Stock Quotes in this Article: CMG, EMC, LMT, SBUX, UTX, VMW

BALTIMORE (Stockpickr) -- There’s no question that we’re smack dab in the middle of one of the most uncertain markets we’ve seen since 2009. Investors are incredibly anxious about the possibility that stocks could have further to fall, and with major indices such as the S&P 500 sitting just a hair’s breadth from crucial technical support levels right now, those concerns are certainly justifiable.

But that doesn’t mean that it’s time to flee stocks.

Right now, pockets of strength are showing up in the market, and stocks with bullish sentiment from Wall Street analysts are likely to be serial outperformers. That’s why we’re looking for strength in 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 108 weeks, Rocket Stocks have outperformed the S&P 500 by a very material 74.3%.

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

    VMware

    First up this week is virtualization software giant VMware (VMW), one of TheStreet Ratings' top-rated software stocks. This stock is the clear league leader in the virtualization business, with nearly 10,000 partners and a massive customer Rolodex. VMware’s primary business comes from the push for networked storage solutions among enterprise IT departments -- it’s an industry that’s seen breakneck demand-driven growth in the last couple of years and should continue to do so in 2011.

    VMware’s large installed base means that it enjoys a large, sticky pool of customers who are willing to pay for the company’s additional management tools and software upgrades. In the past, competition has been relatively scarce in this space, enabling VMware to establish an enviable position in record time. While new rivals have certainly emerged lately, the fact that the company’s software is so prevalent and feature-rich means that VMware is still able to compete at a higher level.

    Because VMware is a wholly owned subsidiary of EMC (EMC), investors should be aware of the potential conflicts that can occur when the interests of EMC don’t line up with their own. That said, having such a powerful name behind VMware is likely much more of a benefit than a risk -- and the stock’s performance shows it.

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    United Technologies

    Diversified conglomerate United Technologies (UTX), one of TheStreet Ratings' top-rated aerospace and defense stocks, is a powerhouse in the aerospace and construction markets, two of the hardest-hit industries during the depths of 2008’s recession. Now, with most of the market risks shaken out of both sectors, uncertainty is finally diminishing in shares of this $78 billion stock.

    UTX owns a substantial portfolio of well-known brands, from Sikorsky and Pratt & Whitney in the aerospace sector to Otis and Carrier on the construction front. That mixed exposure is an attractive attribute for UTX, even if both capital-intensive industries tend to see some cyclical correlation with each other.

    The firm’s enormous backlog (which started the year at $55 billion) is a testament to its ability to perform at a high level even in a rough economy. Investors should expect that trend to continue as economic tailwinds begin to gust again.

    Financially, UTX is in solid shape, with easily manageable debt obligations and a stable source of recurring service revenues. With analyst sentiment looking strong on shares this week, we’re aligning ourselves with Wall Street.

    United Technologies shows up on recent lists of Cramer's Sensible Stocks for the Long Term and 9 Dow Stocks Likely to Outperform.

    Starbucks

    Despite the strong selling pressures of the last couple of months, 2011 is still looking strong for shares of Starbucks (SBUX), one of TheStreet Ratings' top-rated restaurant and hotel stocks. Investors are sitting on 10.3% gains year-to-date as fundamental performance continues to ring in strong. Starbucks saw significant growth during the consumption boom of the mid-2000s, building out a network of more than 16,600 stores and a still-growing retail segment.

    As discretionary retail spending slowed in 2007 and 2008, many consumers still viewed Starbucks as a necessary luxury -- and the company worked hard to diversify its meal ticket into the retail space with offerings of high-margin coffee products. While that push added considerable risk to Starbucks’ business, it’s a move that’s already panning out well (as evidenced by the company’s decision to sever a key retail distribution relationship, and go out on its own).

    While the joke of a Starbucks on every corner may be approaching reality in the saturated North American market, management has an eye to emerging market economies to fuel top-line growth in the coming years. With plans to have more than 1,500 stores in Asia by 2015, the company should benefit immensely from the brand presence it’s already built stateside.

    One big bullish bet on Starbucks in the first quarter comes from Mark Hillman's Hillman Capital; the firm decreased its position in the stock by 15.1% in the quarter, but it remains the portfolio's top holding.

    Chipotle Mexican Grill

    A food name that’s fared even better this year is Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG), another of TheStreet Ratings' top-rated restaurant stocks. The quick service chain has seen shares rally more than 26% already this year. Watch for this momentum name to continue to trade higher despite market softness elsewhere.

    Chipotle has the distinction of being one of the few major restaurant chains that didn’t just avoid painful losses during the recession -- it actually saw meaningful store growth and its first foray into international expansion. Much of the company’s success comes from its relatively low cost structure, simple menu and decision to serve hormone-free and ethically raised meat products whenever possible. It’s that element of Chipotle’s business means that helps loosen the purse strings of the often more-affluent socially conscious clientele.

    It’s fair to say that Chipotle isn’t a value stock at this point. Shares trade at a significant premium to the fundamental improvements the company has made. Still, with a new restaurant concept underway, and an enviable track record of performance in tough times, it’s no surprise that demand for Chipotle’s shares remains strong right now. Analyst sentiment is similarly bullish this week.

    Chipotle bulls include Navellier & Associates -- Chipotle is its top holding as of the most recently reported quarter -- and Renaissance Technologies.

    Lockheed Martin

    Of all of the sectors represented on this week’s Rocket Stocks screen, defense contractors were surprisingly well-represented. A handful of major defense names were present on our list, but the standout came in the form of Lockheed Martin (LMT), one of the top-yielding aerospace and defense stocks.

    While Lockheed is clearly the leader in the aerospace defense business, that’s not what’s appealing about this stock right now. Instead, it’s the company’s willingness to build out its IT consulting arm that should be capturing shareholder attention. With the budgetary crisis being faced by the U.S. government right now, defense contractors do face some realistic risks of seeing their contracts diminish in size in the next several years. Lockheed has seen the writing on the wall.
    To diversify its revenue stream, the company is looking to win over lucrative, necessary IT contracts from other Federal agencies. While still subject to government budgetary tightening, the move away from defense and into mandatory areas of the Federal budget, make considerable sense in this environment. We’ll ride the positive sentiment this week.

    As of the most recently reported period, NWQ Investment Managers owned 5 million shares of Lockheed, and Jean-Marie Eveillard's Eagle Investment Management owned 3.3 million shares.

    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.