With so much intellectual firepower, so much energy and effort, why are the vast majority of money managers failing in their quest to beat the stock market? One reason is the way many managers approach the market. The rare winner in this game knows that it isn't about growth vs. value. It's all about value. Price is everything when buying stocks.

Below is an update of my picks. All were selected with an emphasis on value. All have beaten the market, 19 out of 19, and there has not been a sale recommendation. You may be surprised by some of my comments following the chart on my best and worst stock ideas and on which companies have the best and worst management. (All current prices on the chart are as of Tuesday's close.)

Best Idea at the Time

The obvious response here is to flag

J.C. Penney

(JCP) - Get Report

as the best idea at the time because of the 119% return. But I don't like to be predictable or obvious, and besides, I don't think it is necessarily my best idea at the time.

My best idea at the time, at least in terms of a trade, is

York International

(YRK)

. I spend an inordinate amount of time on research. I review about 80 companies a week on average and invariably spend weekends and evenings doing the same -- it's fun for me, not work. And the biggest charge I get is when I find a valuation, like York International, that Wall Street has flat-out missed by a country mile.

Worst Idea at the Time

This one is easy:

UAL

(UAL) - Get Report

, parent of

United Air Lines

. One of my pet peeves is a management team that grossly overpays in an effort to grow. UAL's proposed merger with

US Airways

(U) - Get Report

was fine from a strategic viewpoint, but the price was outrageous. While I continue to own UAL, I should have recommended an airline stock with more frugal management.

Best Idea Today!

At today's prices, if I could only buy one stock, it would be

Office Depot

(ODP) - Get Report

. Business is awful at Office Depot as it struggles with a weak economy and difficult tech sales comparisons. But I get No. 1 in the category with Office Depot, along with strong growth drivers in its international and Internet businesses and a great management team as well. My valuation metrics suggest it should be trading at $15.

Worst Idea Today!

This may surprise some, but my selection for the worst idea at today's prices is

Circuit City

(CC) - Get Report

. Yes, there is a good chance of a turnaround at Circuit City, but after a 54% rally, the risk has escalated. Remember, price is

everything

when investing.

Biggest Undiscovered Value

TRW

(TRW)

just can't get respect. But that's fine with me. I can wait. And while I wait, I'll buy more. Many think of TRW as an auto-parts supplier (air bags, chassis, etc.), but its space electronics and technology businesses have tremendous value. For example, TRW makes the world's fastest chip (indium phosphide), which will hit the market later this year.

Best Management

For the best management team, J.C. Penney has the best: Allen Questrom (CEO from

Federated

), Vanessa Castagna (COO from

Wal-Mart

) and Wayne Harris (CEO of

Eckerd

).

My vote for the best single manager is Charles Conaway, CEO of

Kmart

(KM)

, who is evoking enormous change with identifiable and measurable improvements in the Kmart shopping experience.

Worst Management

This one is up for grabs between UAL, which I already mentioned, and

Raytheon

(RTN) - Get Report

. Raytheon has a rich defense business with an enormous backlog. There is no reason that I can see, absent lax management, that profitability should be as low as it is.

Arne Alsin is the founder and principal of Alsin Capital Management, an Oregon-based investment advisor specializing in turnaround situations. At time of publication, Alsin and/or clients of ACM held positions in UAL, E*Trade, JCPenney, Raytheon, TRW, Georgia Gulf, Hasbro, Office Depot, HB Fuller, Safeco, Delta Air Lines, Centennial Bank, Northwest Airlines, Liz Claiborne, Kmart, Ameritrade and York International, although holdings can change at any time. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. Alsin appreciates your feedback and invites you to send it to

arnealsin@home.com.

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