BALTIMORE (Stockpickr) -- And just like that, the "fiscal cliff" has replaced the election as the most newsworthy tidbit on Wall Street. I hope you're ready to hear a lot more about it in the next month or two.
How the fiscal cliff impacts Mr. Market still remains to be seen, but as the New Year's deadline draws near, you can bet that the drag on stocks will only get stronger. That's why it's so important for Washington to figure out a workable deal early on -- we don't want a repeat of the debt ceiling debacle that happened last year.
In the meantime, it's important to remember that the fiscal cliff isn't the
factor impacting the markets. With bargains still to be had in equities after this past quarter's correction in the
, there's at least one very good reason not to hate stocks as we approach 2013. That's especially true given the S&P's historical propensity for a push higher in the last couple of months of the year.
So, despite all the noise that's going on this week, we're turning to a new set of Rocket Stocks that look ready to move higher.
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 176 weeks, our weekly list of five plays has outperformed the S&P 500 by 75.57%.
Without further ado, here's a look at
First up is
, the world's third-largest generic drug maker. While Watson may not have the same household name sported by conventional big pharma stocks, investors shouldn't ignore this firm right now -- especially as patent drop-offs plague conventional drug makers.
Watson's recently-closed deal to acquire Actavis is a game changer for the firm. It gives Watson considerable global scale, ramping up Watson's total share of the generics market to around 10%. Size matters in the generics business, and as a result, the combined firm boasts some serious advantages over smaller rivals who lack the wherewithal to pursue more complex drugs. Complexity is Watson's bread and butter -- the firm focuses on drugs that are more challenging to manufacture, generating bigger margins for its trouble.
The Actavis acquisition ratcheted Watson's balance sheet leverage, but overall the firm remains in solid financial shape. Management has already announced an aggressive debt paydown plan over the next couple of years that should bring WPI back around its historical averages -- with rising analyst sentiment in play this week, we're betting on shares.
boasts a diversified business ranging from 11,200 megawatts of generation capacity to regulated utility service to electricity customers in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee, and the UK. PPL also distributes natural gas to Kentucky. In recent years, PPL has been increasing its focus on the regulated side of the business, entering new markets to reduce the huge exposure to the risks merchant energy generation. In doing so, PPL is becoming a dramatically more defensive name, especially when its 5% dividend yield is factored in.
PPL is unique in that it owns a combination of domestic and international distribution subsidiaries, exposure that other regulated utilities can't offer. As the largest energy distribution utility in the UK, PPL lays claim to compensation schemes that aren't used here at home, boosting the firm's earnings when it provides consistent, reliable power to its customers across the pond. That expertise in a foreign market should open the door to other overseas utility operations if attractive opportunities present themselves down the road.
Meanwhile, the firm has been courting opportunities here at home with an aggressive capital spending plan. PPL is targeting 75% of its profits coming from the regulated side of its business by the end of the coming year -- to do that, it's been spending its way to acquire distribution customers on the outer regions of its existing network. With many utilities looking cheap right now, PPL should be getting a bargain as it balloons its base.
When you get your flu shot this fall, there's a good chance that
has some role in the process. Stericycle is the largest medical waste management firm in the country, providing hospitals, medical offices, and pharmaceutical firms with a way to dispose of highly regulated biologically hazardous waste. Not surprisingly, dealing with the consumables no one else wants to touch is a lucrative business, with deep profit margins and a sticky customer base.
Health regulations are strict about biohazard risks -- and Stericylce is one of the biggest beneficiaries of the foot-thick rulebooks used at hospitals. Recent changes in the healthcare arena continue to look positive for SRCL; the firm should see boosted volume as more Americans have health coverage, and as Americans become older as a group. It's not just the U.S. providing a tailwind for SRCL, however -- the firm has been pushing internationally, acquiring smaller medical waste firms in Latin America, Europe, and Japan.
Stericycle enjoyed stair-step growth during the recession, posting new sales and profit highs each year despite an economic meltdown that was threatening less entrenched firms. While the firm is hardly "cheap" right now, investors are getting growth for the premium that's currently priced into shares.
is having a stellar year in 2012 -- shares of the apparel company have rallied more than 54% this year, getting its most recent boost after announcing an acquisition deal to purchase
for around $3 billion. The deal will round out PVH's portfolio of Calvin Klein brands and add new labels like Chaps and Speedo to the stable of names that the firm already owns.
Right now, those brands include Tommy Hilfiger, IZOD, Kenneth Cole, and BCBC Max Azria in addition to the firm's namesake Van Heusen label.
PVH has been on a buying spree in the last few years, picking up the Hilfiger brand in a $3 billion deal that gave the firm control over one of the most popular brands of recent years at a bargain price right when equity prices were struggling. Now, the Warnaco acquisition adds a couple more powerhouse brands to PVH's balance sheet at what's arguably a very attractive price.
While growth has been well priced on a relative scale, it has dramatically upped the debt load on PVH's balance sheet. Despite the larger leverage, PVH still carries a relatively low level of total debt compared to equity. Recent price action shows that Wall Street really likes the moves that this stock has been making -- and so should you.
has enjoyed some similarly stellar performance this year. Since the first trading day of January, shares of the $13.8 billion firm have climbed more than 50% on the heels of fundamental performance that analysts liked. There's reason to expect even more upside in shares.
What makes IR's run so much more impressive is the fact that it's a stalwart industrial stock, a sector that's been hammered lately as the headlines scare investors off from capital-intense businesses. Ingersoll-Rand manufactures a large number of well-known brands, ranging from Club Car golf carts to Schlage locks to Trane air conditioners. So despite the scariness of the sector, incredibly cheap cash (thanks to historically low interest rates) is buoying sales at IR right now.
Hefty construction exposure heading into the recession of 2008 was an eye opener for management (as was the case at many industrials), and IR exited the crisis in much better financial shape than it entered it in. The combination of an upswing in spending and a powerful aftermarket sales business should keep IR's momentum intact as the firm carries on through the fourth quarter of 2012. We're betting on shares this week.
To see all of this week's Rocket Stocks in action, check out
Follow Stockpickr on
and become a fan on
At the time of publication, author had no positions in stocks mentioned. 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
, and on
Jonas holds a degree in financial economics from UMBC and the Chartered Market Technician designation.