New month, new market?

September was an eventful month for the S&P 500. It brought an end to the sideways stretch in the broad market, introduced plenty of volatility and ultimately ended just 0.5% lower than it started.

In short, September wasn't able to shake the negative seasonality that's typically associated with the ninth month of the year. October isn't usually quite as directionally biased -- but it is historically the most volatile month for the markets. That becomes a little bit interesting here; as I write, all of the big U.S. market averages are positioned just below their all-time highs. That could help set stocks up for some fresh new highs this fall.

To get on the right side of the price action, we're turning to a fresh set of "Rocket Stocks" to buy for gains in October.

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 369 weeks, our weekly list of five plays has outperformed the S&P 500's record-breaking run by 80.35%.

Without further ado, here's a look at this week's Rocket Stocks.


Leading off our list this week is $157 billion food and beverage giant PepsiCo  (PEP - Get Report) . Pepsi is seeing some solid performance in 2016. Year-to-date, this stock has managed to hand investors total returns of 11.2%. Pepsi's price momentum continues to look strong this fall; shares are currently trading just a couple of dollars beneath all-time highs this week. That market-beating price momentum is likely to keep on performing in October.

Pepsi doesn't need much in the way of an introduction. The firm controls a huge chunk of your local grocery store, operating the biggest snack food company (Frito-Lay) and the second-largest beverage company (PepsiCo) on the planet. The firm's huge portfolio of brands includes everything from Pepsi to Gatorade and Tropicana on the beverage front and Lay's, Doritos and Quaker on the snack side. That combination has provided Pepsi with an important advantage. While some investors have called for breaking the two halves apart, management has done a good job of demonstrating that it's able to pull considerable value out of the business as a single operation that can spread big infrastructure costs across twice as much merchandise.

While Pepsi is a major multinational, it has huge exposure to the U.S. Just over 50% of revenues were generated here at home last year. That's actually been an appreciable advantage for Pepsi lately, as the strong U.S. dollar has squeezed profitability at other multinationals that earn a bigger chunk of sales overseas. That U.S. exposure also implies some pretty big expansion opportunities internationally over the long term.

Pepsi is a holding in Jim Cramer's Action Alerts PLUS charitable portfolio. "Pepsi, which has been a core AAP holding since we first bought it, has demonstrated category leadership and continues to fire on all cylinders amid an extremely difficult macro, currency and secular backdrop," wrote Cramer and Research Director Jack Mohr on Friday. "With the shares trading roughly 9% above our cost basis, we would await a pullback below $105 before considering adding to the position, but recommend members who own the shares hold onto PEP for the yield, visibility and countercyclical growth."


Shares of Qualcomm  (QCOM - Get Report)  got an M&A-fueled pop last week, but it wasn't because the firm was an acquisition target. Instead, it was the prospect that Qualcomm could be planning to deploy some of its sizable cash position that got shares ramping higher. Shares are likely to continue to be actively traded in the week ahead as investors speculate about a potential deal to acquire NXP Semiconductors  (NXPI - Get Report) . (NXP Semiconductors is a holding in Jim Cramer's Action Alerts PLUS charitable portfolio.)

Qualcomm is already one of the biggest mobile chip makers in the business. The firm's processors can be found in a number of high-end smartphones, and its components are ubiquitous in the industry. (Qualcomm provides the radio modems used in many of the new iPhone 7s, for instance.) Put simply, if there's a smartphone in your pocket, there's a good chance Qualcomm got paid somewhere along the way. That's true even if there isn't any Qualcomm hardware inside your phone, because Qualcomm is also a major patent licensor, collecting royalties for effectively every 3G and 4G LTE handset that rolls off an assembly line today.

The Qualcomm cash machine hasn't been unchallenged lately, however. Moves from handset makers to move more processors in-house, and regulatory challenges over the licensing business have resulted in large fines. But with most black clouds at Qualcomm resolved (or at least priced in), and a $19.26 billion in net cash and investments on its balance sheet Qualcomm has the options to produce some big returns in the year ahead.

