BALTIMORE (Stockpickr) -- Is oil finally reaching rock bottom? If I had a dollar for every time I've heard that question just in 2015, I could buy a couple barrels of crude already.
Crude prices are below $50 for the first time in more than five years, and they're likely to go lower from here. You can bet that's having a big impact on the equity markets in 2015 -- even in stocks that stretch far outside the energy sector. Lower energy costs aren't an automatic win for the rest of the market, especially if the dropping cost of oil continues to spook investors this month. But the deflationary effects of plummeting oil prices could help force the Fed's hand at stimulus, one of the biggest structural drivers of our multi-year rally.
With energy in the crosshairs again to start this week, we're taking a look at five new Rocket Stocks to buy for gains.
For the uninitiated, "Rocket Stocks" are our list of companies with short-term gain catalysts and longer-term growth potential. To find them, I run a weekly quantitative screen that seeks out stocks with a combination of analyst upgrades and positive earnings surprises to identify rising analyst expectations, a bullish signal for stocks in any market. After all, where analysts' expectations are increasing, institutional cash often follows. In the last 282 weeks, our weekly list of five plays has outperformed the S&P 500's record run by 78.28%.
Without further ado, here's a look at this week's Rocket Stocks.
Up first is legacy tech name Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) - Get Report . HP may be one of the longest-tenured technology stocks, but it's been a firm in transition in recent years. That's because the firm plans on breaking apart into two completely separate publicly-traded firms: a printer and PC business, and an enterprise software, services and hardware business. It's the latter that poses the greatest opportunity for investors.
While enterprise tools only account for 25% of company-wide sales today, they add up to a whopping 50% of HP's operating profits. That's a level of profitability that you just won't find in Hewlett-Packard's PC business. Breaking the two apart should unlock value for shareholders, particularly as the enterprise side of the puzzle continues to grow.
Enterprise sales aren't just more lucrative -- they're also stickier. Because they're more tightly integrated with companies' infrastructure, the cost of integration is higher, and the tools are more proprietary. Compare that with PCs, which have basically become commoditized at this point, and it's not hard to figure out which business looks better for investors to own. Critically, HPQ has been investing heavily in growing its most attractive offerings -- and succeeding. In recent years, internal growth has been a lot more fruitful than acquisition attempts for Hewlett-Packard.
With rising analyst sentiment in shares this week, we're betting on this Rocket Stock.
Health care has been a shining star sector in the last year, and $29 billion medical tech name Becton Dickinson (BDX) - Get Report has been no exception. BDX has rallied more than 28% in the last 12 months, nearly tripling the return from the S&P 500 over the same stretch. Here's why it's set to keep outperforming in 2015.
Becton Dickinson is the largest medical product manufacturer in the world, making and distributing instruments such as needles, syringes and scalpels to facilities all over the world. But Becton has been moving out of that core business, adding more lucrative medical devices to the firm's product mix. Those more specialized medical device sales, like diagnostic tools and cell-imaging systems, come with fatter margins. The pending acquisition of CareFusion (CFN) beefs up Becton's tech portfolio, adding lucrative IP and major cross-selling opportunities.
From a financial perspective, BDX is in good shape. While buying CFN will boost Becton's debt load, the firm currently only carries a little over a billion in net debt, putting the deal well within its means. The onus is on BDX here. If the firm can integrate its new target quickly and effectively, it should generate maximum shareholder returns.
Meanwhile, momentum is clearly bullish at BDX, and we're taking advantage of that trend.
NXP Semiconductors (NXPI) - Get Report is another name that's enjoying some stellar tailwinds in recent months. Since last January, shares of NXPI have rallied more than 86%. Netherlands-based NXPI makes semiconductors used for everything from microcontrollers and power management modules to near-field communications chips. That means even if you've never heard the NXP name before, there's a very good chance you've come in contact with the firm's products. NXP sells directly to OEMs in the automotive, finance, and technology sectors.
NXPI has some attractive positioning in 2015. That's because it's exposed to some of the fastest corners of the tech sector, particularly in supplying wireless infrastructure and "Internet of Things" device manufacturers with the tools to get their devices talking to one another.
From a financial standpoint, NXPI is in stellar shape. The firm currently carries just over $600 million in net cash and investments, offsetting a modest $3.8 billion debt load. While NXPI's earnings multiple is far from cheap at 41 times, that's a side-effect of the growth potential of the firm's core businesses in the coming quarters. Profitability has been expanding in recent years, as NXP finds scale and efficiencies in attractive markets.
With shares hitting new all-time highs this week, we're riding NXPI's momentum in January.
Enterprise software maker Red Hat (RHT) - Get Report has built a $1.5 billion a year business out of selling free stuff -- quite a feat indeed. The firm gives away its Linux operating system and enterprise software tools, opting instead to make money through training, maintenance and tech support fees that it charges businesses. The low acquisition cost has helped to provide RHT with a brisk growth rate in a lucrative business.
While IT budgets have been growing in recent years, firms have become more concerned about getting bang for their buck. That makes zero licensing costs an easy sell for Red Hat's open source solutions. While competition is fierce in the enterprise software space, Red Hat's advanced solutions have helped the firm command more than 60% of the Linux server market. Meanwhile, closed-source operating systems have licensing costs that materially increase the cost of the total box, making it a no-brainer for cost-sensitive customers.
Because Red Hat has such a big installed base, switching costs are high for customers considering other software makers' solutions. Increasing demand for server space should continue to be the tide that lifts all ships in the industry. From a financial standpoint, RHT is in excellent shape, with approximately $1 billion in net cash and investments on the balance sheet. While RHT's current valuation is far from cheap, that big cash cushion is an important risk reducer here.
Last up is Lululemon Athletica (LULU) - Get Report , the $8.3 billion sports apparel maker best known for its yoga-wear. 2014 was a year of flux for LULU. The firm spent the first six months of the year correcting hard, but shares rallied more than 45% in the second half of the year, ending things more or less where they started. Investors are paying attention to the recent resurgence in relative strength in Lululemon.
LULU has been a major branding growth story. The firm has expanded to more than 250 stores worldwide, reaching scale that's starting to move the needle on the retail front. Active wear is a good business if you can get it -- margins are deep and consumer stickiness and evangelism is high, but staying that way requires nimble management that's able to accurately forecast consumer trends. If LULU wants to keep collecting premium prices for its clothing, it'll need to stay that way.
To date, LULU has been able to finance its growth through equity and earnings, avoiding debt. That lack of balance sheet leverage is a major positive for the firm. By not getting ahead of itself on capital spending, Lululemon can handle any potential economic hiccups more gracefully in 2015 and beyond. LULU's expansion beyond yoga and increased focus on men's apparel are going to be a pair of big potential growth catalysts to keep an eye on this year.
-- Written by Jonas Elmerraji in Baltimore.
At the time of publication, author had no positions in the names mentioned.
Jonas Elmerraji, CMT, is a senior market analyst at Agora Financial in Baltimore and a contributor to TheStreet. Before that, he managed a portfolio of stocks for an investment advisory that returned 15% in 2008. He has been featured in Forbes , Investor's Business Daily, and on CNBC.com. Jonas holds a degree in financial economics from UMBC and the Chartered Market Technician designation.
Follow Jonas on Twitter @JonasElmerraji
Jonas Elmerraji, CMT, is a senior market analyst at Agora Financial in Baltimore and a contributor to
. Before that, he managed a portfolio of stocks for an investment advisory returned 15% in 2008. He has been featured in
Investor's Business Daily
. Jonas holds a degree in financial economics from UMBC and the Chartered Market Technician designation. Follow Jonas on Twitter @JonasElmerraji.