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Under the Radar: Quarterly Report Card

As promised when I began the Under the Radar column this summer, I've kept track of my picks and pans. Now I'll reveal the score as well as provide follow-up where appropriate.

The first quarter wasn't too bad. While my picks -- ideas for "long positions" -- yielded an average return of just over 2%, that's well above the market. In a quarter that favored "shorts," my pans provided an average return of nearly 20% from the date of mention.

But not all of them were right. Remember, this column takes a look at emerging trends, speculation and less-than-obvious news that could make you money. That raises the risk of being wrong, and I made my share of bad calls. Let's take a look.

Longing for Results

The third quarter was difficult for most investors, with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks adding to an already difficult economic environment. With the S&P 500 losing 15% and the Nasdaq dropping nearly 30%, any positive returns on the long side are worth celebrating.

Long Ideas With Mixed Results
Still looking for mergers to lend a hand
Company/Ticker First Mention Price Current Price Performance From Mention*
Philip Morris (MO:NYSE) Aug. 10 $44.11 $49.85 13.01%
Mirant (MIR:NYSE) Aug. 10 31.10 24.92 -19.87
NRG (NRG:NYSE) Aug. 10 17.15 17.00 -0.87
Orion Power (ORN:NYSE)*** Aug. 10 20.49 25.29 23.43
Con Ed (ED:NYSE) Aug. 10 41.79 41.41 0.41
PSE&G (PEG:NYSE) Aug. 10 46.06 43.74 -3.86
HRPT Properties (HRP:NYSE) Aug. 10 8.76 8.18 -6.62
Air Tran (AAI:NYSE)*** Aug. 17 7.80 5.99 -23.21
Anderson Exploration (AXN:NYSE)*** Aug. 24 18.64 25.41 36.32
Husky Energy (HSE:Toronto) Sept. 7 18.30 18.05 -1.37
Canadian Hunter (HTR:Toronto) Sept. 7 34.85 41.85 20.09
Rio Alto Exploration (RAX:Toronto) Sept. 7 21.55 19.75 -8.35
Alberta Energy (AOG:NYSE) Sept. 7 36.19 35.34 -2.35
Average Return** 2.06%
*Including any dividends. **Simple average, no time weighting. ***Current Price is price on date when opinion change as noted or merger announced and profits taken. Source: TSC Research.

Of the handful of winners on the long side, two companies involved in deals led the pack: Anderson Exploration (AXN - Get Report) and Orion Power (ORN). Anderson is being acquired by Devon Energy (DVN), and Orion is being purchased by Reliant Resources (RRI). If you took my suggestion (or abided by the general rule) and took profits when the deals were announced, you'd have seen a 32% return from Anderson and a 23% gain from Orion.

One other name, Canadian Hunter Energy (HTR:Toronto), is up 20% since being featured as a takeover candidate in early September. A deal with Phillips (P) may be in the works for around $45 to $50 per Canadian Hunter share, which was lately trading near the $40 level. Both companies declined to comment.

Three other Canadian energy names -- Husky Energy (HSE:Toronto), Rio Alto Exploration (RAX:Toronto) and Alberta Energy (AOG) -- have been mentioned in recent weeks. All still remain solid Canadian energy consolidation plays, although their prices have slipped marginally. All three names will benefit from the winter seasonal focus on energy as well as from other deals likely to be announced in the coming months. (All Canadian stocks trading in Toronto are quoted in Canadian dollars.)

My worst idea of the quarter was hinting that AirTran's (AAI) move to the Big Board would be a steppingstone to better times for the discount airline. Less than a week after suggesting a look at AirTran, the company warned third-quarter earnings would be light. While I quickly changed my view, it wasn't before a 23% drop in the stock. That clipped my wings, and I've taken AirTran off the radar.

Another poor suggestion for the quarter was Mirant (MIR), the independent power producer that was once a part of Southern (SO). Mirant's stock didn't react to higher power demand in the Northeast as predicted, sinking on concerns over too much new power chasing too little demand. The stock has rebounded recently, along with NRG (NRG), which I also mentioned at the time. I still like -- and own -- both at these prices.

