With the S&P 500 roaring ahead solely on the rocket fuel of technology shares over much of the past 12 months, the market has certainly witnessed its share of neglected stocks. But not every neglected stock can represent as much of a diamond in the rough as the subject of last week's column, Concord EFS (CEFT) , which is up about 15% in the seven days since.
On the contrary, all too often there's a reason for the market's disdain. How to tell whether a selloff is overdone, or even unwarranted? You guessed it: Follow the money -- the insiders' money.
. In the wake of some impressive fourth-quarter results, Wall Street at last seems to be taking a second look. Oddly though, the strong numbers were nothing new, a fact that did little to shield Wendy's from the market's wrath. In fact, the stock suffered mightily, right along with the rest of the casual dining sector. Then in February, with the shares down roughly 50% from their July 28 high of 30 1/4, Wendy's insiders (like those at Concord EFS) declared enough was enough.
That's Not Ketchup!
In all, 11 Wendy's insiders have acquired a combined 150,025 shares, mostly on the open market at prices ranging from $15.88 to $17.39 per share. Even co-founder
chipped in with a 10,000-share purchase -- a first-ever by the perennial, albeit moderate, seller. Prominent among the remaining buyers were numerous executives from Wendy's
restaurant division, whose strong operations in Canada and growing contribution to Wendy's may not yet be fully recognized by investors.
Notably, in nearly every case, the share purchases marked either the insider's first-ever acquisition of Wendy's shares, or the largest to date. Perhaps this shouldn't be a surprise: Wendy's insiders have historically been much more inclined to sell their company's stock than to acquire it. Take the co-founder of the Tim Hortons chain, Ronald Joyce, who purchased 92,500 shares recently. This was the first transaction since his sale in 1997 of 115,000 shares, at similar prices.
What's changed? The plunge from its August highs certainly brings the stock into some tempting valuation territory. The recent appointment of Jack Schuessler as Wendy's new CEO, following the surprise death of former CEO Gordon Teter last December, is an immediate positive. Finally, Wendy's has been on an aggressive share-buyback program, a commitment Schuessler reiterated upon taking office. And operating results are improving: Following a shaky January (as usual blamed on bad weather), February numbers were a pleasant surprise, despite some particularly difficult comps from last year.
If there is a legitimate concern, it might be the inordinate amount of earnings growth currently attributable to the growth in same-store sales. Wendy's has been consistently dogged by the issue of whether it is pursuing a sufficiently aggressive expansion strategy, the lifeblood of any retailer. So far, Schuessler has yet to address this nagging issue, one that could make or break the stock's near-term recovery.
There are no guarantees, but should Wall Street cool to the siren song of technology and return to some familiar and beaten-down names (and for that matter, companies with earnings), stocks that have been pummeled for no apparent fault of their own should be among the first to benefit. More to the point, stocks like Wendy's, where insiders are waving their wallets and shouting "enough is enough," may prove to be the
creme de la creme
Bob Gabele has been tracking and analyzing insider trading since 1978, most recently for First Call/Thomson Financial. This column is not meant as investment advice; it is instead meant to provide insight into the methods of insider trading. At time of publication, Gabele held no position in any of the companies discussed in this column, although holdings can change at any time. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. Gabele appreciates your feedback at