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Secret Santa for Stock Pickers

My third present is (OSTK - Get Report). This has long been a laggard in the e-commerce space, but founder Patrick Byrne, who is most-often blamed for its problems, is slowly stepping away. He's no longer OSTK's biggest shareholder.

More important, the company has figured out how to get value from "big data," using an open source program called Apache Mahout to deliver customized gift recommendations that actually make sense.

Since April, when an SEC investigation of the company's operations ended with no action, the stock is up about 170%. The company is now a prime takeover candidate for any brick-and-mortar operator, and its shareholders are in a receptive mood to hear the pitch.

Finally, we have First Solar (FSLR - Get Report). First Solar is the first of the solar stocks to rise from the ashes. Its cadmium-telluride technology is unique, protected by patents, and uses what is said to be the waste from other mining operations.

The company has also learned how to sell its panels in bulk by building its own "power plants," and it's starting to make money - about $2.27 per share over the last two quarters.

The smart money is on to this story -- the shares have doubled in price over the last six months. But if you just mention "solar power" to most individual investors they laugh at you. Then they turn away.

Fact is, however, that solar's best days are yet to come. Hawaii has reached "grid parity," the point at which solar power becomes cheaper than what you can buy from your electric company. California is passing that point, too.

More places will follow, as companies like FSLR continue to focus on cutting costs and increasing efficiency, and as new panel-making technologies emerge. Don't let cheap natural gas prices fool you, either. That's actually a benefit to solar because it eliminates the intermittency everyone complains about, what happens when the sun goes down.

So here we have four stocks on the rise, with great prospects, that most small investors don't want to hear about, or read about when I write about them. Consider me your Secret Santa. Merry Christmas.

At the time of publication the author had a position in NWSA.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.
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