BALTIMORE (Stockpickr) -- U.S. stocks are bracing for impact this morning, pointed sharply lower in reaction to Europe's Ukraine crisis-fueled selloff. It's the first whiff of a correction since January, and it's likely to slap some of the weak hands off of stocks to start this week.
After all, following a full month of nearly straight-up price action, U.S. equities are sitting at the top of their price channel from the last year. That means that it's time for sellers to take the reigns again.
But even as selling pressure looks likely, the "Rocket Stocks" are providing investors with an outperformance plan this week. To take advantage, we're turning to five new ones today.
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 238 weeks, our weekly list of five plays has outperformed the S&P 500 by 82%.
Without further ado, here's a look at this week's Rocket Stocks.
First up is wireless carrier AT&T (T). AT&T is the second-largest cellphone carrier in the country after Verizon (VZ), serving more than 93 million phone customers and another 14 million mobile devices. Wireless may be AT&T's most profitable business, but its legacy wireline assets contribute a huge share of operations: the firm operates 30 million phone lines and has 16 million internet users. That huge customer Rolodex stands to benefit AT&T in a big way.
Package deals are the golden goose of the communications business. The more customers AT&T can convince to set up mobile phone service, TV, Internet and landline in one fell swoop, the bigger its margins get. For that reason, a bigger pool of existing customers parlays into a bigger pool of cross selling opportunities. As AT&T continues to invest in infrastructure upgrades (like the U-verse triple-play offering available in 22 states), margins should grow in kind.
Investments in Europe provide some interesting growth opportunities for AT&T in the years ahead. But more immediate-term is the valuation bump that T got from rival carrier Verizon when it acquired the rest of its own wireless business from Vodafone (VOD). VZ overpaid for the remaining 45% of Verizon Wireless, but markets hardly flinched.
Meanwhile, AT&T's valuation remains cheap. Shares trade with a P/E ratio in the single-digits, and a whopping 5.76% dividend yield. It doesn't get much more defensive than this Rocket Stock name.
Micron Technology (MU) is looking less defensive. Instead, it's one of the single-biggest momentum winners of the last year. Over the trailing 12 months, Micron has rallied more than 193%, blowing the S&P 500's impressive performance out of the water. And Micron looks well-positioned to keep pushing higher in 2014.
This company's benefits come from a stiff industry tailwind. Micron is a computer memory maker that until recently was best-known for manufacturing RAM for PCs. But the company has spent the last several years building its flash memory business, a switch that exposes Micron to a far more lucrative niche. Flash memory is a supply-constrained business, and rising prices have spurred big margins and bigger growth opportunities at MU.
Because Micron's tech portfolio spans a wide range of solid state memory products, it's less susceptible to the commodity pressures that might squeeze margins for a particular type of flash storage. Instead, it can allocate resources to the products with the highest returns on investment.
In spite of Micron's prodigious run this year, this stock's fundamentals have kept pace; as I write, shares trade for just 16x earnings. That's not a bargain bin valuation, but it it's far from a momentum stock valuation too.
Another tech name on our Rocket Stocks list this week is Oracle (ORCL). Shares of the $175 billion enterprise software company have produced more perfunctory performance over the past year, climbing just 13% versus a market that's managed to double that. But with rising sentiment in shares this week, ORCL has earned Rocket Stock status -- especially as volatility peeks back into equities this week.
Oracle's biggest business is application software. The firm sells mission-critical software packages to firms that need database tools for everything from customer resource management to supply chain analysis. Because Oracle's big-ticket software is integrated so tightly into firms' operations, customers have extremely high switching costs and competitors have big barriers to entry.
From a financial standpoint, Oracle looks solid. The firm carries approximately $14 billion in net cash on its balance sheet, enough to offset approximately 8% of the firm's current market capitalization. That reduces a material amount of risk in buying Oracle right now, and it gives the firm some big options as it looks for growth avenues in 2014.
Oil and gas supermajor Exxon Mobil (XOM) tips the scales as the world's largest energy firm. Exxon's reserves weigh in at 25.2 billion barrels of oil equivalent, just over half of which are crude oil. As an integrated oil and gas company, Exxon is also the largest refiner on Earth, and a major manufacturer of petrochemicals. At a time when other integrated energy companies are selling off their downstream assets in search of higher levels of profitability, Exxon's holding onto its refining and retail businesses to keep higher profits on an absolute basis.
Exxon transformed itself when it acquired nat gas firm XTO Energy. Other oil firms quickly followed suit -- and while nat gas prices haven't rewarded XOM shareholders in a meaningful way yet, as more infrastructure gets converted over to dirt cheap gas, it should help spur a demand hike.
Historically, Exxon Mobil has been an excellent allocator of capital. Its expertise in pulling commodities out of the ground means that it's able to record lower production costs at a time when oil prices are sitting at the top of their historic range. And this week, with climbing analyst sentiment in XOM, we're betting on shares. Exxon's big commodity exposure should help tamp down its correlation with the broad market as equities try to correct to start this week.
Last up is media conglomerate Twenty-First Century Fox (FOXA). The relatively new ticker is the result of a breaking-apart of News Corp.'s (NWSA) businesses -- FOXA is the film studio, TV networks and satellite TV broadcasters. The firm's former news publishing assets stay under the old name, making the new FOXA a TV entertainment play.
The content business is booming. With third-party services like Netflix (NFLX) paying dearly for older libraries of video content, and a wide range of cross-promotional opportunities within Fox's own assets, the firm is better positioned than ever before to monetize its portfolio of movies and TV shows. The firm has been repositioning its network assets in recent years, changing around its Fox Sports franchise, for instance. That willingness to risk changes in favor of higher returns shouldn't go unnoticed by shareholders.
While the firm's U.S. assets are a cash cow, it's the Asian and Latin American businesses that look to provide the most meaningful growth potential in the years ahead. At present, international sales bring in around 15% of the segment's profits. But penetration rates for paid TV are extremely low in emerging markets, and with burgeoning middle class populations trading up in their entertainment choices, FOXA should benefit in 2014.
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.