BALTIMORE (Stockpickr) -- Nothing calms investors' animal spirits quite like a three-day weekend. And after a huge 2.71% rally in last week's four short trading sessions, an extended break from trading is exactly what the doctor ordered.
That'll give extra weight to this week's price action as the big indexes sort out whether the correction that's harangued stocks in March and April is finally over.
For longer-term investors, the most important takeaway is the fact that correction or not, the primary trend is still up and to the right. We're still very much in a "buy the dips market". We're just seeing a dip this month.
So with that, we're taking a look at five new Rocket Stocks worth trading this week.
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 245 weeks, our weekly list of five plays has outperformed the S&P 500 by 79.95%.
Without further ado, here's a look at this week's Rocket Stocks.
Delta Air Lines
It's hard to argue with results -- and Delta Air Lines (DAL) has provided investors with some serious results in 2014. While the broad market has struggled to trade flat this year, DAL is up more than 23% since the calendar flipped to January. With momentum still looking strong, we're taking a closer look at this Rocket Stock this week.
Delta is one of the country's legacy airlines -- and one of the largest in the world -- with more than 720 aircraft serving nearly 250 mainline destinations around the world. By merging with Northwest in 2008, Delta grew its scale dramatically, saving substantial costs in the process. The last year has been a cyclical counterpoint to the notion that airlines are a bad investment. Delta's ability to rake in large profits in the face of stiff competition and triple-digit oil prices is a big coup for the $28 billion air carrier.
The fact remains that Delta is able to service more highly competitive routes than domestic rivals, and that should keep high-revenue frequent fliers in the firm's seats. Delta is also not shy about cutting loopholes in its SkyMiles program: the decision to tie elite qualifications to dollars spent on Delta flights should go a long way in aligning the airline's biggest benefits with its biggest benefactors. If you decide to be a buyer in Delta, keep an eye on earnings they're slated for Wednesday.
Western Digital (WDC) has been another high flyer in 2014: Year-to-date, WDC is up more than 8.5%. Zoom out to the trailing 12 months, and those performance numbers balloon to a whopping 82% gain. The bottom line is that demand remains high for the computer storage equipment that Western Digital makes -- and the firm is still cashing in.
Western Digital is the world's biggest maker of hard disk drives, thanks to its transformative 2012 acquisition of Hitachi Global Storage Technologies. As consumers become bigger producers of content (thanks in large part to smartphones), storage needs continue to swell. That should keep WDC's 40% share of the hard drive market very attractive indeed. Longer-term, though, the perks of flash memory are likely to overtake HDDs as costs drop. That's what makes Western Digital's investments in solid state memory technology so important.
From a financial standpoint, Western Digital has a balance sheet that's survived several significant acquisitions in the last couple of years. The firm carries $2.3 billion in net cash, a war chest that covers more that 10% of WDC's outstanding shares at current price levels. That cash balance also puts the firm's ex-cash P/E ratio in the high teens. WDC may have rallied hard in the last year, but the momentum isn't showing signs of tiring.
There's no company that's rooting for an improving economy harder than Paychex (PAYX). After all, it's one of the businesses that benefits the most directly from climbing employment numbers and economic growth. Paychex is an outsourced HR firm that provides 570,000 small and medium-sized businesses with payroll and more specialized HR services. Because of the bevy of tax and compliance issues involved in a small business paying its people, the firm is able to earn profits for its expertise.
And as jobs numbers ratchet higher, so too do the fees that PAYX is able to collect.
Paychex's entrance into ancillary HR services came as a reaction to the economic problems of 2007 and 2008. As clients laid off employees or even closed up shop, Paychex was facing a revenue shortfall of its own. So the firm decided to push add-ons like 401k management and worker's comp insurance to its existing Rolodex. The strategy has worked -- and that leaves investors with a much more lucrative operation as jobs come back online.
The potential for rising interest rates should get PAYX investors salivating too. Historically, Paychex has earned substantial income from float interest -- the interest money it earns on massive payroll accounts in between the time that employers deposit funds and employees cash their checks. But with rates held near zero for the past five years, that revenue stream has dried up. While higher rates are likely further away than the Fed claims, it's an extra upside factor worth considering for longer-term investors.
High-end housewares company Williams-Sonoma (WSM) has been a best-in-breed consumer cyclical stock this year. W hile the rest of the industry slipped almost 4% since January, WSM is up more than 7% over the same stretch. That makes Williams-Sonoma another name that's holding up its momentum in 2014, even if many investors would consider it an unexpected addition to our Rocket Stocks list.
Williams-Sonoma operates 585 stores across the world under the Williams-Sonoma, Pottery Barn, West Elm, and Rejuvenation brands. The firm is also one of the largest e-commerce sellers of home furnishings. WSM sells brand name kitchenware, furniture, and accessories, and as a result, it's able to bring thick margins to the bottom line. International growth has been a major catalyst for upside, and WSM's decision to get exposure to the Middle East through franchises is an excellent low-risk way to gain exposure to emerging market growth without making huge investments.
Financially, Williams-Sonoma is in stellar shape. The firm has historically avoided borrowing to grow its store footprint, and as a result, the firm has a balance sheet with more than $330 million in cash and less than $4 million in debt. With rising analyst sentiment in WSM this week, we're betting on shares of this Rocket Stock.
Last up is mid-cap transport and freight operator Ryder System (R). Ryder leases, rents, and services commercial trucks ranging from vans to tractor-trailers. As firms look to keep transport costs in check, Ryder offers an attractive solution: rather than own the equipment themselves, customers can lease trucks from Ryder and avoid maintenance issues, or use shorter-term rentals to immediately increase capacity without letting excess trucks sit idle in a parking lot.
Ryder has done a good job of growing both revenues and margins in the last several years. The firm has posted 24% sales growth since 2010 alone, the combined result of more green sprouts in the economy and a more effective sales pitch. Today, as firms remain cautious about parting with big cash outlays, a larger chunk of operations come from dedicated carriage contracts, which provided longer-term solutions to customers in exchange for much more stable, consistent revenues.
Ryder's business is capital intense, but the firm has managed to maintain a minimally leveraged balance sheet. Given the rising relative strength of the transports sector in the last several months, Ryder provides a good way to get exposure without nearly as much cyclical downside (or commodity exposure) as a typical transport name. This Rocket Stock reports earnings on April 23.
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.