Labor Day weekend gave U.S market participants some extra time to take a breather after Friday's rebound session, something that could come in handy following a sideways do-nothing market that's dragged on the longest in more than five decades.
According to Bloomberg, the recent churn in the S&P 500 is the longest stretch of sideways trading for the big stock index since 1964. But stock market volatility is cyclical -- and as we head deeper into September, that directionless price action could be about to give way to something a lot more profitable as we head into the fall months.
To take full advantage of those market conditions, 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 365 weeks, our weekly list of five plays has outperformed the S&P 500's record-breaking run by 78.85%.
Without further ado, here's a look at this week's Rocket Stocks.
Procter & Gamble
Leading things off today is Procter & Gamble (PG - Get Report) , the prototypical example of a blue-chip stock and a holding in Jim Cramer's Action Alerts PLUS charitable portfolio. Procter is a behemoth in consumer products. The firm owns a huge portfolio of household-name products, ranging from Tide laundry detergent to Pampers diapers to Crest toothpaste. That stalwart positioning has led to some equally robust gains in 2016: Shares are up 11% since the start of the year, putting Procter within grabbing distance of all-time highs this fall.
Procter & Gamble's positioning looks particularly compelling now. Despite extremely low levels in the VIX Volatility Index right now, investor anxiety is likely being underpriced by this market -- and that makes blue chips like P&G an attractive defensive bet.
Size is arguable Procter & Gamble's biggest advantage. The firm's scale means that it's able to keep manufacturing, marketing and distributions lower on a per-unit basis than a smaller rival could. Likewise, that scale also helps P&G secure coveted shelf space from retailers who need to drive shopping traffic through the staple personal care brands. A recent re-focus on cutting costs and unloading its most commoditized businesses should translate into materially better margins in the quarters ahead.
In the meantime, the buyers are clearly in control of this stock's price action right now.
Boston Scientific (BSX - Get Report) is another big stock that's enjoying a phenomenal run in 2016. Since the calendar flipped to January, this $33 billion medical device maker has seen its share price rally more than 31% higher, shoving its way to fresh 52-week highs. And BSX could have a lot further to go from here.
Boston Scientific develops and sells medical devices used in everything from cardiology to oncology to vascular surgery. The firm's broad product offerings give it attractive positioning, particularly as an aging population in Western countries ramps up demand for medical devices like never before. The firm's strength in the less invasive category of devices makes Boston Scientific's positioning particularly attractive, as doctors and patients become a lot more willing to consider treatments applied through smaller incisions.
Doubling down on categories like cardiac devices gives Boston Scientific a portfolio that's especially suited to the higher demand for cardiac, gastrointestinal, and urological procedures in the years ahead. As long as BSX can keep its appetite for acquisitions reduced in the coming years, it'll stay at a reasonable level of balance sheet leverage.
In the meantime, this stock's price momentum is moving up and to the right. We're betting on higher ground from here.
Electronic ArtsEA data by YCharts
Publisher Electronic Arts (EA - Get Report) is one of the biggest names in the video game business. The firm owns some of the most profitable franchises in gaming, along with deals to develop games around other huge entertainment brands. As the number of consumers who casually play games on consoles, computers and mobile devices continues to climb, Electronic Arts is well-positioned to profit from the trend.
EA's blockbuster franchises include titles like Madden, Battlefield, and Need for Speed -- and the firm recently penned a decade-long deal with Disney (DIS - Get Report) that gives EA the rights to develop Star Wars games across all platforms, just as the film studio rolls out new movies under the Star Wars banner. Sports games are EA's bread and butter. The firm estimates that it collects half of all sports video game revenues, thanks to dominant titles like Madden, which enjoy consistent repeat sales as successive versions are released.
EA has been a leader in monetizing its titles through downloadable content and subscription-based online play, a strategy that's extended the shelf life of its most popular titles well beyond their launch dates. EA has also put more attention on mobile gaming lately, and that's been paying off. The easy monetization of mobile games means that EA can introduce smaller, more fragmented mobile titles, only expanding on them if they're successful. That takes away a great deal of development risk from a big conventional console or PC title.
With rising analyst sentiment in EA this week, we're betting on shares.
Palo Alto Networks
2016 has been a challenging year for shareholders in Palo Alto Networks (PANW - Get Report) . Year-to-date, this $13 billion cyber security stock has seen its share price backslide to the tune of 18%, underperforming the big market indices by a wide margin. But the 2016 lows may have already been set on Palo Alto Networks' price chart. This stock has been trending higher since shares bottomed back in late June.
Palo Alto Networks develops and sells next-generation firewalls, endpoint protection and cloud security services. The business is split between products and services, which is compelling considering the fact that service revenues tend to be recurring and high-margin, unlike one-time appliance sales. Palo Alto was one of the first cybersecurity firms to include intrusion protection in its firewalls, and that first-to-market status has helped this company grab a bigger share of the super-competitive cybersecurity market.
Taking a page from bigger competitors such as Cisco Systems (CSCO - Get Report) , Palo Alto Networks has been building out its product lineup to offer customers a "platform approach" to security, where the company is the single vendor for all of an enterprise's security needs. A big installed base means plenty of cross-selling opportunities, in spite of the fact that Palo Alto is still the relatively new entrant in the field.
Look for PANW's recent upward trajectory to continue to propel shares higher in September.
Rounding out our list of Rocket Stocks for this week is $6 billion veterinary clinic chain VCA (WOOF) . VCA has been enjoying an outstanding year so far from a price perspective. Since January, this animal health care stock is up more than 30%. And with shares hovering around lifetime highs, this stock's momentum is clearly still being controlled by buyers in September.
VCA is the largest operator of animal hospitals and veterinary labs in the country, with approximately 700 animal hospitals and 60 labs in its network. All told, the firm handled nearly 10 million patient visits last year. The animal health care business is extremely attractive. With pets a more important part of the American family than ever before, consumers are increasingly willing to pay for medical care for their animals. At the same time, the extremely high cost of the human healthcare system in the U.S. has desensitized pet owners to the cost of pet healthcare, keeping margins high for animal hospitals such as VCA.
Hard costs are much lower for veterinary practices than human ones. Regulatory burdens, malpractice and other systemic costs are much lower (or nonexistent) in the veterinary world, and that results in higher levels of profitability for VCA. Growing demand for niche services, like veterinary dermatology, oncology, and even dentistry offer the potential for big margin expansion at VCA. With rising analyst sentiment in this animal health stock, we're betting on shares.