9 Strong Stocks Bucking the Trend in a Weak Market

by: NakedValue

The US stock market moved lower on Wednesday. The markets are rattled by news from Japan as well as by the continuing developments in the Middle East and fears at home regarding how markets will hold up once the Federal Reserve ends its $600 billion bond buying program.

Despite these headwinds, several stocks showed relative strength against the broad market indices by closing higher on the day. Investors may want to reward these resilient stocks by giving them a closer look.

Big Lots, Inc (NYSE:BIG)
The discount retailer has been in play since the company hired Goldman Sachs to advise them about strategic alternatives after they were approached by private equity firm Thomas H Lee Partners about a possible buyout. The company has since drifted with the market, often responding to industry news like the Trian Group's offer to buyout Family Dollars Stores and the Leonard Green deal to take 99 Cent Stores private. We had previously estimated that based on the EV/EBITDA of the Trian Group offer that Family Dollar turned down as insufficient, Big Lots could be worth as much as $56 per share. The 99 Cent Store buyout occured at a lower multiple, but this may have been because the Leonard Green deal had the support of the company's founding family which owns more than 30% of the shares outstanding.

With a forward P/E of 12.13, a return on equity of 22.85% and opportunities for continued growth, Big Lots provides investors with margin of safety even if a buyout never materializes. Investors should consider accumulating shares on stock price weakness.

Chesapeake Energy (NYSE:CHK)
The company benefited on Wednesday from strong buying in natural gas producers in response to the nuclear plant problems in Japan. Even if things do not get worse, analysts expect this ugly incident to improve future prospects for coal and natural gas energy in both the near term and long term. Other natural gas names to watch are Consol Energy (NYSE:CNX) and Southwestern Energy (NYSE:SWN).

Chesapeake has been a strong performer of late. Since November of 2010, the company is up around 50%. Part of this move has been related to a global increase in commodity prices, part of this has been caused by improving views of natural gas pricing and part of this has been because of Carl Icahn's shareholder activist role. Among other things, Icahn has pushed Chesapeake managment to reduce debt, to which they responded by selling $5 billion of assets (including their entire stake in the Fayetteville Shale holdings) to pay down debt.

Chesapeake Energy remains one of the top plays in natural gas. Their CEO, Aubrey McClendon, has drawn criticism for his pay packages, but is highly regarded in the industry. He co-founded Chesapeake in 1989. Much of the strength in natural gas producers is based on expected strengthening in prices as the industry rightsizes production. Despite this, Chesapeake is already reasonably priced based on trailing and forward earnings. The company has a trailing P/E of 13.79 and a forward P/E of 11.51. Chesapeake is one of the premiere plays in natural gas so investors that are bullish of natural gas should take a very close look at this company.

International Coal Group (NYSE:ICO)
The company benefited on Wednesday from strong buying in coal companies as a response to the nuclear plant issues in Japan. Even if things stablize, analysts expect this ugly incident to improve future prospects for coal and natural gas energy in both the near term and long term. Other coal names to watch are Peabody Energy (BTU) and Alpha Natural Resources (ANR).

International Coal Group was founded in 2004 by famed distressed investor Wilbur Ross. Fairfax Financial and Wilbur Ross, the company's two largest shareholders, recently each sold half of their holdings through a share offering at $8.16. ICO has been frequently mentioned as an prime buyout target because of their metallurgical coal reserves and their relatively small size. In a recent Barron's article quoted an analyst as saying that ICO could reach $14. The company's forward P/E is below 10, but after a sharp rise in coal names over the last few months and reductions in shares among long time smart money shareholders, investors may benefit by approaching this company (and the industry in general) with caution.

James River Coal Company (JRCC)
JRCC also benefited from the strong buying activity among coal and natural gas names. The company has been in the news recently following an agreement to purchase Magnetar Capital's coal assets for $475 million in cash. The acquisition appeared to be a great deal for JRCC, with deal mutiples below those observed in publicly traded coal names. We believe that the deal was extremely positive for James River Coal Company, as they were able to double their size at below market prices. Investors should be cautious about the industry. While secular changes could continue to help coal names, we prefer to exercise patience. James River Coal Company appears to be a relatively cheap name in an expensive industry. To read more about our view of JRCC, see: James River Coal's Coup is Not Bullish for the Rest of the Industry.

Motorola Mobility Holdings (NYSE:MMI)
Motorola Mobility was created this year following the long awaited spin-off from Morotola Solutions. The company features wireless communications devices and home networking equipment. The segment was long been maligned for its inability to innovate following the decline of the Motorola Razr products.

The stock has been hammered following a brief post spin-off bounce. After hitting a high of $36.54 in late January, the stock has traded as low as $22.96. The stock may benefit from Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) shortage of iPad 2 units. The company may also benefit from their release of a new XOOM WiFi tablet which is competitively priced with peers.

Motorola Mobility is in a competitive industry with a market giant in Apple, but there may be reason for investors to take a closer look. MMI is currently paying the price for its industry lagging position, but its historical results provide reminders of how powerful a winning product can be. In 2007, while still a subsidiary of Motorola, MMI had proforma sales of $23 billion. While the Xoom tablet and Atrix smartphone are not iPad and iPhone killers, they are strong proof that Motorola Mobility is ready to innovate. With a $7 billion market cap and a strong balance sheet, MMI is an interestingly priced call option on Motorola's ability to create a strong portfolio of wireless devices.

Disclosure: I am long ICO, JRCC, BIG.