BALTIMORE ( Stockpickr) -- Stocks are pointed definitively higher today, buoyed by the Eurozone's reaction to a vote in Crimea that favors joining Russia, as well as an increase in China's trading band for the yuan.
Looks like Mr. Market got a call from the governor at the 11th hour.
That overseas-driven boost in sentiment for stocks couldn't have come at a better time. U.S. indices are starting to look "toppy" after their nonstop run higher from February's lows, and a correction looks likely as we head into the new week. If this morning's buying pressure holds, it could help to derail a move lower this week. Or more likely, it'll postpone it.
A correction doesn't have to be a bad thing. As we've seen for the last 15 months of rallying, corrections are actually a healthy thing for a bull market. But to weather them, you've got to own stocks that are better positioned than the rest of the market. To do that, we're turning to a fresh set of "Rocket Stocks" 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 240 weeks, our weekly list of five plays has outperformed the S&P 500 by 82.1%.
Without further ado, here's a look at this week's Rocket Stocks.
First up on our Rocket Stocks list is Apple (AAPL), a name that needs little introduction. What is unique in Apple right now, though, is the fact that this tech behemoth hasn't made it past the quantitative screening process to make this list since well back into last year -- so that sentiment change makes Apple worth a second look this week.
Apple is one of the biggest makers of mobile devices and personal computers, and it's also the world's largest seller of digital music and media through its iTunes store. That scale has a big target painted on Apple's back. Without a new "game changer" product since the iPad's release in 2010, investors are anxious about AAPL's growth prospects. But CEO Tim Cook has publicly said that the firm is tackling new categories, and we'll likely get a glimpse at them in 2014. Because Apple has built a robust ecosystem for its products, expect any new category offerings to benefit from big cross-selling opportunities with Apple's huge installed base.
From a financial standpoint, Apple's $141 billion in cash and investments provides a deep value story that's unprecedented in the mega-cap space. At current share prices, the firm could pay for 30% of its outstanding shares with cash on hand. That shoves AAPL's cash-adjusted P/E ratio to 9.3 -- a utility stock valuation, not the multiple you'd expect from a tech giant in a bull market.
Earnings next month could provide a big upside catalyst.
Johnson & Johnson
Health care giant Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) is your prototypical blue-chip stock. The firm's consumer brands include household names such as Band-Aid, Tylenol, Neutrogena and Acuvue -- but they only add up to around 30% of revenue. The other 70% comes from pharmaceuticals and medical devices, specialized offerings where JNJ's deep patent portfolio and pile of R&D cash provide it with some key advantages.
Johnson & Johnson offers investors best-in-breed positioning right now. Unlike other big pharma firms, JNJ has few patent losses on the horizon, and diversification in the firm's other business units means that any losses are mitigated even more. Recent investments in medical devices (such as the acquisition of Synthes) has made Johnson & Johnson's strong market share even stronger -- and it's made the lucrative medical device business the largest unit at JNJ.
The health care machine at JNJ earns huge net profit margins (more than 19% last quarter), and those translate into cash flows. The firm carries more than $10 billion in net cash on its balance sheet, and it pays out a 2.84% dividend yield. While JNJ isn't sporting a deep value price tag, it's not "expensive" either. This is a business worth owning for health care exposure in 2014.
Home improvement retailer Home Depot (HD) is no stranger to our Rocket Stocks list. With a rising tide of real estate prices and prolonged near-zero interest rates, home improvement projects have gotten a shot in the arm in the last few years -- and HD has benefitted all the way up. Since the end of 2011, shares of Home Depot have doubled.
Home Depot is the biggest home improvement retail chain in the world, with more than 2,250 big box stores spread across the U.S., Canada and Mexico. In years past, distractions left HD overexposed to areas where it didn't want to be. So the firm sold its professional supply unit, and closed underperforming Chinese stores to focus on its main consumer retail offerings. There's still plenty of growth left untapped there too; despite its huge footprint, HD only captures a fifth of U.S. home improvement spending, leaving plenty of growth potential domestically.
Mexico is the big unknown in HD's business. But in exchange for those risks, the 60 stores in the Mexican market offers some big growth opportunities that are far lower-hanging fruit than U.S. growth. With rising analyst sentiment in shares of HD this week, we're betting on shares.
2014 is panning out to be a stellar year for shares of self-storage REIT Public Storage (PSA). Since the calendar flipped over to January, shares of PSA have rallied close to 12%, stomping the S&P 500's flat price action over the same period. So should investors expect more of the same for the rest of the year?
Public Storage has a stake in nearly 2,100 storage units in 38 states here in the U.S., as well as 49% ownership interest in Shurgard Europe's self-storage business, and a 41% share of a business park operator with 28.3 million square feet of leasable commercial space. Most investors think of real estate investment trusts, or REITs, as bets on the real estate market, but they're not. Instead, PSA's amalgamation of rental businesses makes it a pure play income generation name. The REIT structure means that the firm is obligated to pay the vast majority of its income to shareholders in the firm of dividends.
As the largest self-storage company, PSA has name recognition benefits that rivals don't. Still, the firm controls just 5% of the self-storage business, a small enough chunk that there's still room for growth. That growth opportunity is especially apparent in major metropolitan areas where more than 70% of the firm's revenue is earned. Currently, PSA pays out a 3.33% dividend yield.
Last, but far from least, is Netflix (NFLX). There was a time when Netflix was best known as a DVD rental business, but no more. The firm broke apart its DVD and streaming video operations in 2011, requiring users to pay separately for them. Despite drawing customers' ire when that transition was announced (so much so that it abandoned plans to rename the DVD rental business Qwikster), the decision is paying off in spades these days.
Netflix has executed extremely well on the streaming video business. Original programming such as "House of Cards" and "Orange Is the New Black" has been hugely successful at keeping the firm's 44 million subscribers around, and that scale ensures that the firm can pen the deals it needs to acquire content from studios. The firm's first-to-market status means that it's already built into gaming consoles, TVs and Blu-Ray players, a major component of getting users to pony up for the paid service.
There are a lot of challenges ahead for this stock, the biggest coming from rivals such as Amazon.com (AMZN), battles with internet providers and rising media rights costs. But as long as NFLX keeps its original programming as "must-watch," it'll continue to be the streaming video service of choice for consumers.
NFLX may be an expensive stock, but bullish momentum makes this Rocket Stock worth buying this week.
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.