Shares are already up more than 37% since the start of this year. Look for more of the same before 2016 is over.

Intuitive Surgical

Another stock that's seeing large returns in 2016 is $28 billion robotic surgery stock Intuitive Surgical  (ISRG - Get Report) . Since January, Intuitive's share price has rallied more than 32%, leaving the big market averages in its dust. Also like Qualcomm, Intuitive Surgical has a big cushion of cash and investments on its balance sheet: $4.2 billion as of the firm's most recent quarterly filing, plus zero debt. That's enough cash to pay for about 15% of this stock's market capitalization at current levels.

That combination of price momentum and a bulletproof balance sheet make Intuitive a prime candidate for even more outperformance in the final stretch of 2016.

Intuitive Surgical makes robotic surgical systems for hospitals that want to be able to perform less-invasive surgeries than would be possible if done by a surgeon's hand. The firm's da Vinci system is currently deployed in more than 3,600 hospitals around the globe -- and that huge installed base comes with some big benefits. Because Intuitive operates a razor and blade business model, supplying disposable instruments as well as surgical systems, the firm benefits in a big way from larger scale.

Most of ISRG's surgical systems -- about two-thirds -- are installed in the U.S. That fact leaves a huge growth opportunity for the firm as more hospitals worldwide opt to build out their capabilities with robotic surgery. While Intuitive's success has added extra interest to the robotic surgery market, the firm's league leadership position and head start on the competition give it a big advantage for the foreseeable future.

Royal Caribbean Cruises

Number-two cruise ship operator Royal Caribbean Cruises  (RCL - Get Report)  has been under some significant pressure year-to-date. Since the calendar flipped to January, this stock has lost just over a quarter of its market value, trailing the S&P as well as larger rival Carnival  (CCL - Get Report) , (CUK) . But most of that underperformance actually happened in the first few weeks of 2016. Since then, Royal Caribbean's price momentum has stabilized and turned higher. Here's why this cruise stock should be on your radar again in October.

Royal Caribbean is a gigantic cruise operator, with more than 40 ships across six brands. The firm operates under the Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Azamara Club Cruises, Pullmantur, and CDF Croisieres de France lines, as well as a 50% stake in Germany's TUI Cruises. The firm is working on growing its fleet, upsizing and modernizing with feature-packed ships that help sell the line to vacationers. By 2018, that additional capacity will grow Royal Caribbean's total fleet to 130,900 berths.

Low commodity prices have been an important bonus for Royal Caribbean and its peers lately. With input costs low, RCL's net margins have been trending higher long-term. Demographics play an important part in the Royal Caribbean story as well. The firm's target cruiser is baby boomers, a large generation that's forecasted to drive higher demand for cruise capacity in the years ahead. As more boomers (and their peers overseas) spend money on leisure travel, Royal Caribbean is well-positioned to benefit.


Last on our list of Rocket Stocks for this week is $14 billion kidney care and physician network provider DaVita (DVA - Get Report) . DaVita is one of the biggest dialysis providers in the world, with 2,420 clinics primarily based in the U.S. The merger with HealthCare Partners in 2012 dramatically shifted DaVita's focus, adding one of the country's biggest physician group managers in the country to the fold.

All told, DaVita treats approximately 200,000 patients with renal disease and coordinates care for another 761,000members through HCP. Health care tends to be a sticky business -- patients are likely to stay with their providers. That fact, as well as the chronic nature of dialysis care, makes DaVita's revenues consistent and predictable in large part. With approximately 75 million Americans between the ages of 51 and 69, the need for more frequent medical care (and for chronic care like kidney health in particular) should continue to drive growth at DaVita.

While the complexities of the U.S. health care system do make DaVita's business more reliant on third parties than most, the firm has proven itself a skilled operator within the confines of the system. Patients covered by Medicare and Medicaid add up to nearly 90% of the firm's total treatment volume, for example. As health care insurers look at new ways to measure value added by providers, the critical nature of DaVita's offerings could help move margins upward in the years ahead.

With rising analyst sentiment in shares this week, we're betting on this Rocket Stock.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.