5 Rocket Stocks to Buy in December

BALTIMORE ( Stockpickr) -- As markets open for their first December session of 2013 this morning, most people are a little distracted. To the chagrin of bosses everywhere, online deals for Cyber Monday are drawing most of the bandwidth at offices around the country today.

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But Mr. Market deserves every bit of the attention that the $477 46-inch LED HDTV is getting at Amazon.com ( AMZN) today. Year-to-date, the big index has rallied 26.6% heading into the final month of the year. That's enough for most investors to pay for their fair share of Cyber Monday deals.

And with December ringing in as a historically bullish month to own stocks, the market looks well positioned to end the year on a high note. To take full advantage, we're looking at a new set of Rocket Stocks worth buying in December.

For the uninitiated, "Rocket Stocks" are our list of companies with short-term gain catalysts and longer-term growth potential. To find them, I run a weekly quantitative screen that seeks out stocks with a combination of analyst upgrades and positive earnings surprises to identify rising analyst expectations, a bullish signal for stocks in any market. After all, where analysts' expectations are increasing, institutional cash often follows. In the last 225 weeks, our weekly list of five plays has outperformed the S&P 500 by 91.52%.

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Without further ado, here's a look at this week's Rocket Stocks.

J.C. Penney

It's a little hard to believe that J.C. Penney ( JCP) is making our list today. After all, the department store chain has been Wall Street's whipping boy in 2013, nearly halving in value since the calendar flipped over to January. But with analyst sentiment on the upswing in the last month, it makes sense to give JCP a second look.

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J.C. Penney is a 111-year-old department store retailer that operates just over 1,100 stores in 49 states and Puerto Rico. The firm's stores are shopping mall staples, but that huge geographic footprint has come to bite JCP operationally. Lots of high-performance stores are one thing, but lots of underperforming locations have burned through cash and put the firm's financial health in question. So today, Penney is in the middle of a turnaround attempt. JCP's best chance for success is a shift in its merchandise mix; if the firm can start stocking products that actually spur consumers to come through the doors, then the firm stands a much better shot at longer-term success.

So that's exactly what management is targeting in 2014: more appealing, higher-margin merchandise. In the meantime, more losses are a certainty while management rights the ship, and that's priced into shares. The opportunity comes from all the other stuff that's currently priced into shares: this stock looks undervalued at $10. While JCP carries more risk than our typical Rocket Stock name, it carries more potential reward too.


Microsoft ( MSFT) is one name that's getting a lot of attention this Cyber Monday. The firm's newly released Xbox One is one of the hottest items for holiday shoppers. But while the new Xbox may be getting all of the attention, it's the firm's older software titles that really drive the business. Software is still Microsoft's biggest business by a long shot.

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Shares of Microsoft have been on fire in 2013, rallying around 43% so far this year on improving business fundamentals. But those results hide some of the concerns with MSFT's bread and butter. In an effort to integrate its tablet offerings with Windows, the firm completely revamped much of its interface in Windows 8, a move that was panned by critics and consumers. While Windows 8.1 put a bandage on the problem, user adoption has been poor, and alternatives are cheaper than ever (or free). Considering the fact that Windows and the Office suite of applications make up the majority of MSFT's sales, getting this right is a big deal.

While Microsoft figures out its consumer Windows offerings, commercial software continues to pay the bills through server software and corporate Windows licenses. Between that and the unstoppable market share in Office, MSFT's cash cow isn't going to pasture anytime soon. Now's the time for Microsoft to spend heavily on R&D efforts to find its "next big thing." It certainly has the dry powder to do it without cutting back on the capital return to shareholders that it's enacted in recent years.


It's been a challenging year for teen apparel retailer Aeropostale ( ARO). Shares of the small-cap stock have slipped around 20% during one of the broadest equity rally years in memory. But analyst sentiment has been turning higher ahead of the firm's third-quarter earnings call this week. That makes things a lot more interesting in shares of Aeropostale this month.

