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Challenging the consensus has always been difficult, but now there is an added twist. Today, independent thinkers are also confronted with the challenge of identifying the consensus. Who isn't a contrarian or a value investor today? How can a consensus be identified when everyone claims to be different?

Jim Cramer's picks can be a very useful barometer of investor and media attitudes. Even though his trades are not meant to be long-term recommendations, contrarians can use his picks as an indicator of current market sentiment to selectively counter.

Of Cramer's 71 buy and sell stock opinions recently issued on CNBC's Mad Money (12.03.2012 to 12.05.2012), five buy calls and two sell calls can be challenged on a valuation basis. Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN), Kinder Morgan Energy Partners (NYSE:KMP), Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX), Ulta Salon, Cosmetics & Fragrance (NASDAQ:ULTA), and Visa (NYSE:V) are too richly valued to be buy picks. On the other hand, Atlantic Power (NYSE:AT), and Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold (NYSE:FCX) are too cheaply valued to be sell picks.

These picks are summarized below:

Ticker

Cramer's Call

Airdate

P/E

P/B

P/S

AMZN

Buy

12/3/2012

3618.12

15.19

2

AT

Sell

12/3/2012

4.26

1.63

0.45

FCX

Sell

12/5/2012

10.29

1.76

1.7

KMP

Buy

12/4/2012

51.23

2.66

3.56

SBUX

Buy

12/4/2012

29.97

7.88

3

ULTA

Buy

12/3/2012

44.84

9.92

3.28

V

Buy

12/3/2012

79.44

3.6

11.56

After reviewing the price multiples of AMZN, KMP, SBUX, ULTA, and V it is clear that these stocks are richly valued according to static valuation metrics. Each of these stocks has a high price-to-earnings ratio and either a high price-to-book ratio or a high price-to-sales ratio.

Sadly, even pleasant future growth scenarios are not much consolation for such richly valued stocks. What could an investor expect from these picks?

Total returns were calculated over a three year holding period for each of these stocks. (I use a 3-year holding period since above-average growth estimates are not reliable further out.) Giving these buy recommendations the benefit of the doubt, each stock is assumed to be sold at a generous growth stock price-to-earnings multiple of 17 and the maximum of historical and analyst estimate values for earnings growth are assumed. These assumptions are used to project an annualized total return over the next three years and a terminal price to earnings ratios, that is, price paid today divided by earnings at the end of the holding period for each stock:

3 Years Great Growth

Ticker

Cramer's Call

g (past)

g (future)

Terminal PE

Annualized Return

AMZN

Buy

25.0%

34.1%

1499.4

-77.5%

KMP

Buy

-34.6%

12.8%

35.7

-20.3%

SBUX

Buy

15.4%

18.2%

18.2

-1.7%

ULTA

Buy

33.3%

26.1%

18.9

-3.5%

V

Buy

28.0%

19.8%

37.9

-23.2%

Even after incorporating optimistic earnings growth, these stocks are just too expensive.

Alternatively, AT and FCX were discovered as contrarian buy picks with attractive valuations by sifting through the week's sell recommendations. These contrarian buy candidates were evaluated using conservative assumptions. A bargain value stock price-to-earnings multiple of 10 and the lesser of historical and analyst estimates values for earnings growth are assumed. These assumptions are used to project an annualized total return over the next three years and a terminal price to earnings ratio, that is, price paid today divided by earnings at the end of the holding period for these stocks:

3 Years Poor Growth

Ticker

Cramer's Call

g (past)

g (future)

Terminal P/E

Annualized Return

AT

Sell

-7.3%

0.0%

5.3

27.3%

FCX

Sell

7.6%

4.5%

9.0

4.9%

The attractive valuations of these stocks protect cushion from tough scenarios, providing them with better odds for positive returns.

These projected returns ignore popularity while using valuation and near-term growth to calculate the consequences of buying expensive and cheap stocks. Instead of picking stocks based on current popularity, the calculation of expected returns converts growth projections and a reversion from current extreme valuations into 3-year return estimates. They flip the script on these seven stock calls.

Read the article disclaimer.

Source: Valuation-Based Contrarian Picks