The big S&P 500 index finished last week on a high note, ending up a whopping 0.07%, shy of all-time record highs, at 2400.98. Simply put, after correcting sideways for the last couple of months, stocks are a breadth away from being higher than they've ever been before.
That's a very bullish thing for investors, and for reasons most folks probably don't realize.
You see, "new highs" may sound unusual or special, but they're actually a pretty common circumstance for Mr. Market. In the six decades since the S&P 500 was founded, the big index has actually spent nearly half of its trading sessions either at all-time highs or within just 5% of them.
As markets test record territory this week, it makes sense to bet on a new set of "Rocket Stocks" that look primed to outperform the rest of the market in May.
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 398 weeks, our weekly list of plays has outperformed the S&P 500's record-breaking run by 78.1%.
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Now without further ado, here's a look at this week's Rocket Stocks.
Walmart Stores Inc.
Up first on the list is $232 billion retail giant Walmart Stores Inc. (WMT) . Wal-Mart has been a market-beating mega-cap in 2017, charging 11.5% higher on a total returns basis since the calendar flipped to January. And that outperformance isn't showing any signs of fatiguing as we head into the summer months.
Walmart tips the scales as the biggest retailer on the planet, with almost $486 billion in revenue over the last 12 months. Historically, brick-and-mortar has been Walmart's primary focus: the firm's 11,695 stores contribute around 95% of total sales. That's changing, though. Recent investments, like last September's acquisition of Jet.com, and initiatives like pickup discount and two-day shipping, show that WMT is putting resources behind a shift online.
Investors will get their next snapshot of Walmart's performance numbers later this month, when the firm reports its first-quarter earnings for fiscal 2018. Those earnings could be an upside catalyst if Walmart is able to impress Wall Street. Stay tuned.
Activision Blizzard Inc.
This has been a phenomenal year for shares of $41 billion video game maker Activision Blizzard Inc. (ATVI) -- this stock is up almost 50% since the start of the year, leaving the rest of the broad market in its dust. But don't worry if you've missed that upside move in Activision. This stock is holding onto its "Rocket" status as we push deeper into May.
Activision Blizzard is one of the most successful video game companies in the world. The firm's stable of popular flagship franchises includes World of Warcraft, Call of Duty and Destiny. The franchise model for video game sales has proven incredibly successful for ATVI; by producing follow-on titles to games that customers are already fans of, the firm shortens the creative development process and makes it easier to sell titles to fans.
Likewise, the firm's business model has historically been more attractive than most. By transitioning from one-time sales to recurring subscription fees, games have the potential to dramatically increase lifetime revenue. While subscriptions have slowed lately, they still contribute a double-digit percentage of (very high margin) sales. With rising analyst sentiment in ATVI this week, we're betting on shares.
Following Berkshire Hathaway's (BRK.A) (BRK.B) annual meeting over the weekend, we might as well talk about one of its holdings. I'm talking about McDonald's Corp. (MCD) . No, it's not one of the big ones -- Berkshire only owns about 21,000 shares of the Golden Arches. But it's one that also happens to hit our Rocket Stocks list this week, too.
McDonald's doesn't need much of an introduction. The fast food giant has more than 36,900 locations in 120 countries. Only 5,600 of those are company-owned. The rest are franchises, though McDonald's corporate actually owns the land below many of them (MCD owns the land for around 45% of its restaurants). Those immense land holdings provide an important asset beyond the food business.
Meanwhile, McDonald's value proposition is hard to argue for consumers. The company has experimented moving more up-market, and that's likely to continue in the years ahead, as consumers demand more quality even in their lowest-cost fast food. Massive scale and buying power mean that McDonald's can make higher quality and more menu options work better than most, and new in-restaurant technology being tested in some markets could offer more of an experience-driven customer than a pure convenience-seeker.