BALTIMORE (Stockpickr) -- All eyes are on Greece heading into this week as the country gets down to the wire on liquidity after the European Central Bank froze emergency loans to the Mediterranean nation. Despite assurances that the Greek situation is under control, investors should expect some chop in U.S. market this week -- just like we've been experiencing all month long.
Coupled with an already stale start to the summer, it's shaping up to be a frustrating season for stock market investors. But while the market reaction spills over to stocks stateside, some individual names are better-positioned to outperform than others.
I'm talking about the Rocket Stocks.
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 305 weeks, our weekly list of five plays has outperformed the S&P 500's record run by 77.05%.
Without further ado, here's a look at this week's stocks.
Bank of America
At a glance, it looks like Bank of America (BAC) - Get Report hasn't done much so far this year. Since the calendar flipped to January, this $183 billion banking stock has managed to drop by 2.7%. But that stat is a little bit misleading.
BofA has actually been outperforming the broad market in a pretty meaningful way since shares bottomed at the start of February. Since then, Bank of America is actually up close to 15%. And there's reason to expect more of the same for the rest of the summer.
Bank of America is one of the biggest banks in the world, with more than $2.1 trillion in total assets and 4,800 branch locations flying the company colors. The firm's fire-sale acquisition of Merrill Lynch during the financial crisis dramatically increased the bank's exposure to the investment banking business, driving cross-selling opportunities that it's only now fully leveraging. Generally speaking, it's a good time to be a bank. With the prospect of long-term interest rate increases in the wings, lending margins are finally pointing higher again. A huge base of low-cost deposits makes BofA extremely well-positioned to take advantage.
Most of the big black clouds surrounding Bank of America's labyrinthine balance sheet and mortgage liabilities are finally clearing. And that means that BofA is finally able to take advantage of all of that additional scale in pursuit of shareholder returns. With rising analyst expectations this week, we're betting on shares.
The price action in pharmaceutical giant Allergan (AGN) - Get Report has been pretty one-sided n 2015. Since the first trading session of the year, this stock has managed to rally more than 19%, outperforming the S&P 500's barely there gains by a factor of ten. Allergan has consistently outpaced Wall Street's expectations so far this year, and it should continue to lead into the summer.
Allergan has been undergoing some major changes in recent years, acquiring a huge collection of prominent pharma sector peers. The biggest was the firm's merger with Actavis – and the most recent was this month's $1.8 billion buyout announcement of Kythera Pharmaceuticals (KYTH). Allergan's flagship is still Botox, the hugely successful neuromodulator that's achieved household name status as an elective procedure. The firm also manufactures drugs for eye and skin conditions as well as medical devices.
Allergan's acquisition-fueled drug pipeline is wider than ever today, but the firm's generic drug business is still a major contributor to revenues (adding up to about 40% of total sales last year). That combination of generics and branded drugs gives Allergan diversification that most other pharma firms can't hold a candle to, and it's also extremely complementary since cost savings on one side of the operation can spill over to the other.
There's no question that the health care sector has been hot from a performance standpoint this year -- and Allergan continues to look like one of the best ways to play the trend.
The $60.7 billion basic materials giant Dow Chemical (DOW) - Get Report is another huge stock in transition right now. With the rest of the materials sector under pressure, Dow has been shifting its focus away from commoditized products and over towards spaces where it can own an economic moat. That's helped to shove Dow's profit margins well into the double-digits, a range that's been elusive in prior years.
Dow Chemical is one of the largest chemical and materials companies on the planet, providing products to industries ranging from agriculture to energy to apparel. That huge range of industry exposure means that Dow's financial performance isn't tied to the ebb and flow of any single sector.
Scale matters in the chemical business. Since Dow has an international presence, it's able to source inputs where they're cheapest and sell finished products where the company can collect higher margins. While the chemical industry is capital-intense, Dow has been able to maintain reasonable levels of balance sheet leverage, with only about $7.2 billion in net debt.
At a time when market valuations are looking frothy, Dow currently trades at a relative bargain -- at least compared to its earnings multiples over the last few years. A hefty 3.2% dividend yield rounds out the picture in this Rocket Stock.
Chipmaker Analog Devices (ADI) - Get Report has beaten the rest of the broad market pretty handily year-to-date: shares of the $21 billion tech firm are up more than 18% since the start of the year. And as consumer spending rises and devices replacement cycles continue to churn, that positive trend doesn't look likely to end in Analog Devices.
Analog Devices is the leader in the market for chips that translate between analog and digital signals, which gives them a role in everything from cell phones to cars. The firm has a hugely diversified income statement, with more than 60,000 individual customers spread all around the globe. At a time when PC sales are flagging, the analog chip business continues to be one of the most attractive corners of the semiconductor business -- and industry consolidations could mean higher valuation for incumbents like Analog Devices.
From a financial standpoint, Analog Devices is in excellent shape, with more than $2.2 billion in net cash and investments. That's enough to pay for more than 10% of the firm's market capitalization at current prices. That huge cash cushion is a big risk reducer for investors thinking about taking on a position in this chip stock right now.
Last up on our Rocket Stocks list this week is aptly-named Sealed Air (SEE) - Get Report, the $11 billion packaging product maker. Sealed Air manufactures protective packaging supplies used by everyone from movers and shippers to food product companies -- its flagship products use air to cushion customers' items. Popular names under the Sealed Air banner include Bubble Wrap, InstaPak, and Cryovac.
Sealed Air's consumables generate substantial recurring revenues -- and the increasing shift to e-commerce has been a major tailwind for the firm. As more web shoppers get packages shipped to their homes and businesses, Sealed Air is providing about 32% of the protective packaging that ships alongside their items. Sealed Air also has exposure to bigger-ticket sales through its institutional cleaning products and medical units.
While Sealed Air does currently carry some balance sheet leverage, that $3.8 billion debt load is tenable for a firm of its size. In the last few years, Sealed Air has generated very close to $200 million annually in net profits. If the firm can dedicate a chunk of that profit towards debt reduction, it should be able to materially reduce its costs before rates rise significantly.
With rising analyst sentiment in Sealed Air this week, we're betting on shares.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.