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BALTIMORE (Stockpickr) -- Drama in the eurozone is rearing its ugly head again this morning as Greek debt talks turn tumultuous again this week. Throughout the nearly 7% rally stocks have enjoyed so far in 2012, the eurozone has been the black cloud lingering overhead. Now it’s starting to drizzle.
At this point, sentiment remains strong at home (thanks in large part to strong earnings and positive economic numbers) -- so it would take a more serious slip-up across the pond to change the upward trajectory for stocks this year. Even so, it wouldn’t be the first time Europe’s debt problems have derailed stocks here at home. While Greek debt dealings are only providing a hiccup for U.S. equity markets this morning, investors should still be well aware of developments going on in the EU.
Meanwhile, we’re coming off the heels of a particularly strong week for stocks. All told, the S&P 500 Index rallied 2.17% last week, buoyed by excitement over the lowest unemployment numbers in two full years. As good as Mr. Market’s performance was, we fared a bit better with out weekly list of Rocket Stock names, outperforming the market by 61 basis points for the week.
This week, we’ll try to do it again.
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 138 weeks, our weekly list of five plays has outperformed the S&P 500 by 83.61%.
With that, here’s a look at this week’s Rocket Stocks.
First up this week is computer giant Dell (DELL), a stock that’s been taking full advantage of bullishness in the broad market in 2012. Year-to-date, shares of the $32 billion computer manufacturer have rallied more than 20%, besting the broad market by a big margin.
But Dell can’t rest on its laurels if shareholders want that performance to keep pace for the rest of the year.
It wasn’t long ago that Dell drew comparisons with Apple (AAPL), handily beating out the iPhone maker in the computer business. But while Apple transformed its business completely, Dell remains entrenched in the computer business, an industry that’s become heavily commoditized and saturated. Even though Dell enjoys a commendable share of the market, this firm doesn’t own a defensible economic moat anymore.
Management has been working to change that lately. The company has refocused on the enterprise IT hardware and services market, a business that’s ballooned to more than a quarter of Dell’s total revenues. If Dell can prove to big-spending enterprise customers that it has best-in-breed solutions, the firm should be able to fuel margin growth and carve out a more defensible position.
With analyst sentiment ticking higher in shares, we’re betting on Dell ahead of the firm’s Feb. 21 earnings call.
Health insurer Aetna (AET), one of TheStreet Ratings' top-rated managed health care stocks, provides coverage for more than 18 million consumers in the U.S., giving the firm a spot in the health insurance oligarchy that’s dominated by a handful of large firms. Although the company is far from the league leader, being one of the “smaller” of the huge insurers actually provides Aetna some advantages in this market.
One advantage is the fact that there’s additional room for AET to capture more growth opportunities than its lumbering peers. The firm managed to do just that with its full year 2011 earnings call at the start of the month.
While health care reform legislation has been a big concern for all insurers in recent years, Aetna has actually used new bills to its advantage as a bargaining chip, squeezing out concessions from its contracted healthcare providers. The result is a firm with deeper margins and proven negotiating prowess, a winning combination in the managed care business.
Aetna’s business generates significant free cash flows, some of which are used to support a modest 1.6% dividend yield. The firm should look to increase shareholder payouts if it wants to capture investment capital from income investors who are currently more taken by higher-yielding rivals. The firm has the financial health to support a dividend hike in 2012.
Bed Bath & Beyond
Bed Bath & Beyond (BBBY) has had a major run in the last year, rallying more than 30% while other retailers got hammered by weak consumer sentiment. Now, with rising expectations among Wall Street analysts, this 1,000-store home furnishings store is primed to make a repeat performance in 2012.
Much of Bed Bath & Beyond’s success can be attributed to its unique stores. The firm’s flagship franchise is renowned for its merchandising prowess, and more nascent store chains like Buy Buy Baby and Christmas Tree Shops are following in its footsteps. BBBY should be a major beneficiary of increasing consumer spending in 2012 -- and the firm’s international growth initiatives are likely to continue to heat up this year as well.
From a financial standpoint, Bed Bath & Beyond is in stellar shape. The firm has historically used its own cash to build new stores, a strategy that avoided the super-expansionary downfall of many rivals during the recession and left the company with a spotless, debt-free balance sheet.
With plenty of dry powder on hand, BBBY is in good shape to keep up with its strategy this year.
Bed Bath & Beyond shows up on a list of 10 S&P 500 Stocks for 2012.
Broadcom (BRCM) designs and sells semiconductors, providing solutions to electronics manufacturers who are looking for set functionality out of a single chip. The growth of mobile phones and other “connected” consumer technologies (such as households’ set-top boxes) has been a major growth catalyst for Broadcom in the last few years, helping to spur significant revenue and profit growth throughout the recession.
One of the most attractive attributes about Broadcom’s model is the fact that the company doesn’t own its own production facilities. Instead, it outsources those tasks to third parties.
While that decision does expose the company to some added risks, it also means that the company doesn’t have to carry the costs of extremely expensive manufacturing facilities on its balance sheet. That means that Broadcom is more able to weather economic downturns than most of its peers.
With the company’s products on the right side of a major trend, and a handful of analyst events slated for February, this stock has plenty of opportunities to ratchet higher in the near-term.
We’re betting on BRCM this week.
Electronic instruments maker Ametek (AME), one of TheStreet Ratings' top-rated electrical equipment stocks, has its hand in everything from temperature sensors to specialty motors used by original equipment manufacturers. That niche business affords AME a sticky customer base with a high switching cost, two critical factors for success in the manufacturing sector last year.
Now, with many competitors shaken out of the market, Ametek is primed to succeed in the years ahead.
Ametek has traditionally gone after a growth-though-acquisition approach to increasing its scale, a model that’s proven especially effective in increasing revenues without creating extra distractions for management. Because new units are able to operate (and be evaluated) independently, the firm has extra top line diversification.
Significant international exposure has added even more. With much of that coming from the emerging markets right now, AME looks well positioned to benefit from secular tailwinds abroad even if a strong dollar has been a detractor in the short-term.
In spite of an acquisition-hungry model, the firm’s balance sheet looks strong, a fact that can be attributed to consistent double-digit net margins. Even though Ametek may not operate in the most exciting business, investors shouldn’t eschew the excitement in the firm’s growth potential.
To see all of this week’s Rocket Stocks in action, check out the Rocket Stocks portfolio at Stockpickr.
-- Written by Jonas Elmerraji in Baltimore.
At the time of publication, author had no positions in stocks mentioned.
Jonas Elmerraji, based out of Baltimore, is the editor and portfolio manager of the Rhino Stock Report, a free investment advisory that returned 15% in 2008. He is a contributor to numerous financial outlets, including Forbes and Investopedia, and has been featured in Investor's Business Daily, in Consumer's Digest and on MSNBC.com.