All of you lily-livered value investors, please look away. The following meditation is for hardened speculators and spectators only.
As for the rest of you, welcome to SuperModels' annual game in honor of the World Series. It's our world championship of momentum investing, in which 25 stocks from the major exchanges are pitted against each other in the final quarter of the year in a battle for price-change supremacy. This is the contest that separates the all-powerful from the also-rans, the giants from the goners.
By the middle of October, there are typically more than a dozen major companies (with a market capitalization of at least $1 billion) whose shares have advanced more than 250% year-to-date. This year, there is only one,
, and it's based in Switzerland, so it barely counts.
Indeed, through Oct. 21, there were only three billion-dollar stocks that had doubled this year:
MEMC Electronic Materials
The purpose of the contest, as always, is to make money, either by wagering on the outcome or by sticking some dollars under the leading horses' saddles. So before we handicap the race, let's take a look at the 17 big-cap and mid-cap contenders, plus eight small-cap wild cards.
I like these contenders because there's a little taste of everything that made 2002 unique for the stock-pickers who chose the right sectors to be long.
For instance, all but the American Stock Exchange League have candidates from the gold mining sector, which was red-hot at the start of the year, cooled off, then came on strong again during the worst days of a wretched summer.
The best-performing gold-digger in our crew so far has been
, a Denver-based company that buys the right to collect royalties from mine operators in exchange for investments. The company owns stakes in mines owned by major gold producers such as
, plus operations in Argentina, Australia and Bulgaria.
It's sort of a gold-mining real-estate investment trust. Sounds pretty weird to me, but you can't argue with its success, as its current price around $16.60 is near all-time highs.
Penny-stock crazies, take note: It's up from late 1991 lows of about six cents. If you had bought shares back then, you'd be up 55,000% today. You'd probably also be either an idiot or in a coma if you held this long without selling.
Royal is the only domestic gold name in contention: Much-larger Gold Fields and
are both based in South Africa; they pretty much trade in tandem, so toss a coin to choose between them. I think the big move in gold is over for this year and would steer clear, anyway.
Tech's Dynamic Duo
The only technology-complex stocks in the race couldn't be much more different.
MEMC Electronic Materials is 90% owned by buyout firm Texas Pacific Group and is largely a restructuring story. It's pretty expensive at this level, so be wary from a fundamental point of view -- especially considering the sorry state of semiconductors.
But the chart looks interesting, and it seems there's ample opportunity for a move to $10, where it crested in April. (The all-time high is $49, back in 1996.)
has had a fantastic year, defying the skeptics and steadily improving its financial position to become one of the three major survivors of the dot-com wars, along with
. The 76% gain might not impress people who recall its 996% advance in 1998, but after a 79% decline in 2000 and 30% decline in 2001, any double-digit surge comes as welcome relief.
The stock may have a hard time making much more progress, however, as it is bumping up against highs made in both May 2002 and January 2001. And there are doubtless plenty of people who invested at those levels and would love to sell to get out flat. If bulls somehow push past that level, they'll next set their sites on the mid-2000 highs around $30.
From a fundamental point of view, though, the stock is already expensive among retailers, with a price-to-sales multiple of 2.13, compared to the 1.07 multiple given to the best stock in the sector,
. Only true high-margin specialty retailers, such as
, generally get price-to-sales multiples greater than 2.5. So Amazon investors are probably closer to the end of this year's chapter than the middle.
Home Sweet Home Stocks
Homebuilders and the banks that finance home buying have been a big story this year, so it's appropriate that three of our names come from those ranks.
builds homes in the Northeast, and it's still pretty cheap. If you think the sector hasn't topped out, you could back this horse without holding your nose.
, a homebuilder in the South and the Washington D.C. area, has hammered home solid gains all year but looks like it's ready to drop down and rest a spell. Likewise,
, the parent of WesternBank Puerto Rico. I wrote earlier this year that W was one of my top personal holdings from the summer of 2001 through the spring, as regional banks with strong commercial and personal lending franchises benefited from falling interest rates. I sold it back in late August as it appeared to double-top, but long-term holders will probably add to it on future dips.
Plays on Health Care and Economic Woes
The surge in health care service providers and medical device makers has become one of the most powerful stock stories of 2002, so you have several choices:
have traded in lockstep for the past three years as they've recovered from October 1999 lows.
bottomed much later, in August 2000, so it has seen the sweet spot of its recovery come just this year. The company operates an HMO and provides life insurance throughout the quickly-growing state of Nevada, and it's still the cheapest of the bunch. It's trading off its August highs but still well within its three-year uptrend.
, Wisconsin's biggest HMO provider, had the latest bottom of this group, in December 2000, and is also still relatively cheap. It's been the year's best performer of the four, but also seems to have lost steam. I'll give the nod to Coventry, as it is the best diversified geographically and appears to have the best momentum heading into the year's final months.
Of the rest,
may hold the most promise, as biotech stocks tend to do well at the end of the year. This company has made impressive progress on a type 2 diabetes treatment that is now in phase III trials with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Biotechs are always a calculated roll of the dice until the FDA has given its final nod, but in this case,
has already made its bet by setting a rich comarketing agreement with the company.
And for an indirect play on the worsening job market,
offers an interesting twist: The company runs more than 65 colleges in 20 states focused on people who either want to start or change careers in health care, business, technology and criminal justice. Some of its brand names are Bryman College and the National Institute of Technology.
Revenue has been rock solid, but at this level the price is rich and insiders have been unloading like mad. That's about what you'd expect from a momentum stock, so with shares still tracking higher in a three-year uptrend, demand from investors should carry it higher at least through the end of the quarter. It's now mostly owned by small-cap and mid-cap growth mutual fund companies, so to the extent that the category becomes a big story over the next few months, this stock will undoubtedly continue to find favor.
While Jon Markman cannot provide personalized investment advice or recommendations, he invites you to send comments on his column to
firstname.lastname@example.org. At the time of publication, he did not own or control shares in any equities mentioned in this column.