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?
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 81 buy and sell stock opinions recently issued on CNBC's Mad Money (4.16.2012 to 4.20.2012), two sell calls and four buy calls can be challenged on a valuation basis. SolarWinds (NYSE:SWI), Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE:CMG), Red Hat (NYSE:RHT), and Panera Bread Co. (NASDAQ:PNRA) are too richly valued to be buy picks. On the other hand, Peabody Energy Corp. (NYSE:BTU) and Walgreen (NYSE:WAG) are too cheaply valued to be sell picks.
These picks are summarized below:
After reviewing the price multiples of SWI, CMG, RHT, and PNRA, it is clear that these stocks are richly valued according to static valuation metrics. Net insider selling of these picks over the past six months is also discouraging.
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 Growth
Even after incorporating optimistic earnings growth, these stocks are just too expensive.
Alternatively, BTU and WAG 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 each stock:
3 Years Growth
These projected returns ignore stories and current sentiment while using valuation and math to demonstrate how buying expensive stocks can cost investors dearly. They flip the script on these six stock calls.
Challenging the consensus is quite difficult and requires guts of steel. Sure, the attractive valuations of these stocks protect investors from tough scenarios, providing them with better odds for positive returns. However, they do not provide psychological comfort. Contrarians have to shut out the allure of stories, interviews in the financial media, and other distractions in order to focus on valuation.
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