A Vera Bradley Rainbow

What a wild ride it’s been. I feel like we all climbed aboard a powerboat on Jan. 3 (a Brunswick powerboat) and have been battling eight-foot swells, hurricane-level winds and blistering rains since. The Russell 2000 is down 5.5% for the year but was down 17% at its Feb.11 low. Then for 17 days the sun shone brightly while the market embarked on a 17-day rally that left the Russell down 4% on its best day of the year.

The churning waves and whipping winds have left the best of us queasy. I’d like to personally thank each one of you for riding out the storm with me and for being Profit Catalyst Alert subscribers. We are starting to see some rewards for our patience, including a 20%-plus return for Vera Bradley since our Jan. 5 launch.

I appreciate that you have made a considerable investment in the service, which I expect will pay for itself many times over the course of the year.

Has the Storm Passed?

When a hurricane sweeps over a town everyone has the same question once the winds subside: Is it safe to go outside?

Nobody knows for sure, of course. But as I’ve noted before, I don’t see a full-blown meltdown akin to 2008 coming. Domestic economic numbers are on a slow and steady upward path, which, considering the general economic turmoil outside our shores, is exactly what investors should hope for.

But this market frenzy has not been brought on by a single malady that will be set right overnight. Some seers point to European weakness, others to a bubble in China, and many to oil prices smacked around like a rag doll for more than a year.

Even amid such uncertainty I have firm conviction that my picks are solid. Most important, each one is profitable. They all generate significant cash flow, a luxury that helps any public company weather a market downturn. Any company burning cash and relying on issuing shares for funding is having a tough time keeping its head above water now.

All my picks are experiencing a catalyst in their businesses that should grow earnings strongly the next six to 12 months. In the meantime I will continue to recommend stocks that trade at considerable discounts to my targets, which helps cushion the downside in a tough market.

Wavy With Upside Potential

Let’s start with the best news. Vera Bradley is up 20% since I recommended it and is creeping toward my mid-$20s target. The company reported earnings per share of 41 cents, in line with estimates, and revenue of $154 million, slightly better than expected. Guidance for 2016 is 94 cents, higher than analysts’ 82 cents. Product gross margins, the one metric I believe to be most critical for Vera’s success, rose an incredible six percentage points. More good news is that these margins are slated to improve further due to better pricing, sourcing and filling its factory stores with made-for-factory goods instead of fire-sale bags from mall stores.

Brunswick has been our next best stock for the year, up 7% since recommendation on Jan. 27. As I note in the Updates column, consumer discretionary stocks have enjoyed a bounce as investors realize demand is not falling off a cliff. More relevant to Brunswick’s fundamentals, however, is that one of its largest fitness customers (Planet Fitness) continues to expand at a rapid pace. The company also reported a fine showing at the recent Miami boat show where it sold two of its $200,000 pontoons, one of the highest prices tested for these boats.

Charles River, my favorite safe way to play the biotech boom, is flat since recommendation. Of the 13 scarce initial public offerings priced year to date, eight have been biotechs, a testament to investors’ willingness to fund these research houses. The basic business is running better than expected. Management recently increased revenue growth goals from 9% to 11% for 2016. The WIL purchase, which was the original impetus for my recommendation, is expected to close early in the second quarter.

Criteo, the newest member of the Profit Catalyst Portfolio, is flat since we added it last week. This digital-marketing software company operates in the dynamic and fast-growing industry of delivering targeted digital ads. What makes Criteo so special is its ability to track consumers from their PCs to their mobile phones. Mobile ad delivery is the new frontier and Criteo has a head start on other operators. We won’t see Criteo’s next quarter until the beginning of May, but we expect the stock will rise as the company prospers, despite the availability of ad-blocking software.

Solar equipment maker SolarEdge Technologies is down almost 10% since my recommendation despite issuing fabulous numbers. I expect the stock will climb higher as the dark clouds hovering over the solar sector begin to clear. Just yesterday management presented at an analysts’ conference and reiterated how the new HD Wave inverter product that started shipping in December will lower cost for customers but improve profitability. We won’t see any financial results until early May, but expect the stock to trend higher as investors recognize its potential.

Finally, Photronics, my problem child. The stock is down 19% since my recommendation. Even though Photronics missed first-quarter estimates and lowered its estimates for the second quarter, I am keeping my buy rating on it. Although demand for high-end photomasks remains firm, a squall in orders for mainstream products has weighed on numbers. The company’s rock solid balance sheet and expectations for improvement in the second half of the year should help the stock move higher.


Stock Talk

Add New Comments

You must be logged in to post to Stock Talk