BALTIMORE ( Stockpickr) -- This Thanksgiving, have your turkey and mashed potatoes with a side of stock gains. It may sound surprising, but statistically speaking, Thanksgiving week has a distinct bullish bias for the stock market.
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(That's in spite of a closed market on Thursday, and a shortened session on Friday.)
And it doesn't end there -- the stretch from Thanksgiving through the end of the year has only been negative once in the past decade for the S&P 500, an indication that investors generally feel good about stocks heading into the end of the year. Generally speaking, it's the best single month all year long for stocks investors.
But that doesn't mean you should buy blindly here -- with a third of the S&P 500 still down year-to-date, stock selection matters more than ever in 2014. So, to take full advantage of that seasonal stock bias, we're turning to a fresh 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 275 weeks, our weekly list of five plays has outperformed the S&P 500's record run by 77.04%.
Without further ado, here's a look at this week's Rocket Stocks.
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Up first is Cisco Systems (CSCO) , a $137 billion technology stock that's quietly been stomping the broad market in 2014 -- since the calendar flipped to January, Cisco is up 20%. That's nearly double what buying the S&P 500 would have earned you over the same period. And major industry tailwinds look poised to keep pushing Cisco to higher ground in 2015.
Cisco Systems makes the software and hardware used to connect computer networks. Being the largest IP networking company in the world comes with some big advantages -- and with internet traffic and connectivity needs forecast to keep climbing at a brisk pace, Cisco still has the ability to move the needle on its income statement. The enterprise IT customer is Cisco's bread and butter -- because Cisco's gear is designed to plug-and-play with other Cisco components, IT departments that "keep it in the family" can often see much lower integration and ongoing technical support costs. That gives Cisco an important economic moat right now, even if competition is trying to move in on its business.
From a financial standpoint, Cisco is in solid shape. The firm carries more than $32 billion in net cash on its balance sheet, enough to cover almost a quarter of the firm's market capitalization at current price levels. That's a big risk reducer for investors buying shares today. Look for CSCO's bullish momentum to keep this stock outperforming for the end of the year.
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Aerospace giant Boeing (BA) is one of the biggest beneficiaries of the about-face in airlines' fortunes this year. The firm is one of only two major heavy aircraft manufacturers, operating in a duopoly with Airbus -- as airlines take advantage of low borrowing costs to revamp their fleets with more efficient nextgen aircraft, BA shareholders win.
So do the airlines -- jet fuel is the single largest cost for any air carrier, and the materially lower fuel consumption of platforms like the 787 or the 737 NG make the benefits of upgrading a fleet pretty hard to ignore. That's a big driver for the $490 billion backlog at Boeing, an order sheet that amounts to more than four years of sales. Growth in commercial aircraft sales should continue to be the biggest driver of Boeing's top line in the coming years.
Boeing's business isn't just commercial jets. The firm still earns almost 40% of revenues as a defense contractor, even though that sales mix has been dropping over the last several years as BA worked to reduce its exposure to the DoD's budget and the whims of Congress. Today, Boeing's defense business provides nice diversification away from the hugely cyclical commercial side of the income statement, but its shrinking scale is probably a good thing for shareholders.
With rising analyst sentiment in Boeing, we're betting on shares this week…
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Legacy investment bank Morgan Stanley (MS) has edged out the S&P 500 by a thin margin in 2014 -- but what's interesting is that much of that performance has come just in the last six months. While the big stock index is up nearly 9% over that half-year stretch, MS has rallied almost double that. And with deal volumes on the rise and an equity rally going strong, Morgan Stanley remains an attractive name to own this fall.
Morgan Stanley is one of the legacy investment banks that survived the financial crisis with its name intact. Like other investment banking firms, MS became a bank holding company in the wake of 2008 in a bid to get access to cheap capital and stay afloat -- the flip side to that deal is that the firm is now under regulatory burdens that preclude the profitability levels and returns on equity that Morgan Stanley saw pre-crisis.
Still, record low interest rates coupled with rising equity values means the MS is in an attractive position right now. A rising stock market should fuel more IPOs and M&A activity, driving profits. With prices on the rise, Morgan Stanley's cut for assets under management is bigger too. Likewise, the unlikely event of a rate hike would allow MS to earn bigger fees for its efforts. The firm's willingness to sell off less attractive parts of its business continues to unlock value for shareholders, and boost the firm's net margins. Investors will get their next snapshot of MS' operations on January 15.
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Thermo Fisher Scientific
Lab supply company Thermo Fisher Scientific (TMO) may not exactly be a household name, but it's certainly a familiar brand in scientific laboratories around the world. The firm's catalog of scientific instruments, equipment, and consumables are used by more than 350,000 facilities in applications ranging from life sciences to healthcare to environmental science.
While lab supplies still contribute approximately 40% of TMO's total sales, the firm has been focused on more specialized products that can command bigger margins -- for instance, analytical and diagnostic equipment each generate approximately 20% of sales today. Those specialized tools also give Thermo Fisher an attractive consumables business, a factor that also boosts switching costs (labs are likely to stick with TMO's instruments, for instance, because that means they only need to order one type of disposable slides to feed into them).
Thermo Fisher's growth-by-acquisition approach to growth hasn't historically been the cheapest strategy, but it's worked at boosting the firm's total scale. So while TMO carries $14.5 billion in debt on its balance sheet, that debt load is easily serviced by the firm's cash generation. With rising analyst sentiment in shares of TMO this week, we're betting on shares.
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Illinois Tool Works
Last up on our list of Rocket Stocks is Illinois Tool Works (ITW) , the industrial manufacturer behind brands like Sub-Zero and Wolf appliances, Rain-X, and ZipPak. Frankly, there are far too many brands to list here -- ITW owns more than 100 individual businesses that make everything from car seat heaters to chemicals. That may seem like an untenable list of operations, but it's actually down from nearly 800 units just a few years ago.
As ITW focuses on its more lucrative businesses, shareholders stand to benefit.
Illinois Tool Works' management is experienced at running a decentralized operation. Unit managers have the discretion to make decisions, and they're able to remain more nimble than they otherwise could as a result. Under the firm's growth plan introduced two years ago, ITW is returning to having some centralized back office functions, a move designed to cut costs without hamstringing the secret to the firm's success in the past. That means individual managers will still have autonomy over their units, but they won't bear the financial burden of duplicated HR and accounting roles.
As an industrial company (most of ITW's biggest brands aren't consumer brands), it's fortunes tend to move in step with the economy. So, as economic numbers continue to show slow progress, so too has ITW's bottom line. Investors should expect some top line decreases from getting rid of slow-growing commoditized businesses, but that tradeoff should pay off longer-term. ITW's price momentum has been stellar for the last month and change, propelling shares to new highs. Now, it still looks like a good time to grab onto this Rocket Stock's upward trajectory.
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.
At the time of publication, author had no positions in the stocks mentioned.
Jonas Elmerraji, CMT, is a senior market analyst at Agora Financial in Baltimore and a contributor to TheStreet. Before that, he managed a portfolio of stocks for an investment advisory that returned 15% in 2008. He has been featured in Forbes , Investor's Business Daily, and on CNBC.com. Jonas holds a degree in financial economics from UMBC and the Chartered Market Technician designation.
Follow Jonas on Twitter @JonasElmerraji