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TheStreet Open House

Telecom Beats Utilities as Stocks Tank

Stocks in this article: GSLDLIATFLEXVODCMGPTGIBWLD

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Telecommunications stocks, especially those that pay big dividends, are more attractive bets than other safe investments such as utilities and consumer staples, says Stephen Roseman, manager of the Thesis Flexible Fund (TFLEX). He favors Vodaphone (VOD) and Primus Telecommunications (PTGI).

The mutual fund is down 9.7% this year, putting it in Morningstar's 91st percentile for long/short stock funds that bet on rising and declining share prices. Over the past year, the Thesis Flexible Fund has lost 3%, better than 76% of all funds in its category.

You own Primus Communications, which recently jumped from the Pink Sheets to the New York Stock Exchange.

Roseman: That was one of the catalysts why we got involved in Primus. It was, in fact, a Pink Sheet-listed post-bankruptcy stock, trading at a very attractive valuation. Recently, they closed on an acquisition of a company called Arbinet, which made it a much bigger company at about a billion dollars in revenue. So it's much more attractive, not only on an operating basis but also as a potential takeout. And it's cheap.

Staying in telecom, you are also a fan of Vodaphone. Is this a dividend play on your part?

Roseman: It is a dividend play. During uncertain economic times, you look for stable dividends and stable cash flow businesses. You can certainly find that in telecommunications, consumer staples and utilities. Of the three, I happen to like telecommunications best right now. Consumer-packaged goods are still facing some significant commodities headwinds. I am not a huge fan of the utilities because of the regulatory environment. That leaves us with telecommunications. Vodafone has a chunky dividend and is a nice addition to the portfolio because of the volatile markets.

Now that back-to-school is coming up, what are your expectations for teen-fashion retailer Delia's (DLIA), one of your largest holdings?

Roseman: Delia's is an interesting story. The balance sheet is pristine. The company is sitting on a lot of cash. As a matter of fact, it is barely trading north of the value of the cash on its balance sheet. Said differently, based on my expectations, it's trading at roughly 1 times next year's cash flow. Expectations are good. We are starting to see retail earnings come out now and it's a mixed bag for sure. But Delia's looks promising for this year and next.

You also own Global Ship Leasing (GSL). How can a container-ship company do well when there are worries of a double-dip recession?

Roseman: GSL has not been behaving particularly well in this market largely because it's a baby-with-the-bathwater situation. The container-ship market is subject to spot prices. GSL is a different story. Its 17 ships are under contract on a long-term basis to a large client in Europe. Their 17 ships represent only a small fraction of the 300 ships in the total fleet that this client has. GSL has a great balance sheet and the client, more importantly, has a great balance sheet. As a consequence, as you start to see the global recovery unfold, whether we are one quarter away, two quarters away, three quarters away, GSL is particularly well-positioned. And now that the stock has sold off, it is very attractively valued.

On the short side, you are negative on some of the restaurants, especially the high flyers like Buffalo Wild Wings (BWLD) and Chipotle (CMG).

Roseman: Commodity prices are still presenting a challenge. You'll see this throughout our portfolio. This is a theme in our short book and it's not just for the restaurant companies but, since you asked about the restaurants, we'll talk about those specifically.

You still have some uncertainty around the consumer. High gas prices, albeit they have moderated more recently. You have commodity price pressures across the board, whether it's freight costs, transport costs and food costs. As a consequence, it's very hard because of the soft economic environment to pass along those costs to their customers, and you are still looking at companies that are priced for perfection, as we say. So the combination of the two makes their stocks suspect in this particular environment given the backdrop of what we have today.

-- Reported by Gregg Greenberg in New York.

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Disclosure: TheStreet's editorial policy prohibits staff editors and reporters from holding positions in any individual stocks.

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