Stock Quotes in this Article: AAPL, ACN, ARG, BBBY, DD

BALTIMORE (Stockpickr) -- Friday marks the first trading day of July -- but will the new month bring a shift in market sentiment for beaten-down investors?

It’s certainly possible -- after all, it was June 1 that sparked the month-long selloff in S&P 500 stocks to this point, erasing all but 0.86% of the year-to-date gains that stocks had previously held. But while the first day of any new month is psychologically significant for market participants, it’s a whole lot less statistically significant. Instead, the key is to buy into pockets of strength in any market.

That’s why we’re turning to a new set of Rocket Stock plays for this week.

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    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 quantitative screen that seeks out stocks with a combination of analyst upgrades and positive earnings surprises.

    It’s a strategy that’s been working out pretty well. In the last 109 weeks, Rocket Stocks have outperformed the S&P 500 by a very material 77.3%.

    With that, here’s a look at this week’s Rocket Stocks.

     

    Apple

    Tech giant Apple (AAPL) has officially held onto “Wall Street darling” status for the last couple of years, and rightly so -- the $300 billion company has carved out an enviable economic moat in the mobile device and content distribution businesses in the last decade, and it doesn’t look like any challengers can knock this company from its perch.

    Apple is also one of the few “fad” names that can back up its proponents from a fundamental standpoint; with more than $65 billion in sales last year (and more than $14 billion in profits), the company’s operations are truly massive today.

    A major catalyst for that growth is the success of its iPhone and iPad products, which use the iOS operating system. iOS boasts a massive installed base in 2011, and as a result, Apple is able to leverage its user base to sell content such as music, movies and applications -- today, the iTunes store is the largest music distributor in the world. With Mac sales already churning at high levels, the push toward mobile domination isn’t an either/or proposition. Apple has proven that it can succeed in both areas.

    Earlier this month, Apple announced a handful of new products, including new versions of its iOS and Mac OSX operating systems. One of the more significant announcements was that of iCloud, a new set of free cloud services that are designed to work with Apple’s existing services. Set to release this fall, iCloud is a solid example of steps the company is taking to cement its user-base in 2011. We’re betting on shares this week.

    Apple, one of George Soros' top holdings, shows up on a recent list of Stocks Set to Rebound in the Second Half of 2011.

    DuPont

    Despite nonstop selling pressures, 2011 is turning out to be a solid year for DuPont (DD) shareholders. The company is looking at total returns in the mid-single digits year-to-date when its 3.16% dividend yield is factored in. That’s an impressive bit of performance for a basic materials stock in a sluggish economy. And now, Wall Street analysts are taking note of the outlook in shares of this company.

    DuPont is a major chemical manufacturer that has a hand in everything from the materials used in bulletproof vests to genetically modified agricultural products. It’s that diverse portfolio of offerings that’s enabled DuPont to thrive even in tough economies. The firm’s focus on food and agricultural products, for instance, has been a boon to earnings given the recent rally in soft commodities. Investors should expect that product adaptation to continue in the future.

    Corporate culture is critical at a blue chip name like DuPont. Executives at the firm tend to be lifers who prioritize research and development spending; investors should applaud that forward-looking use of capital. A hefty dividend payout -- DuPont's one of the

    top-yielding conglomerates stocks -- should continue to attract investors to this chemical firm; for now, rising analyst sentiment is attracting us to shares.

    DuPont was hired last month in "5 Large-Cap Stocks for a Choppy Market."

    Accenture

    Professional consulting firm Accenture (ACN), one of TheStreet Ratings' top-rated IT services stocks, has fared even better this year. In 2011, shares have climbed more than 17% on the heels of solid earnings results this year. Investors should be looking to ride the trend higher in the second half of the year.

    Accenture was spun off from now-disgraced accounting firm Arthur Andersen long ago (and long before the Enron scandal tainted the former parent), and as a result, the company has one of the biggest track records in the consulting business. The company’s current operations span 53 counties with a deep customer Rolodex of Fortune 500 corporations. Since the beginning of the downturn, Accenture has worked to trim its own costs and ensure that management could maintain a high level of profitability.

    While the recent recession meant that new business was more difficult to come by for Accenture and its peers, the company fared much better than many of its competitors thanks in part to its longstanding relationships and proven value. Because many of Accenture’s clients hire the firm to help reduce costs and improve efficiency, bookings coming out of the recession have been strong. I expect that will continue for the foreseeable future.

    Big bullish bets on Accenture in the first quarter come from Steve Mandel's Lone Pine Capital, with a 3.4 million-share position, and Wallace Weitz, with a 1.5 million-share position.

    Airgas

    Even though the gas business may not be the most glamorous, it’s proven very lucrative for Airgas (ARG). The $5.35 billion company is the country’s largest supplier of gasses for industrial, medical and specialty uses.

    Airgas currently lays claim to around a quarter of the packaged gas market in the U.S., an enviable market position that’s unlikely to be unseated. While there is significant competition in the industry, the sheer number of tuck-in acquisitions undertaken by Airgas ensures that the company is able to compete geographically with smaller suppliers and large names like Praxair (PX) that have far fewer locations. From a cost perspective, smaller operations can’t match up with Airgas’ business.

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    Even though lower industrial demand threatens Airgas’ sales numbers, Wall Street’s demand-side concerns are likely overblown. Post-2008 sales have consistently checked in much higher than previous years.

    According to Karvy Global, AirGas is one of 9 Companies With Raised Dividends and Upside.

    Bed Bath & Beyond

    Housewares retailer Bed Bath & Beyond (BBBY) arguably holds the most-attractive positioning in the industry, offering a one-stop shop for everything from fine china to kegerators at its namesake stores -- and the firm manages to do that at prices that its competitors have difficulty matching. An aggressive coupon strategy means that value-conscious shoppers frequent Bed Bath & Beyond’s locations in search of big-ticket items, typically adding discretionary purchases to their carts in the process.

    In an industry that’s been under pressure alongside the housing market, Bed Bath & Beyond has actually generated positive growth and maintained near-double-digit margins. Those are very impressive operating attributes that can only improve as consumers loosen their purse strings alongside some semblance of an economic recovery. Likewise, the firm’s smaller retail brands have been solid performers and currently have room for expansion.

    One of the most attractive attributes of Bed Bath & Beyond’s growth is the fact that the company has built out its store footprint through cash on hand, not debt. As a result, this blemish-free balance sheet puts the company in a much better position than its peers if economic headwinds perk up again. With analyst sentiment on the upswing, we’re betting on shares.

    Bed Bath & Beyond shows up on a recent list of Cramer's Buying Opportunities.

    To see this week’s sentiment plays in action, check out the Rocket Stocks portfolio at Stockpickr.

    -- Written by Jonas Elmerraji in Baltimore.

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    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.