurred Cisco into thinking that it should start manufacturing other consumer electronics. That proved to be a costly experiment, ultimately ending with Cisco's management shuttering its Flip camera business last year. If nothing else, the disappointment in Cisco's consumer electronics business has helped to refocus the firm on its core enterprise customer.
Financially, Cisco is in stellar shape, with more than $45 billion in cash offsetting a $16.3 billion debt load. That financial wherewithal gives Cisco ample dry powder for acquisitions in 2013 -- as long as management can avoid the urge to overpay, shareholders should be able to see added value from a deal.
Illinois Tool Works
It's been a stellar year for shareholders of Illinois Tool Works (ITW) -- the $28.5 billion diversified industrial stock has rallied more than 31% since the start of the year, easily beating the broad market's gains over that same period. Calling ITW diversified may be an understatement -- the firm has more than 800 individual units in 58 countries, spanning everything from food and beverage equipment to auto parts to commercial construction.
More than just diversified, individual units are given the freedom to make their own business choices, an approach that some corporate executive suites may see as scary. But that decentralized management approach also ensures that individual units aren't bogged down by a central management team that's overwhelmed with decision-making. Acquisitions have been a critical part of ITW's growth strategy -- and part of the reason why it has such a massive number of individual units under the corporate umbrella.
After the untimely passing of ITW CEO David Speer late last month, there are some big questions to be answered about the firm's new boss. Speer, after all, led ITW through the recession, and onto new share price highs in 2012. But successor Scott Santi has the same bona fides as Speer did (he's another lifer at ITW who joined the firm back in 1983 as a sales rep), and it's likely that he'll keep the firm on the trajectory that Speer had established. With analyst sentiment on the upswing, we're betting on shares this week.
Coach (COH), on the other hand, has had a less impressive run in 2012. Shares of the luxury handbag maker have slipped around 5% since the start of January, a time when the S&P 500 has climbed double digits. While that price action isn't ideal for the investors who own shares now, it's giving Coach an opportunity to lose the premium pricing that's scared value-seekers from shares for the past few years.
Coach makes and sells handbags and other accessories (such as wallets and umbrellas) through a network of around 465 North American stores, a large presence online, and in third party channels like department stores. Put simply, this company was a superstar during the recession. While other luxury firms stuck to their guns on price, Coach targeted mass affluent consumers, dropping prices and spurring huge sales spikes without diluting the appeal of its brand.
Now, the firm's biggest tailwinds come from emerging markets. China still offers a big opportunity for growth, as an increasingly wealthy middle class population goes on a consumption spree. While growth concerns in China have scared some investors away, they're more likely to be temporary speed bumps than they are chasms. With a dividend yield of 2.07% and valuation metrics that look far cheaper than they have anytime in the past, investors may want to give this handbag stock a second look.
Harley-Davidson (HOG) is another firm that's enjoyed the success of an incredibly strong brand. The $10.6 billion motorcycle maker is one of the most well merchandised brands, plastered on everything from trucks to t-shirts. But the big bucks come from the bikes.
Harley has long dominated the touring bike market, building big heavy cycles that earned a cult following for their comfort and their "Made in America" status. But more recently, the firm has been gaining market share by taking market from its import rivals. Bikes like the V-Rod are a big change from most folks' typical image of a Harley -- but the V-Rod has helped widen Harley's appeal in a difficult market for big-ticket toys.
Like many vehicle manufacturers, Harley Davidson has a captive finance arm that makes loans for customers looking to buy bikes. While captive finance units are a necessary evil, Harley's finance group is particularly problematic as a recreational motorcycle is typically the first payment to get late when times get tough. That said, with credit exceptionally cheap and economic metrics showing improvement as we head into 2013, investors shouldn't be too worried about HOG's finances just yet. A solid track record of deep net profit margins and large free cash flow generation should keep value flowing to shareholders in the year ahead.
Car parts firm O'Reilly Automotive (ORLY) is the second-largest auto parts chain in the country, with more than 3,700 stores spread from coast to coast. Unlike peers, who largely built their retail business first, O'Reilly started off serving the commercial auto parts market. That gives the firm existing exposure to a lucrative business that rival retailers are actively trying to acquire right now.
While the acquisition of CSK Auto in 2008 shifted O'Reilly's sales mix more to the retail side, management has been aggressively working to make CSK's stores more like the operations at legacy O'Reilly stores. There's a lot of reason to like the auto parts business, either commercial or retail. The biggest is the average age of the U.S. car fleet -- while new auto sales have been strong lately, the average car on the road today is old than it's ever been before.
As consumers look to stretch more life out of their existing cars (and justify paying more for a car than ever before), car parts companies should continue to enjoy extensive growth on their income statements. O'Reilly's sales growth has been impressive over the last several years, and its debt load is manageable. We're betting on shares of this Rocket Stock this week.
To see all of this week's Rocket Stocks in action, check out the Rocket Stocks portfolio at Stockpickr.
At the time of publication, author had no positions in stocks mentioned.
Jonas Elmerraji, CMT, is a senior market analyst at Agora Financial in Baltimore and a contributor to TheStreet. Before that, he managed a portfolio of stocks for an investment advisory returned 15% in 2008. He has been featured in Forbes , Investor's Business Daily, and on CNBC.com. Jonas holds a degree in financial economics from UMBC and the Chartered Market Technician designation.