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Challenging the consensus is quite difficult and requires steel reserve. Contrarians have to ignore the allure of popular glamour stocks, interviews in the financial media, and other distractions in order to focus on valuation.

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 100 buy and sell stock opinions recently issued on CNBC's Mad Money (10.08.2012 to 10.12.2012), four sell calls and three buy calls can be challenged on a valuation basis. Visa (NYSE:V) and Kinder Morgan Energy Partners (NYSE:KMP) are too richly valued to be buy picks. On the other hand, Cliffs Natural Resources (NYSE:CLF), Chevron Corporation (NYSE:CVX), Avnet (NYSE:AVT), and Cooper Tire & Rubber (NYSE:CTB) are too cheaply valued to be sell picks.

These picks are summarized below:

Ticker

Cramer's Call

Airdate

P/E

P/B

P/S

Insider Transactions

CLF

Sell

10.08.2012

4.04

0.92

0.86

9.3%

V

Buy

10.09.2012

137.74

4.31

11.2

-17.8%

CVX

Sell

10.10.2012

8.34

1.69

0.89

18.1%

AVT

Sell

10.10.2012

7.13

0.99

0.15

42.8%

CTB

Sell

10.12.2012

4.12

1.87

0.3

2.7%

KMP

Buy

10.12.2012

84.34

3.92

3.7

0.0%

After reviewing the price multiples of V and KMP 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 three-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

V

Buy

44.6%

19.6%

45.5

-27.8%

KMP

Buy

-34.6%

13.1%

58.4

-32.5%

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

Alternatively, CLF, CVX, AVT, and CTB 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 Poor Growth

Ticker

Cramer's Call

g (past)

g (future)

Terminal P/E

Annualized Return

CLF

Sell

34.9%

7.0%

3.3

47.6%

CVX

Sell

11.5%

2.2%

7.8

9.7%

AVT

Sell

7.6%

5.3%

6.1

17.9%

CTB

Sell

30.7%

7.6%

3.3

45.6%

The attractive valuations of these stocks protect investors 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 six stock calls.

Read the article disclaimer.

Source: Valuation-Based Contrarian Picks