BALTIMORE (Stockpickr) -- It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas -- not because there's snow on the ground or because trees are lit, but because Wall Street trading desks are running on a skeleton crew this week.
Typically, the Christmas week is a quiet one for investors. With a truncated trading week for the holidays and more folks taking vacation time than taking new trading positions, this week tends to sport low volume and low volatility. It also tends to sport upward mobility in the form of a "Santa Claus Rally," the end-of-year pop that stocks often get between Christmas and New Year's.
If there's ever a year to end on a strong note, it's 2013. The venerable S&P 500 Index is up a staggering 27.5% year-to-date heading into this week, and the big index is showing some serious signs of strength this morning too.
To take full advantage, we're taking a closer look at five Rocket Stocks worth buying.
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 228 weeks, our weekly list of five plays has outperformed the S&P 500 by 85.99%.
Without further ado, heres a look at this week's Rocket Stocks.
How appropriate that Walt Disney (DIS) tops off our Christmas list of Rocket Stocks this week -- the home of Mickey Mouse has a major presence under kids' trees this year. Disney is an entertainment giant that owns some of the most valuable intellectual property in the industry; in addition to Mickey and Donald, it owns brands such as ESPN, ABC and Pixar.
Disney's businesses range from film studios to TV networks to theme parks to cruise ships. That huge income statement diversity means that Disney can create huge cross-promotional opportunities: Films get marketed on Disney's networks and drive visitors to its theme parks.
It may come as a surprise, but the real jewel in Disney's crown isn't an anthropomorphic mouse; it's ESPN. ESPN is the most valuable network on TV, measured by the affiliate fees that providers are willing to pay to carry the channel. While its not a cheap business to run (ESPN pays the NFL $1.8 billion annually to carry Monday Night Football), it is a lucrative one.
One big catalyst for Disney in 2014 is the theme parks business. Parks are hugely capital-intense, and they were the slowest part of Disney's empire to turn around after the Great Recession. As park visitors continue to tick higher, investors should expect the late stage cycle in theme parks to transition them from earnings drags to earnings drivers.
Meanwhile, keep an eye out for earnings on Feb. 3.
There's no two ways about it: 2013 has been a phenomenal year for shareholders in Priceline.com (PCLN). Shares of the $61 billion online travel site have rallied 92% since the calendar flipped over to January, besting the broad market's big returns nearly four times over. Now that momentum looks like it's holding up.
Priceline.com is an online travel aggregation site that helps customers book everything from hotel rooms and airline tickets to rental cars and vacation packages. The firm's revenues come from transaction fees that PCLN earns for facilitating the sales. While the U.S. travel market is very commoditized at this point, Priceline brand recognition ensures that it still receives a disproportionate amount of bookings -- and moves like the acquisition of travel content site Kayak mean that the site is trying to prove its ability to add value beyond ease of booking.
Internationally, Priceline has some bigger opportunities. Overseas, travel commoditization is less of a problem, as many hotels and air carriers lack the "lowest price" contracts with other resellers that spurred a race to the bottom here at home. Because of its size, PCLN offers those service providers a market to sell excess capacity at a discount. In short, international sales provide the biggest opportunity for margin expansion for PCLN, while legacy sales continue to keep the lights on.
It hasn't, on the other hand, been smooth sailing over at one of Priceline's partners: Carnival (CCL). Carnival experienced some high-profile disasters, from the Costa Concordia wreck in 2012 to the fire that stranded the Carnival Triumph at sea for five days. But with the worst behind it, Carnival looks well positioned for a stronger showing into 2014.
Carnival is the world's largest cruise operator. The firm's fleet includes more than 100 ships that fly the flags of its wide spectrum of brands. In addition to Carnival's namesake line, the firm's portfolio includes names like Holland America, Cunard, Princess, and more than a half-dozen other lines. By pursuing a niche strategy, Carnival is able to court worldwide customers from a wider array of income brackets, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. As the cruise industry continues to grow in popularity (especially as cruise-hungry baby boomers reach their retirement years at record rates) Carnival's upside potential is continuing to increase in kind.
Big macro tailwinds provide some extra help for Carnival right now. The cruise industry is incredibly capital-intense, with new ships coming in at price tags of around $1 billion. But with record-low interest rates at present, CCL has been able to refresh its fleet at an exceptionally low cost. Likewise, CCL indexes its prices to the cost of oil, reducing risk and taking the need for commodity hedging off the table.
With rising sentiment in Carnival this week, we're betting on shares.
Michael Kors Holdings
Michael Kors Holdings (KORS) has been another big momentum name in 2013; shares of the apparel brand have rallied more than 64% since the start of the year. In fact, since going public in late 2011, KORS has been one of the most conspicuous IPO success stories on the NYSE, ballooning in price by 248% since the first trade hit the tape. But it's KORS' upside yet to come that investors should be paying attention to now.
Kors has a hand in every corner of the apparel and accessory business from clothes and handbags to watches and jewelry. The firm's niche focus on mass-affluent consumers puts it in a sweet spot -- it courts luxury cash without the luxury price tags that hamper sales for higher-priced "true luxury" brands. The firm has done well catering to a population of spend-happy young professionals, a coveted group of super consumers. The transition from selling primarily though third-party retailers to a dual model with a large footprint of company-owned stores should keep revenues climbing at a fast pace.
Financially, KORS is in spectacular shape, with net profit margins deep in the double digits and a debt-free balance sheet. The firm's ability to finance store build-outs with cash and equity is commendable, even if cash remains cheap in this environment.
KORS' willingness to play the "long game" should pay off for shareholders in 2014.
By far, one of the most captivating technology trends in 2013 has come from storage. As cloud-based services proliferate the web, and more devices become capable of recording data-hungry media like video, enterprise storage needs are ballooning. And that means Western Digital (WDC) is first in line to get paid.
Western Digital is the largest hard-drive maker in the world, thanks to a deal to acquire Hitachi's hard drive business last year. WDC's manufacturing capacities make it a critical player in the storage business, a space that's been supply constrained for the last few years. The future, though, is in solid-state drives, and Western Digital knows it. SSDs don't have moving parts, which makes them quicker and smaller than conventional hard disks but the considerable expertise needed to build out an SSD business creates a challenge for conventional hard disk makers.
To combat that, WDC has been acquiring expertise in the SSD arena (like its tuck-in buy of Stec earlier this year). As Western Digital ramps up its solid state capabilities, it should be able to boast much bigger margins in the long-run. Meanwhile, the firm has enough cash on its balance sheet to cover around a quarter of its current market capitalization. A cash-rich status that makes WDC look downright cheap at current price levels.
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.