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Aeropostale operates more than 1,000 mall-based stores under the mainstay Aeropostale and kid-focused P.S. brands. ARO casts a pretty narrow net: the firm's target demographic is 14- to 17-year-old boys and girls, a group that's also quite fickle when it comes to fashion. But Aeropostale has proven adept at channeling the wants of teenagers, and its more value-priced offerings appeal to parents more than "near-luxury" teen brands like Abercrombie & Fitch ( ANF). As Aeropostale spends more to position itself as a lifestyle brand, it should be able to command margins more in line with peers.

Financially, Aeropostale is in stellar shape. The firm carries $1.27 per share in cash and no debt, a combination that gives ARO the wherewithal to handle any economic bumps in the road. The fact that this stock has financed most of its growth with cash from operations sets an outstanding precedent -- one that management should continue to uphold as it presses into more P.S. stores and international growth.


eBay ( EBAY) is an online commerce powerhouse. More than $75 billion in gross merchandise volume passed through eBay's network last year, making it one of the biggest e-commerce Web sites on earth -- but don't mistake this firm for the online auction site it once was. Today, eBay's marketplace goes beyond the auction format, with more conventional buying and selling options.

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And that's only the half of it. Literally.

eBay's PayPal unit should make up close to half of the firm's revenues this year, putting eBay's business more in line with firms like Visa ( V) than auction houses. A couple of factors make PayPal a disruptive force in the payment business. For starters, PayPal boasts more active users than some of the second-tier payment card names, giving it a huge pool of users to sell merchants on. Because PayPal has focused on the online payment business for so long, its foray into payment systems at brick and mortar stores is a big deal -- that new source of transaction volume could materially boost the firm's revenues. If PayPal can clear up some of its more draconian user policies (like freezing accounts with little recourse), it'll remove its self-imposed stumbling blocks.

The marketplace site is still a major earner for eBay, connecting consumers with new and used goods they otherwise wouldn't be able to find in the real world. Already, international markets make up half of sales. With emerging markets contributing most of the world's internet growth, eBay should benefit from its embrace from outside the U.S. By being on all sides of transactions (eBay caters to both buyers and sellers and facilitates payments), the firm has found a lucrative business catering to small business, with everything from shopping cart software to invoicing platforms.

With rising analyst sentiment in eBay this week, we're betting on shares.


Last up is beverage powerhouse Coca-Cola ( KO). Coke is the biggest drink-maker in the world; the firm's soft drinks, bottled water, juices and specialty beverages make up an astounding 3% of the 55 billion beverages served each day. In addition to its storied namesake, Coke's brand portfolio includes household names such as Sprite, Dasani, Fanta and Powerade.

Despite an Atlanta address for Coke's corporate offices, the U.S. is only a tiny part of the global business -- 80% of operating profits come from overseas. Part of that international success comes from an unmatched distribution network that reaches more than 200 countries. One of Coca-Cola's biggest moneymakers comes from not spending money getting its beverages to their end-markets. Big investments in emerging economies should keep that overseas outperformance coming for the foreseeable future.

Buying its North American bottlers in 2010 has been dilutive to margins -- bottling is inherently less profitable than Coke's core business -- but it's benefitted profitability on an absolute scale. Growth is challenging for a firm of Coke's scale, but that willingness to invest in big-ticket acquisitions for small improvements should be applauded. Meanwhile, emerging markets growth looks like the biggest upside catalyst for Coke in 2014 and beyond.

To see all of this week's Rocket Stocks in action, check out the Rocket Stocks portfolio at Stockpickr.

-- Written by Jonas Elmerraji in Baltimore.


Follow Stockpickr on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook.

At the time of publication, author had no positions in stocks mentioned.

Jonas Elmerraji, CMT, is a senior market analyst at Agora Financial in Baltimore and a contributor to
TheStreet . Before that, he managed a portfolio of stocks for an investment advisory returned 15% in 2008. He has been featured in Forbes , Investor's Business Daily , and on CNBC.com. Jonas holds a degree in financial economics from UMBC and the Chartered Market Technician designation.

Follow Jonas on Twitter @JonasElmerraji

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