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Bottom of the Barrel: The Portfolio Gets a Spring Cleaning

With a new season quickly approaching, it seems like a good time to do some spring-cleaning. Over the past week, I've dusted off the stocks in the Bottom of the Barrel portfolio and put most of them back, although some are now in different places.

As I conclude a week of rest and relaxation, here's a look at the newly polished Bottom of the Barrel portfolio.

Standouts

The best performer in the portfolio has been Witness Systems (WITS), the Georgia-based purveyor of customer service tracking systems. Its technology monitors the performance and efficiency of call centers that handle reservations, sales and inquiries for companies around the globe. This stock is up more than 60% since first mentioned in October, but I still like its prospects.

Witness turned a profit in the fourth quarter and continues to expand its offerings both internationally and in midsize companies. I also like its conservative accounting practices, which are sometimes rare finds in aggressive small-caps.


Barrel Spring Cleaning
A little tinkering is a good thing
Original Rating Current Outlook Company/Ticker Date of Mention Mar 12 Close Mention Price* Price Last Week % Change From Mention % Change Weekly
Positive Outlook
2.5 Positive Cost Plus World Markets (CPWM:Nasdaq) March 6, 2002 $27.23 $25.83 $25.21 5.42% 8.01%
2.5 Positive Rare Hospitality (RARE:Nasdaq) Feb. 20, 2002 24.21 25.72 26.81 -5.87 -9.70
2 Positive Endocare (ENDO:Nasdaq) Jan. 23, 2002 15.39 18.21 15.60 -15.49 -1.35
2.5 Positive SurModics (SRDX:Nasdaq) Dec. 19, 2001 38.18 34.60 37.90 10.35 0.74
2.5 Positive VitalWorks (VWKS:Nasdaq) Nov. 21, 2001 4.97 4.30 4.93 15.58 0.81
2 Positive FPIC Insurance (FPIC:Nasdaq) Nov. 14, 2001 12.32 12.83 12.65 -3.98 -2.61
3 Positive Witness Systems (WITS:Nasdaq) Oct. 31, 2001 13.27 8.06 13.68 64.64 -3.00
Market Outlook
3 Market NetBank (NTBK:Nasdaq) Feb. 6, 2002 15.84 13.45 14.83 17.77 6.81
2.5 Market Coastal Bancorp (CBSA:Nasdaq) Dec. 12, 2001 32.68 27.84 31.56 17.39 3.55
2.5 Market Coinstar (CSTR:Nasdaq) Nov. 7, 2001 32.28 19.96 27.26 61.72 18.42
2.5 Market Hibbett Sports (HIBB:Nasdaq)** Oct. 24, 2001 25.26 20.04 22.95 26.05 10.07
2.5 Market Quixote (QUIX:Nasdaq) Oct. 3, 2001 18.00 21.44 18.04 -16.04 -0.22
Special Situation
1 Special Sit. Luby's (LUB:NYSE) Feb. 27, 2002 6.74 6.22 6.37 8.36 5.81
3 Special Sit. Quanta Systems (PWR:NYSE) Jan. 9, 2002 16.41 16.05 15.66 2.24 4.79
Avoid
Barricade Avoid Actrade (ACRT:NYSE) Jan. 30, 2002 17.00 20.65 15.36 -17.68 10.68
0.5 Avoid Goody's Family Clothing (GDYS:Nasdaq) Nov. 28, 2001 5.40 4.50 4.22 20.00 27.96
1 Avoid Bridgford Foods (BRID:Nasdaq) Oct. 10, 2001 10.75 13.18 10.95 -18.44 -1.83
Income Portfolio
Yield
2.5 6.04 Empire District Electric (EDE:NYSE) Jan. 16, 2002 21.01 21.23 20.68 -1.04 1.60
2.5 2.43 Met-Pro (MPR:NYSE) Oct. 17, 2001 14.11 11.16 13.32 26.43 5.93
2.5 4.62 Integra Bancorp (IBNK:Nasdaq) Jan. 2, 2002 19.81 20.75 20.23 -4.53 -2.08
3 4.49 Alexandria Real Estate (ARE:NYSE) Feb.13, 2002 42.18 40.25 42.15 4.80 0.07
*Average price on date of mention.
**Prices Adjusted for 3:2 split on Feb 20, 2002.
Source: TSC Research

The other name to watch closely is SurModics (SRDX - Get Report), a Minnesota-based maker of medical device coatings. SurModics' partnership with Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) to develop Rapamycin-coated stents for use in angioplasty continues to move forward. The new stent has a medicinal coating that helps prevent artery blockage. The product should be launched for general use in Europe in the second half of the year and in the U.S. potentially as early as next year.

I also still like NetBank (NTBK) and the potential from its pending merger with Resource Mortgage. However, its 17%-plus gain since its mention in February is pretty steep. Although NetBank's prospects remain bright, I'm moving this stock into the Market Outlook group of the portfolio.

Rare Hospitality (RARE) has experienced some profit-taking in the past two days, after nice gains since I highlighted it on Feb. 20. I still believe that this Atlanta-based owner of steakhouses will do well as the economy recovers, most likely as spring turns to summer. It remains a good name in the midpriced, casual dining space.

Names to Avoid

The names on the avoid list don't change. But given the continued turmoil at Actrade (ACRT), I'm changing this stock from its previous two-barrel rating to a warning rating, represented by the introduction of our flashing traffic barricade. The company's recent sudden change in strategy as well as concerns over its executive team make Actrade a very unappealing selection. (For an explanation of our barrel rating system, see our recent description. )

Goody's Family Clothing (GDYS) has seen a nice recovery in the past two months. However, it continues to feel the pressure of Kohl's (KSS) in large markets like Atlanta and of general merchandise discounters like Wal-Mart (WMT) in smaller markets. There are better retailers to own than Goody's.

Barrel Potpourri

The second-best performer in the Barrel portfolio, behind Witness Systems, is Coinstar (CSTR), the purveyor of that green coin-counting machine you see at the front of your local grocery store. While the convenience (and fun) of dumping your spare change into those bins and getting money in return are cool, the stock, which is trading at a price-to-earnings multiple of nearly 55 times, appears fully valued.

The original Barrel stock, Quixote (QUIX), the Chicago-based maker of highway safety equipment, continues to feel the pinch from reductions in state highway construction budgets. That trend likely won't change soon, but an uptick in the economy should help this stock. I look for Quixote to tread water in the first half of the year, but investor interest should return in the second half.

All of the companies in the income portfolio -- Alexandria Real Estate (ARE), Empire District Electric (EDE), Integra Bancorp (IBNK) and Met-Pro (MPR) -- continue to pay solid dividends and remain favorites for those looking for small-cap income. I especially like Empire District, a stable Midwestern utility with a good customer base, little regulatory risk, a 6%-plus yield and the continued potential of a takeover at a premium price.

So, there you have it, a quick review of many of the Bottom of the Barrel portfolio stocks. Next week, I'll add another name to the portfolio and keep tabs on my picks.


Do you have candidates for Bottom of the Barrel? If so, shoot me an email with the company's name, why you think it qualifies and your full name and hometown. If I profile your suggestion, I'll send you a TSC gift to commemorate your pick.
Christopher S. Edmonds is president of Resource Dynamics, a private financial consulting firm based in Atlanta. At time of publication, neither Edmonds nor his firm held positions in any securities mentioned in this column, 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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