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4 'Bad' Energy Companies That Make for Good Trades

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(Energy stock trading story updated for Nabors Industries' catalysts)

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- There's a cynical stock market adage that explains recent trading in shares of Transocean (RIG - Get Report), Weatherford International (WFT - Get Report), Nabors Industries (NBR - Get Report) and Chesapeake Energy (CHK - Get Report): Bad companies make for good trades.

It's a bit of trading knowledge that can help investors identify stocks where even if the long-term outlook is promising, short-term management mistakes offer trading opportunities.

A stock goes down because it messed up so much, and that presents an opportunity to ride it back up. Often, though -- and this is key -- it's riding that stock back up before it goes back down again because management messes up yet again. Positive headlines are magnified, but so are the negative ones.

Take Weatherford, which a year ago announced that it might have to restate years of financial statements because it messed up its tax status. Weatherford sank so low by the time the market bottomed out last October that it's up 25% since -- though its shares are down 30% in the past year.
It's a law of the markets: 'bad' companies often make the best trades.

This week, Weatherford announced that it couldn't announce its fourth-quarter results because it still doesn't have a handle on its accounting mess a year later, and shares sold off. It takes time to untangle a mess of this magnitude with financial statements all the way back to 2008 impacted. However, it means that the best way to play the stock is by asking the question - Will the next short-term trigger be up or down?. Given that the Weatherford overhang remains one acutely tied to accounting risk, confidence requires a healthy dose of Tums and a strong stomach.

If it seems like a value play in comparison with oil service peers like Schlumberger (SLB), Halliburton (HAL) and Transocean (BHI), keep in mind that it is difficult to compute the value of a company that can't tell you what it earned in the most recent quarter, or for the past four years.

So let's focus on the other three "bad" companies.

Chesapeake, which is the poster child for the exploration and production-levered balance sheet, continues to be a very murky story long-term.

Yet it's steady stream of self-promoting press releases intended to combat both investor and sell-side criticism have made this "bad" company a great trade at any given time. Chesapeake shares are up close to 10% this year, while being down 28% in the past year.

Chesapeake's 200-day moving average is $26, and it is currently trading at the $25 mark. It is the only of these three "bad" company energy stocks that is not currently trading above its 200-day moving average.

Does that mean it is the best "bad" company positioned for a move up from current levels? Here's the cautiously bullish view...
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