6 Fumbles You May Want To Pick Up

by: Alan Brochstein, CFA

The turn of the calendar can present some great counter-trend trades. For instance, big losers from the previous year often get off to a great start. The huge run in the banks to start the year is a terrific example. Which institution wanted to show large holdings in Bank America (NYSE:BAC) at year-end?

It's too early to tell for sure, but it looks as though the January Effect will work for the first time since 2006. As I suggested last month, the set-up this year for a strong January for Small-Caps was compelling. Already, small-caps are showing a lead over the rallying S&P 500 halfway through the month.

The opposite of a bounce following window-dressing and tax-loss selling can occur as well, with winners from the previous year stumbling a bit out of the gate as the window-dressing and capital gains tax deferrals unwind. When bad news hits, it can lead to some really exaggerated moves.

With this in mind, I screened for stocks with market caps in excess of $1 billion where the stock has declined by 10% or more in the first two weeks of 2012 but is still beating the S&P 500 over the past year. Here's what made the cut:

The stocks are sorted by YTD price return. Clearly the plunge in natural gas prices has taken the toll even on the coveted Marcellus plays, which include Range Resources (NYSE:RRC), Cabot Oil & Gas (NYSE:COG), which was the best performing stock in the S&P 500 in 2011, and EQT. Beyond the natural gas price plunge, COG declared a 2-1 split and boosted their dividend. There was a little insider selling too, as executives sold part of their performance share awards to cover tax liabilities. EQT's former CEO Murray Gerber resigned from the Board last week, which was disappointing. EQT and RRC had touched or modestly broken the 200dma last month, but this was the first time that COG has violated the 200dma in over a year. This looks like just a shake-out to me.

I added PriceSmart (NASDAQ:PSMT) to my watchlist last year and just watched it rocket on the back of very strong same-store-sales growth. This "Costco of the Carribean" is expanding in Colombia while it grows its other stores nearly 20%. The stock pulled back sharply when they reported earnings below the consensus. Currency losses, a high tax rate and higher cost of good sold all contributed to a quarter that was down slightly year-over-year. I think that the stock should find footing here near 60 and work its way back towards the highs as the year progresses.

Questcor (QCOR), which markets a very expensive drug (Acthar) was slammed last week ahead of a negative report that is scheduled to be released by StreetSweeper this week. The company's CEO, Don Bailey, excercised 30K options and sold the shares, realizing a gain in excess of $1.2mm . Given that this represented just a small portion of his holdings, it's likely not material. This stock hasn't traded anywhere near the 200dma over the past year, so it is deeply in a bull run with plenty of room to correct further potentially.

Williams-Sonoma (NYSE:WSM) pre-announced a rotten quarter last week, reducing Q4 guidance by .05 to 1.10-1.15. The company blamed the "promotional environment". Despite lowering the bar, the company hiked the dividend a massive 29% to .22 quarterly and announced a new $225mm share repurchase authorization. In contrast to the other names, WSM hasn't been on a tear, though it did run from 28 in October to 40 at the high. I like the idea of buying good retailers on bad news, so I will take a closer look at this one, which I used to follow more closely. After all, with all of the interest in housing-related stocks (which may be a trend ahead of itself), WSM should be attracting interest by those who believe in the potential for recovery.

While it's no guarantee that that the trend doesn't just change at the turn of the calendar and that these are counter-trends, it is likely that some of these recent declines are just profit-taking. PSMT is the only one of these that I follow closely, and its recent decline appears to be reflective of profit-taking following just modestly bad news. Perhaps some of the others are opportunities as well.

Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.