By David Sterman
In the past few years, we've discussed the importance of catalyst investing. This involves clearly identifiable events that, if they come to pass, will propel a stock sharply higher.
Here is a handful of stocks that could strongly benefit from possible catalysts in 2011. Each stock could double if they receive just a few good breaks.
1. Broadwind Energy (NASDAQ:BWEN)
This stock caught my eye after a recent upward move. Shares had fallen from the 52-week high of $4 to just $1.21 in early March. Now that they're back up above $1.50 -- gaining more than 20% in just three recent trading sessions -- I've been giving the company a fresh look. And I like what I see.
Broadwind, which makes components for the wind-turbine industry, had been rumored to be on the cusp of a buyout last fall. Shares moved up on word that GE or a foreign suitor would soon make a bid. No such bid ever materialized, prompting shares to hit new lows. I'm not ruling out that such a bid may still emerge, but I like this stock for other potential catalysts.
For starters, business appears to be rebounding. Sales had fallen from $207 million in 2008 to just $137 million in 2010 as U.S. spending on wind farms slumped. Fourth-quarter sales of $47 million marked a turn, posting the first year-over-year quarterly increase in nearly three years. Bookings for new orders surged to $60 million, the highest rate in more than a year. Backlog rebounded sequentially by $16 million, to $226 million.
Yet it's the macro picture that I see as the big catalyst. As the cost of wind power keeps dropping, major players are making big investments. For example, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) and a pair of Japanese firms are investing about $500 million in a wind farm GE is developing in Oregon. Notably, the consortium has predicted that the wind power generated will be competitive with other fuels and won't require utility-level subsidies. The fact that the wind farm will have zero emissions is just an added kicker.
Management has noted a positive change in industry tone from the first half of 2010 to the second half, and it expects 2011 results to show continued strengthening. The key is to at least move back to break-even, as the company only has $25 million left between its cash balance and an undrawn credit line. If that happens, investors will re-embrace this fallen stock that trades for just 0.7 times projected 2011 revenue. I would expect that multiple to double if the sales rebound is sustained, implying similar upside for the stock.
2. Winnebago (NYSE:WGO)
Talk about an ugly stock chart. Every time oil prices rise to new highs, this maker of gas-guzzling recreational vehicles (RVs) falls further. The stock has fallen in seven of the last eight sessions (going into trading on April 19) as investors assume that demand for RVs will dry up while gasoline is at $4 a gallon.
Well, the catalyst for this stock should be pretty clear. If oil prices finally pull back, then shares are likely to see a decent rebound. The more serious rebound is likely to come if the employment picture continues to strengthen. In the middle of the past decade, when employment trends were last on the upswing, Winnebago typically generated roughly $1 billion in annual sales. The recent economic weakness has altered that trend. Sales plunged to just $211 million in fiscal (August) 2009 and only rebounded to $450 million in 2010, less than half the level of the previous peak.
Analysts think sales will rebound 20% in fiscal 2011 and 2012. The key is the economic variables: Falling oil prices and rising employment. If those two catalysts come into play, then long-term investors are likely to note just how cheap this stock now is, trading at roughly six times peak earnings from the last cycle. The stock has come down from $30 in 2007 to a recent $12, but if the economy appears increasingly healthy later this year, look for shares to move back up smartly into the $20s.
3. A123 Systems (AONE)
This lithium-ion battery maker is now a "show-me" stock. After missing sales forecasts for a number of quarters, shares have slipped from more than $25 in late 2009 to less than $6. Those weak sales results led to higher-than-expected losses, which led to fast-sinking cash levels. As a result, investors began to realize A123 would need to keep selling more stock to stay afloat.
That vicious cycle now looks to be at end. The company just raised another $250 million, and analysts increasingly think the era of big cash losses will wind down. By the time the cash from this latest capital infusion has been spent, A123 may actually be a profitable company.
Here's why: A123 possesses strong engineering capabilities in its lithium-based batteries that are aimed at the transportation and electrical grid markets. This enabled the company to sign up an impressive roster of major clients. Trouble is, those clients have been slow to get going with their own cutting-edge programs. For example, Fisker Automotive, a rival of Tesla Motors (NASDAQ:TSLA), has been dogged by delays in launching a new electric luxury sedan, but the sedan should finally reach customers this summer.
A123 has also announced that a major unnamed automaker has signed up as a customer. Investors await more details about this mystery customer and about what type of deal both parties have agreed. But this news could help clarify why analysts think that after several years of disappointment, A123 is likely to see sales more than double in 2011 to around $200 million and double again in 2012. If that comes to pass, then A123 will be close to break-even and won't need to raise any more cash.
With the stock now more than 75% from its late 2009 peak, these catalysts highlight that shares now hold more reward than risk.
When you swing for the fences, you can also miss. Each of these stocks may prove to be dead money if these catalysts fail to develop. Yet they do appear to have found a floor at these levels, so investors aren't absorbing the usual amount of risk when looking at swing-for-the-fences-type stocks.
Disclosure: Neither David Sterman nor StreetAuthority, LLC hold positions in any securities mentioned in this article.