One other winner worth mentioning is Philip Morris (MO), which was cited as a dividend-pop candidate. Indeed, on Aug. 29, the company boosted its dividend by more than 9%. The stock is up more than 13% since my initial mention. While I'm not as enthusiastic after recent gains, its strong financial position and hefty dividend make it a safe hiding place.

Speaking of dividends, keep your eye on HRPT Properties (HRP), which I mentioned in the same column. My source -- a solid hedge fund manager -- continues to say the stock is cheap and thinks a dividend pop of nearly 50% will come in the next year. "We are still buying," he says.

Shorts Grow Tall

While I posted mixed results with my picks, my pans fared much better. The only loser on the short side was Edison International (EIX), the parent of troubled utility Southern California Edison. While a federal judge approved a plan that may keep the utility out of bankruptcy in the near term, its long-term future remains uncertain.

Short Shots: Long on Profits
Economy caught up with homebuilders, others
Company/Ticker First Mention Price Current Price Performance From Mention*
Beazer Homes (BZH:NYSE) Aug. 10 $64.47 $49.45 23.30%
Ryland (RYL:NYSE) Aug. 10 52.99 48.00 9.42
Lennar (LEN:NYSE) Aug. 10 41.00 36.93 9.93
Toll Brothers (TOL:NYSE) Aug. 10 35.51 31.57 11.10
Boeing (BA:NYSE) Aug. 17 55.13 36.38 34.01
Edison International (EIX:NYSE) Aug. 17 14.09 15.80 -12.14
Acadia Realty (AKR:NYSE) Aug. 17 7.00 6.30 10.00
Glimcher Realty (GRT:NYSE) Aug. 17 18.69 16.50 9.15
Air Canada (AC:Toronto) Aug. 24 7.38 2.46 66.67
AirTran (AAI:NYSE) Aug. 24 5.99 4.49 25.04
Average Return** 18.65%
*Including any dividends. **Simple average, no time weighting. Source: TSC Research.

My best short idea came from north of the border. Air Canada's (AC:Toronto) price appeared lofty when I profiled it in late August. Indeed, it has dropped nearly 67%. While it's so cheap that covering makes some sense, my colleague Holly Hegeman named the company as a bankruptcy candidate earlier this week.

In August, I also suggested Boeing (BA - Get Report) would struggle as the economy slowed. Since then, the stock is down nearly 34%, although a great deal of that decline is related to the Sept. 11 tragedy. While a turnaround may be months, if not quarters, away, covering at current levels seems reasonable.

I also hit pay dirt, so to speak, when I suggested it was time to run from the homebuilders. Companies like Beazer Homes (BZH - Get Report), Ryland (RYL), Lennar (LEN) and Toll Brothers (TOL) all deconstructed as the economy drooped, losing an average of more than 10%.

The hedge fund manager who suggested the short in August says he covered some of his positions before Sept. 11 as "investors began to connect the dots regarding the story." But he has recently increased short exposure as "the economy has become worse, not better, and that isn't good for the homebuilders." He is currently short Lennar, Ryland and Toll as well as KB Home (KBH).

Finally, I mentioned two REITs with exposure to Ames Department Stores (AMESQ:Nasdaq) that could feel pressure from the Ames bankruptcy: Acadia Realty (AKR) and Glimcher Realty (GRT). Both have declined about 10% since that column appeared Aug. 17, and while the economy could put more pressure on retail REITs, I'm content with the profit and ready to move on.

Overall, I give myself a B to B+ -- some solid picks, but some gaffes as well. I won't despair. Instead, I'll return next Friday with more stealth ideas that could make you money in the weeks and months ahead. Stay tuned.
Christopher S. Edmonds is president of Resource Dynamics, a private financial consulting firm based in Atlanta. At time of publication, Edmonds' firm was long Mirant, Southern and NRG, although holdings can change at any time. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. While Edmonds cannot provide investment advice or recommendations, he welcomes your feedback and invites you to send it to Chris Edmonds.

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