In theory, Wall Street analysts are paid to predict the future earnings of the companies they cover and use those predictions as the basis for their stock recommendations. In reality, this is not always how the game works. Often, analysts seem to forget that earnings and earnings growth have always been the mother’s milk of stock prices over the long term. Instead, they focus on short term price fluctuations, lowering ratings when a company’s stock drops, even as its earnings estimates rise.
Make no mistake, as I’ve repeatedly warned, most stocks making the 52-week low list are there for good reason. The large majority of them are heading lower, and many will cease to exist. Conversely, most stocks making 52-week highs are likely headed higher. However, profitable exceptions to these rules do exist. With a little digging, investors can exploit the imbalance between the Street’s short-term perception of a company, as reflected in its stock price, and its long-term prospects, as reflected by its earnings outlook.
Two high profile commodity companies filed for bankruptcy last week. The first was St. Louis-based coal producer Peabody Energy (BTU). Peabody was the latest coal producer to file, following Arch Coal, Alpha Natural Resources, Patriot Coal, and Walter Energy. BTU quickly fell below $1 on the news. Just a few years ago, Peabody’s market capitalization exceeded $20 billion. On Wednesday, Houston offshore oil producer Energy XXI (EXXI) joined Peabody in bankruptcy court. Four years ago, EXXI was a $32 stock. On Thursday, the day after it announced its bankruptcy filing, it closed at 12 cents.
I have lived in Marin County, possibly America’s preeminent left wing enclave, for over two decades. Marin residents are old (and getting older), white, and vote heavily Democratic. They overwhelmingly embrace abortion rights, drug rights, and gay rights. Church attendance is extremely low; mind-altering pharmaceutical drug use and therapist attendance is extremely high. The cult of self is Marin’s dominant religion. And outside of Greenwich, Connecticut there are probably more money managers, per capita, in Marin than anywhere else in America. Marin’s attitudes are not unique. The investment community and the media/cultural elites on both coasts share a suspicion (or dislike?) of religious, socially conservative Americans. That might explain why companies that cater to the values of Red State residents are poorly understood, poorly followed, and often undervalued by the stock market. Continue reading →