BALTIMORE (Stockpickr) -- It's hard to believe that July is just a trading session away. Stocks may have started off the year in sideways mode, but U.S. markets have been definitively clawing their way higher in the last month and change.
As of this writing, 2014 is the year of the second-best May-to-June run for the S&P 500 in the last decade. Since May 1, the big index has rallied 4.1%. Only 2009's rebound-year gains came in higher --and not by much.
So much for "sell in May and go away" -- and so much for summer doldrums. We're still very much in a "buy-the-dips market" as we head into July, and to take full advantage of the upward mobility in equity prices, we're turning to a new set of Rocket Stocks worth buying 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 255 weeks, our weekly list of five plays has outperformed the S&P 500 by 78.78%.
Without further ado, here's a look at this week's Rocket Stocks.
Johnson & Johnson
You won't find a more prototypical blue-chip stock than Johnson & Johnson (JNJ). This $297 billion health care giant owns a slew of consumer brands with household names, and it pays a hefty 2.67% dividend yield at current price levels. And with rising analyst expectations this week, JNJ is making the Rocket Stock cut this morning.
Johnson & Johnson has a reputation that precedes it. The firm's consumer brands include major labels like Band-Aid, Tylenol, Neutrogena and Acuvue but it's the firm's non-consumer pharmaceutical and medical device units that provide the lion's share of Johnson & Johnson's sales. JNJ's diversified product portfolio provides investors with a lot more protection than a typical big pharma or medical device firm would enjoy. Black clouds like patent expiration are mitigated by the fact that JNJ is pulling revenues from multiple sources.
From a financial standpoint, Johnson & Johnson is in solid shape. While the acquisition of big-ticket medical device maker Synthes used a big chunk of JNJ's net available cash, the firm still carries $12.1 billion in net cash on its balance sheet right now. Look for a strong drug pipeline to add some potential growth catalysts to JNJ's huge income statement in the medium-term.
Online travel agent Priceline.com (PCLN) made waves earlier this month, when it announced that it was buying restaurant reservation site OpenTable (OPEN) for $2.6 billion in cash. But the OPEN acquisition isn't Priceline's first departure from its old business. PCLN is making some big strides to change how it operates fundamentally, and investors should be excited, even if Priceline isn't exactly "cheap" right now.
Priceline is one of the biggest travel sites on the Web. The firm got its start by connecting bargain-hungry consumers with hotels' and airlines' excess inventory, but the firm has expanded beyond that focus in the years since. The acquisition of Kayak last year was a major milestone for PCLN -- the acquisition of a content-centric site was the first step at establishing a moat in a business that's becoming increasingly commoditized. Overseas sales continue to be a major growth engine for Priceline; as travelers abroad (particularly in emerging markets where Priceline has been investing in a localized presence) book more of their travel online, PCLN is growing its numbers.
Make no mistake, Priceline isn't cheap by any metric. Despite a nearly $5 billion net cash position, the firm trades for 32 times earnings. But momentum is clearly on PCLN's side in this market, and buyers continue to step in and pick up shares this summer. As Priceline invests in assets with an economic moat, look for margins to keep climbing, and buyers to keep getting emboldened.
After losing its high-profile battle at the Supreme Court, cloud-based TV operator Aereo is pausing its operations this month to figure out its next steps. One of the biggest beneficiaries on the other side of the deal is CBS (CBS), one of the big television networks. Actually, CBS' reach extends beyond broadcast TV and into cable (through Showtime and its CW joint venture), TV production, CBS Radio and Simon & Schuster.
CBS' large collection of media assets makes it an attractive way to play consumers' increased content consumption today. That's especially true because CBS isn't just the content broadcaster, it's also the content owner in many cases. As online services pay top dollar for access to content libraries, CBS is well-positioned to monetize assets that have been gathering dust. One of the shining stars in the CBS portfolio is pay-TV network Showtime, a network that's enjoyed critical acclaim for its original programming. The economics of premium networks adds significant value to CBS' operations, even if it's only a small piece of the puzzle today.
CBS has been moving away from many of its legacy businesses; the decision to spin off its billboard advertising unit into CBS Outdoor Americas (CBSO) earlier this year unlocked value for shareholders while taking a disparate asset off of the books. Look for similar moves in the coming months.
Hard drive giant Western Digital (WDC) has seen a strong run so far this year: while the S&P 500 has gained 6% since the calendar flipped to January, Western Digital is closing in on 11% gains over the same stretch. And now, the world's largest hard drive manufacturer is well-positioned to extend those gains for the rest of the year thanks to strong demand for computer storage solutions.
Western Digital has some big tailwinds blowing at its back in 2014. The growth of mobile devices means that consumers are carrying around more content creation equipment than ever before -- and demand for local and cloud storage is growing at a breakneck pace. WDC is able to grab a huge share of the hard drive market by virtue of its scale, and investments in solid state drive technology (through the acquisition of STEC last year, for example) mean that the firm will be able to keep its market share when SSDs come down in price and server farms transition to the new technology.
From a financial standpoint, WDC is in stellar shape right now. With $2.4 billion in net cash on its balance sheet, this firm carries enough cash to cover 11% of its current market capitalization today. Despite a price trajectory that's been up and to the right for the last couple of years, Western Digital still trades for just 20x earnings. It's not cheap, but it's far from expensive.
We're harnessing this stock's momentum for upside in July.
Last up on our Rocket Stocks list today is Lennar (LEN), the $8.5 billion Miami-based homebuilder. Homebuilders have been gaining steam in the last couple of months, buoyed by rising real estate values and interest rates that continue to skirt along all-time lows. Lennar's unique business model makes it a great way to play the trend in 2014.
Lennar is a vertically integrated homebuilder, providing everything from construction to mortgage services, title insurance and closing for homebuyers. That exposure to "all things real estate" makes Lennar a leveraged bet on the real estate market, an attractive investment in the last several years. The firms subsidiaries also own positions in commercial real estate and multifamily apartment complexes, two investments that makes LEN a very different name than most of its peers.
The biggest piece of Lennar's business is homebuilding, and the firm's exposure to the lower end of the new construction market is looking attractive this year. The firm has been buying land with both hands for the last several years, resulting in ample opportunities for new projects, and an asset that's likely underpriced on its balance sheet.
With rising analyst sentiment in shares of Lennar this week, we're betting on shares.
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.