On the south side of Chicago, in the baddest part of town, if you go down there, you better just beware, that the White Sox finally wear the crown. -- Adapted from Jim Croce's "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" The White Sox's coronation, 88 years in the making, was the culmination of a postseason performance that was truly majestic. For their efforts, they are the Kings of Baseball for one year. In contradistinction to true sovereign ties, where reigns are inherited and virtually limitless, baseball royalty has to be earned each year. In the investment world, there are precious few crowns. Certainly, my competitive drive dictates my desire to ultimately be crowned. At this point, however, I have to make sure I am not the court jester. With that in mind, here are my picks for this week.
Salt of the EarthJacobs Engineering Group ( JEC), an engineering and construction firm with a $3.6 billion market cap, could be considered the ultimate global infrastructure play. This engineering group is well positioned to profit in a big way from the frenetic activity ahead. Because it is scheduled to announce earnings on Thursday in a market that puts the "v" in volatile, I am going to get a little more technical with my buy recommendation. I am also considering this a long-term investment, which is not the norm for me. That should tell all of you how much I believe in this experienced, savvy company, which offers exposure to infrastructure, energy, and globalization trends that should support the company's 15% annual growth target for many years to come. Now that the stock has come down a bit from its post-Katrina spike, here's the way to play it for those technically savvy buyers out there: Buy at the 50-day simple moving average at $61.70 or better. If the stock closes above its 50-day, its first target should be $64.70, where you take your profit. If Jacobs Engineering trades down for some reason, be patient and wait until it retests $58.70, the recent October low.
There are so many more positive things I want to say about this rock-solid company, but if I did, my editor would have to cut me off. I'll close with this: How does $5.33 billion in revenue, or almost $100 in revenue on a per-share basis, nearly $3.50 a share in cash and a debt-to-equity ratio of 0.1 sound? For me, that puts the "b" in buy! My other recommendation today is Agrium ( AGU). A Canadian global producer and marketer of agricultural nutrients and industrial products, Agrium had $2.8 billion in sales in 2004 and is projected to have sales over $3.2 billion in 2005. The company's retail unit sells agricultural products and a variety of services to its mainly agricultural customers, including fertilizers, crop-protection chemicals and seed. Agrium's wholesale operation manufactures, markets and distributes nitrogen, phosphate and potash. Don't forget that food is not the only the only thing that fertilizer produces these days; it is also converted into energy. With a forward P/E of 11.3, return on equity of over 32%, and a debt-to-equity ratio of 0.5, this company's stock has the exact type of profile I'm looking for. At a price-to-sales multiple of under 0.9, the stock is much too cheap to resist at current levels. As with Jacobs Engineering, Agrium reports earnings on Thursday, a day that is shaping up to be a "make or break" session for this week's picks. As for
last week's picks, Cabot Oil & Gas ( COG) rallied sharply in anticipation of its strong quarterly results last Thursday. The stock opened at $43.40 last Monday, hit an intraday high of $49.72 Wednesday and closed Friday at $46.41, up 6.9% for the week. Mattel ( MAT), meanwhile, slid 2.1% but the growth by acquisition strategy I laid out remains very much intact. I bought 1,000 shares at $14.55 on Oct. 27. I had a standing good till cancel (GTC) "limit order" in my trading account. Notice the word "limit." Don't ever put in a GTC order at the market. Those operators on Wall St. will cut you up and make you like it!
Work the CountThe results of the World Series can be summed up in the immortal words of Jim Lovell: "Houston, we have a problem." The problem was the Chicago White Sox, whose nearly flawless postseason performance proved to be insurmountable. To add injury to insult, the Astros' Rocket sustained a failed booster (injured hamstring), which greatly limited his effectiveness. Unfortunately, unlike their Apollo 13 predecessors, Roger Clemens and the Astros were unable to right their ship. But even if the Rocket was firing on all cylinders, the White Sox appeared destined to win it all this year. Whatever the game dictated, the White Sox delivered. They played small ball at times, manufacturing runs with bunts, steals, sacrifices, and clutch hits. They played long ball with the expected -- Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye -- and the wholly unexpected Scott Podsednik and Geoff Blum. Combine that with stellar defense, particularly by Joe Crede and Juan Uribe, and it is easy to see why they are the champions. Let's not forget their vaunted pitching staff, which although not as dominant in the World Series as in the ALCS, was still quite impressive. Lastly, the manager, Ozzie Guillen, with 25 players in his portfolio, continually selected the right players at the right times, which resulted in a magical postseason ride. Unequivocally, many parallels can be drawn between successful investing and a championship baseball team. Settling on a portfolio requires knowledge about hundreds of stocks (players), determining which stocks (players) will be on your team, and tweaking your roster when necessary regardless of emotional ties, past history or ego. Borrowing a page from Guillen and the White Sox, I believe that you must be prepared for all eventualities. Therefore, you can play long ball with the big boppers such as General Electric ( GE) and Johnson & Johnson ( JNJ) as well as play small ball with the Agriums and other diamonds in the rough. You never know when one of these stocks will be a Scott Podsednik or a Geoff Blum. However, a good manager has a knack of putting his players in situations where they can produce.
As in baseball, the right moves in investing often involve gut feelings and some element of luck. Nonetheless, what transpires prior to the game cannot be underestimated. A great deal of time is spent analyzing opponents' strengths and weaknesses, their tendencies, and how to take advantage of them. Similarly, I spend inordinate amounts of time researching stocks prior to making my picks. Just as I did in baseball, I pride myself in my preparation, which leads to having an edge. I am just as disciplined in my investment strategy as if I was a leadoff hitter. On many occasions, I fouled off pitches, staying alive, until I could get my pitch. I worked the count to put myself in the best position to get a hit. This means get the count in a predictable situation. Witness my stats in 1993: I led the league in runs, hits, walks and at-bats. Remember, walks do not count as official at-bats, thereby making this a record for the ages. That's exactly what I do as an investor: prepare vigorously, work the market, create the opportunity, and pounce on it! Life is a journey, enjoy the ride!