Here we are, the final installment of our 2017 review, examining the dregs of the S&P, the bottom ten of the entire 500 stocks. In a bull market it's not that easy to be a real cellar dweller. You have to commit some pretty grievous errors to earn such un-coveted spots in such a broad index. But, before we shut the door on these cellar dwellers, remember, this is a forgetful market that's in forgiveness mode, so let's not be too judgmental, lest we miss an opportunity.
The best of the bottom ten exemplifies what I am talking about: Foot Locker (FL) with a stock that fell 33% even as it rallied hard from its bottom late in the year. A shortfall from this regular earnings-beater back in August took the stock down from $47 to $31 in two days. TWO DAYS! It was hideous and you would have thought that people had simply stopped shopping there altogether. Now the stock's come all the way back to where it was before it crashed.
And what did Foot Locker do right to merit that rally? It simply said same-store sales are running steady in the third quarter and there's no further degradation. Whoopee! I would like to have more going for my stock than that, especially with Nike (NKE) saying domestic sales are weak. That said, Foot Locker's an excellent company, maybe not as good as Ulta (ULTA) , Costco (COST) , Walmart (WMT) or Children's Place (PLCE) , but certainly one that can engineer a comeback. I just wish it hadn't rallied so much from the bottom, or I would say, hey, domestic retailer, tax reform, better consumer, why not just buy it. You could do worse than owning shares in Foot Locker. I just want to buy it lower.
Signet Jewelers (SIG) , unlike fellow mall dweller Foot Locker, is a total mess. The ninth worst stock, down 40% for the year, is in a real bad spiral. The company, with brands like Jared, Sterling, Zales and Kay Jewelers has long been considered less a jeweler and more a financier of jewelry, where you borrow at usurious terms.
Last summer the Washington Post investigated the company for sexual discrimination and subsequently the CEO, Mark Light, retired for "health reasons." A new CEO, Gina Drosos, has taken over and she's attempting to clean things up. But sales and earnings look like they've peaked, making me think that you have a stock that represents neither value nor growth. I wish the new CEO luck, but this one's a work in progress with a bad business model, lower mall traffic and a tarnished reputation. If you want a mall based bounce back I would rather speculate on a Macy's (M) , or a Foot Locker for that matter. The jewelry business can't be easily Amazon'd but if you take that approach, just go buy the actually cheaper stock of Tiffany (TIF) .
Advance Auto Parts (AAP) , seventh on the negative hit parade, is in a real quandary. The auto parts business had been an amazing, fast-growing oligopoly but the whole group got stung this past year, first because of a mild winter and then because of factory direct to do-it-yourself consumer via Amazon (AMZN) .
However, we've got blizzards and geo bombs all over the place so the year-over-year compares will be fabulous and the industry is ripe for consolidation. So, this stock, down 41% seems pretty interesting to me, especially with a good management team and a turnaround plan in place. Sure, I fear the death star, but I think this one's worth speculating on for a turn or a bid in 2018.
There's a tremendous glut of natural gas in this country even with one large liquefied natural gas export facility on line and a second about to be commissioned. Plus, we are replacing old coal plants with new natural gas turbines faster than anyone thought could happen.
And we've got blisteringly cold weather where natural gas is in sudden short supply in some parts of the country. But don't fool yourself: we will not be able to burn off all the natural gas we keep finding to make the stock of Chesapeake (CHK) , down 43% in 2017, have any sort of sustained rally.
The fossil fuel stocks have tried to make a comeback but the natural gas portion of the group has severely lagged until this week because of the glut. If you believe in natural gas I can suggest a bunch of better ones including Cabot Oil & Gas (COG) and Apache (APA) . Go with them, not this bedraggled security with a nasty balance sheet to boot that needs nat gas to rally a full dollar from here to look better and that's going to be too big of a stretch.
Lots of people were huddling in the stock of Mattel (MAT) thinking that the dividend had to be secure. What they didn't' realize is that Mattel's product line, including Barbie, is under assault at the same time that the biggest brick and mortar toy seller, Toys R Us , is trying to pull out of a tailspin that can't seem to be braked, so the dividend disappeared and took a lot of the market cap with it. The best thing that could happen to this toymaker is to accept a bid from Hasbro (HAS) , something that makes sense with the stock down 44%. However, with a new CEO just installed I think it's highly unlikely. Lots of bottom feeding investors are taking heart that the company hired a google executive, Margo Georgiadis as (CEO) to turn the operation around. I say wait to see what happens to Toys R Us. Then you might get a better chance if you want to speculate on a Hasbro bid or any turnaround.
We've covered General Electric (GE) , fifth from the bottom ad nauseum. Just remember, I now regard GE as a play on oil with a health care kicker. Oil's going higher and that's going to give new CEO John Flannery some breathing room. Let's see what he says on the company's upcoming conference call.
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Fourth from the cellar? Envision Healthcare (EVHC) . Here's a company that reported a miserable third quarter and then told you that it might be up for sale by talking about a strategic review. It's a physicians' services business that got hurt by both hurricanes, Irma and Harvey, although I think costs, especially labor costs, are too high for this small a company. Your hope here might be a bid, something that's being speculated on because the company pulled out of the JP Morgan Healthcare conference that starts next week. That said, if the business is as bad as it looks, who in heck would buy them even if the stock was down 45% last year?
Hmm, well, then again, number 497 on the no hit parade, SCANA (SCG) , the South Carolina utility company that just caught a sweet premium bid from Dominion Energy (D) this week, so perhaps miracles do happen. We spoke to Tom Farrell, CEO of Dominion last night and came away thinking he might be stealing this company given how good the region is and how poorly the company's being run, largely because of its inability to build a nuclear power plant within any reasonable cost. It's a rare instance of a company with a stock that was down 45%, in one year immediately making you money in the next. I'd ring the register if I owned it and buy stock in Dominion which has been hammered because of the SCANA bid and the weakness in the whole utility group.
The 499th best performer? Under Armour (UA) with a stock that is down 47% in 2017. This once-darling company has been crushed by its own peripatetic management as well as the awakening of Nike as a technological force. Founder Kevin Plank, basically admitted to me that he took his eye off the ball but we don't know if it is too late and Nike's just beaten them no matter what. If Plank's really all in and focused -- and I think he is -- and if the stock pulls back to where it was just a few weeks ago -- it's had a major rally which continues in today's session -- maybe you have a trade into the quarter.
Finally, bringing up the rear, number 500, is Range Resources (RRC) , another natural gas company with a balance sheet almost as bad as Chesapeake. This one can bounce, but once again, there's a heck of a lot better nat gas stocks you can own for the longer term.
In a meaner, darker market, I would say, don't bother with any of these. But we are in a market where the third worst company gets a bid right out of the chute, where retail's looking up, where the weather's so cold that it's turning losers to winners. Weirdly almost every one of these stocks has a decent speculative thesis. It's not exactly a buy list, but you know what? If you made it through 2017 with these, you might as well see what the beginning of 2018 brings before you jettison them only to watch the next SCANA fairy tale come true.
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