10 Comeback Stories to Watch in 2012

12/14/2011 8:15 am EST

Focus: STOCKS

George Putnam

Editor, The Turnaround Letter

At this time of year, we often see artificial selling pressures that may result in buying opportunities, almost regardless of stock fundamentals or market conditions, notes George Putnam of The Turnaround Letter.

Selling pressures come from two sources: tax-loss selling and portfolio window dressing. The extreme volatility this year has produced a particularly interesting crop of year-end bounce candidates.

To select these ten bounce candidates, we focused on the worst performers in the S&P 500 during calendar 2011, adjusted somewhat so that the result was only one stock from each industry group.

Alpha Natural Resources (ANR)
Alpha produces coal for electric power generation and steel production. Its perceived economic sensitivity hurt as recession fears reared up over the course of the year.

The pressure on the stock was increased by an earnings warning and by concerns about the integration of a large acquisition. After 2011’s year-long decline, the stock looks undervalued with attractive cash-flow characteristics.

American International Group (AIG)
The insurer was at the epicenter of the financial market meltdown and was bailed out by the government. But unlike many other financial institutions, it has yet to pay back its federal borrowings.

After a big year-year bounce last year, the stock peaked at $60 in January. It has been dropping ever since.

Bank of America (BAC)
The megabank has seen almost nothing but negative headlines since it bought Countrywide and Merrill Lynch in 2008. Nonetheless, it still has a powerful retail-banking footprint.

The sentiment has been so negative that even a big investment from Warren Buffett hasn’t helped the stock. But sentiment can change rapidly, and even a slight lifting of the gloom could cause the stock to pop.

Computer Sciences (CSC)
The company would have had a good year except for five trading days. And it hasn’t helped that the SEC has an ongoing investigation into its Nordic and Australian units.

Despite all this, the company’s strength in providing solutions to complex technology problems positions it well for the future. And with the stock trading at its lowest level since 1995, it appears ripe for a rebound. It could also attract the attention of private-equity investors.

First Solar (FSLR)
This is another stock that began the year well and then went into a prolonged slide, as investors turned negative on the whole solar sector. However, with decent results and a largely debt-free balance sheet, FSLR could rebound sharply when the group comes back into favor.

Janus Capital Group (JNS)
This is an investment management company with a focus on equity mutual funds.

Its specialty is growth stock funds, which are particularly vulnerable to market volatility. When equity markets firm up, the stock should perform well.

MEMC Electronic Materials (WFR)
A leading maker of silicon wafers…so, the cyclical nature of the business—along with a growing exposure to solar—kept investors on the edge in 2011. The company has taken on more debt in recent years, adding to shareholder nervousness.

But with the stock approaching a nine-year low, it looks as though most of the fickle shareholders have already abandoned ship, so any upturn could be sharp.

Monster Worldwide (MWW)
The global online employment search firm started 2011 by rallying to a multi-year high, only to descend on disappointing revenues and bookings.

Monster definitely felt the effects of subdued business confidence, but its brand is strong, and management appears attuned to tweaking the operating model to leverage developing technologies.

Netflix (NFLX)
This company had a fall from grace that was one of the more dramatic declines of an iconic stock in recent memory. Following a rise to $305 in July, the stock collapsed to $69.

Management realized the error of its ways, and while the moves it had made tarnished the brand a bit, the company still has a strong business franchise.

United States Steel (X)
Your grandpa’s steelmaker saw a sharp drop-off in demand for its products during the last recession. As a result, investors got very nervous as fears of a new recession picked up steam earlier this year. If those fears recede, the stock should rebound smartly.

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