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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?

Challenging the consensus has always been difficult. Contrarians have to ignore the allure of popular stocks, interviews in the financial media, and other distractions in order to focus on valuation.

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

Of Cramer's 61 buy and sell stock opinions recently issued on CNBC's Mad Money (1.02.2013 to 1.04.2013), four buy calls and three sell calls can be challenged on a valuation basis. Facebook (NASDAQ:FB), AT&T (NYSE:T), Pfizer (NYSE:PFE), and Whole Foods Market (NASDAQ:WFM) are too richly valued to be buy picks. On the other hand, Herbalife (NYSE:HLF), Phillips 66 (NYSE:PSX), and Unitedhealth Group (NYSE:UNH) are too cheaply valued to be sell picks.

These picks are summarized below:

Ticker

Cramer's Call

Airdate

P/E

P/B

P/S

HLF

Sell

1/4/2013

9.54

10.76

1.03

PSX

Sell

1/4/2013

6.22

1.62

0.18

UNH

Sell

1/3/2013

9.92

1.74

0.49

FB

Buy

1/2/2013

261.45

4.4

13.44

T

Buy

1/3/2013

45.75

1.99

1.57

PFE

Buy

1/3/2013

20.77

2.34

3.15

WFM

Buy

1/3/2013

36.2

4.45

1.45

After reviewing the price multiples of FB, T, PFE, and WFM, 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

FB

Buy

NA

28.8%

122.5

-48.2%

T

Buy

-18.8%

6.3%

38.1

-22.3%

PFE

Buy

-6.1%

2.1%

19.5

-3.3%

WFM

Buy

14.4%

16.8%

22.7

-9.0%

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

Alternatively, HLF, PSX, and UNH 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

HLF

Sell

28.0%

15.6%

6.2

18.7%

PSX

Sell

NA

5.3%

6.2

17.9%

UNH

Sell

9.8%

11.2%

7.5

10.7%

The attractive valuations of these stocks protect 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: 7 Valuation-Based Contrarian Picks Thanks To Jim Cramer