Sucker Stocks: Avoid These Dogs At All Costs

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- In recent weeks, I have written about several stocks that turn up in your portfolio after the proverbial weekend in Las Vegas.

Like the looker at the end of the bar who forces herself into the elevator as you head back to your hotel room, it's difficult to resist the allure of the low-priced stock. Message board posters and financial writers touting the latest stocks set to double or triple trigger man's primal urge for excitement.

More often than not, they're low-priced numbers that, to your early-morning fright, look ugly with the lights on and the buzz worn off. Stocks such as Sirius XM ( SIRI) and Frontier Communications ( FTR).

Take Sirius XM, for example. Newsflash. I refuse to type in capital letters, but if there ever was an appropriate time, it would be now. There is no future in satellite radio.

There's a reason why Clear Channel dropped radio from its name, bills itself as an entertainment company and promotes the living snot out of its iHeart Radio app on its terrestrial radio stations.

Its CEO, Bob Pittman, the man who founded MTV, realizes there's no future in terrestrial radio so wholesale rebranding became necessary. He also understands that to find a buyer for Clear Channel -- and it save it from its mountain of debt -- he needs to make the company look attractive, innovative and progressive.

At Sirius XM, CEO Mel Karmazin should slap lipstick on his pig, put shareholders out of their misery and take any price Liberty Media ( LMCA) or any other company is willing to offer. Instead, he wastes precious time producing the same old tired programming over the same old antiquated delivery system while he massages his ego in a pointless battle for control.

Despite the almost-obvious reality that Karmazin is playing chicken with their money by not simply ceding control to Liberty, tortured SIRI shareholders not only stay long, they continue to pump the stock. As this thing dumps to below a dollar -- and Mel goes out in a blaze of incompetence -- SIRI must remain number one on any list of sucker stocks to sell immediately.

Less-obvious examples exist, however. I am on record -- the worst has passed Netflix ( NFLX) by. I noted this at the beginning of June in Netflix Can Rise From The Dead, But Is It a Buy?


Now, fellow long-time NFLX bear Tony Wible at Janney Montgomery seems to, at least in some respects, share my sentiment. In a note from Monday, Wible set his price target on the stock at $67 and upgrades it from "sell" to "neutral."

This turn of events does not make NFLX a buy; in fact, it might even be more of a sucker stock today than it was when it was imploding.

Even with the major headwinds out of the way, Netflix's business model does not turn into a sustainable one. As I argued in the above-cited article, it needs plenty of things to fall in line for that to happen. While it's possible, I certainly do not expect Netflix to do a remarkable job with what appears to be its new strategy: original programming; specialty programming, such as documentaries and Kids TV; and a more selective approach to buying other content.

Reed Hastings had no choice but to slow spending to stop the bleeding. While I agree with the move and view it as a positive, there's little, if any, upside right now. It's sucker stock because investors will see it "bottom" in the $60s and shout catch phrases such as "it's consolidating" on message boards. Don't believe the hype. Proceed with caution.

To that end, just because a stock appears to have bottomed does not save it from becoming a sucker stock. Companies with no reasonable way forward or, more importantly, without a leader who can competently and confidently articulate the way forward often have plenty more room to fall.


Best Buy ( BBY). Radio Shack ( RSH). J.C. Penney ( JCP). All three stocks stay somewhat afloat in the same boat.

What needs to happen is quite clear, at least at Best Buy. It needs to hire a young and innovative CEO -- I put my confidence and vote behind one of the company's new executive hires, Stephen Gillett -- who can look into the heart of a hurricane, tear the company apart and put it back together again.

Best Buy, Radio Shack and J.C. Penney will all cease to exist in five years or less without the type of change most of us cannot even imagine.


Behind closed doors, I can't think that Ron Johnson is anything but embarrassed about what he has done at J.C. Penney. He introduced a new pricing strategy. Whether it stunk up the joint or not is beside the point. There's a much larger and more significant issue that just about all of the media and most investors have ignored. It's easy to sum up: Is that all he's got?.

Not using the word "sale" and floating a couple gay- and lesbian-friendly ads hardly comprises a turnaround worthy of a former Apple ( AAPL) retail executive.

Do I have to say anything about Radio Shack? I didn't think so. Walk into one of its stores. Try to contain your laughter. At least wait until you're out of the view of one of the company's beaten-down sales executives. I could soak up more inspiration spending time on Death Row than in a Radio Shack store.

Don't fall for the sales pitches that try to get you to go long these five sucker stocks -- SIRI, NFLX, BBY, RSH, JCP -- and others. Nine times out of 10, the folks selling that sunshine are trying to salvage an underwater position they should have closed a long time ago.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage..

At the time of publication, the author held no positions in any of the stocks mentioned in this article.

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