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3 Hot Special Ops to Watch

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What companies are tomorrow's big winners? In our ongoing series, I'm chatting with Fool analysts and advisors to discover which stocks they're watching, and which catalysts would signal it's time to buy. Today, Motley Fool Special Ops advisor Tom Jacobs shares three down-on-their-luck companies on his watchlist that could be poised for major turnarounds. (For your convenience, you can now create your own version at, your free customized hub to follow the performance and Fool coverage of the companies you care about.)

A misstep for Skechers
When shoemaker Skechers (NYSE: SKX  ) rolled out its Shape-ups, the company believed it was creating a whole new category of shoes -- toning. Perhaps the shoe-buying public had too clear memories of the Seinfeld episode with Jimmy, whose vertical-leap-enhancing shoes failed to catch the imagination of anyone but George. Despite significant marketing -- and even a Kardashian line! -- Skechers now holds far more than $300 million in inventory, much of that pile in the form of returns of the shoes that are designed to tone muscles, promote healthy weight loss, and make it easy to get in shape.

Predictably, the market shunned shares in the wake of such a massive miscalculation. The stock now trades at less than $23, after hitting a 52-week high of nearly $45 during the summer. While shares offer a very low and intriguing valuation, Tom and his team (including analyst Andy Louis-Charles, who spotted the idea) are waiting for a further decline. If shares hit somewhere in the $16-to-$18 range, investors would be getting the core Skechers business with essentially a free call option on Shape-ups. Any improved performance for the new line would be icing on the cake. Tom knows that shares might not drop down that far, and if inventory is down when the company releases its next quarterly report, investors will jump in enthusiastically. But he's OK if he misses that boat; he's not going to overpay, because there are always other ships on their way.

Out of the real estate ashes
The Special Ops team also is watching two companies that are emerging from bankruptcy, a category of special opportunity that can lead to riches ... or, well, further bankruptcy. General Growth Properties (NYSE: GGP  ) is the country's second-largest mall owner, and Howard Hughes (NYSE: HHC  ) was spun off from GGP when the parent emerged from bankruptcy protection last month. Both likely will benefit from the arrival of activist investor Bill Ackman and his Pershing Square Capital Management hedge fund -- it's always good to be on the side of a top jockey, Tom says -- and both sport a host of attractive properties.

With its high-end malls and decreased sales and tenancy during the market downturn, GGP became overleveraged to its creditors. And though there are reasons for optimism, the company still carries the stench of failure. The depressed nature of the stock makes it a watchlist must.

Tom and team are even more keen on Howard Hughes. The company owns the famed South Street Seaport in New York City and the Summerlin community in the Las Vegas suburbs, two valuable properties that -- with renovations and upgrades to the former, and a bit of a rebound in the brutal Vegas economy for the latter -- could turn into massive winners for HHC. But assessing the true value of the real estate is an imposing challenge in this economy, so Tom has put it in his "too hard" pile for now. Shares now trade around $44. A purchase here is a speculation on a return of the housing market. But if the shares were to drop into the $30s, this could well be a special opportunity worth buying.

That's exactly why it pays to watch. You can make smarter investing decisions with your own version of My Watchlist, new and free from the Fool. Click below to start following one of the stocks mentioned above:

Learn more about Motley Fool Special Ops.

Roger Friedman doesn't own shares of any companies mentioned, but they're all now on his watchlist. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Read/Post Comments (2) | Recommend This Article (16)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On December 06, 2010, at 4:53 AM, dag154 wrote:

    Hi guys,

    as regards SKX, I would be weary. Here is a post I had put on the board on Dec 2:

    SKX is being sued for wrongful advertising in California. The problem? Claims made about their Shape Up shoes are being questioned.

    This is a cloud on the horizon which could indicate bad weather ahead.

    The Shape Ups are the new high-margin products. It may be however that this is a dud product in terms of usefulness.

    Check out this quote from Gear Diary ( )

    The American Council on Exercise has found there’s no difference in how your muscles actually work in regular shoes versus toning shoes. ACE’s study specifically concluded:

    To test the toning shoes’ effectiveness and evaluate their claims, a team of researchers from the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, led by John Porcari, Ph.D., John Greany, Ph.D., Stephanie Tepper, M.S., Brian Edmonson, B.S. and Carl Foster, Ph.D., designed a pair of studies to evaluate the exercise responses and muscle activation that take place while walking with toning shoes versus traditional athletic shoes. Researchers enlisted 12 physically active female volunteers, ages 19 to 24 years, for the exercise response study, during which they completed a dozen five-minute exercise trials of walking on a treadmill while wearing each type of shoe, including the toning sneakers Skechers Shape-Ups, MBT and Reebok’s EasyTone, and traditional New Balance running shoes. To evaluate muscle activation, researchers recruited a second group of 12 physically active female volunteers, ages 21 to 27 years, who performed similar five-minute treadmill trials and were measured for muscle activity in six muscle areas: calves, quads, hamstrings, buttocks, back and abs.

    All three toning shoes tested showed no statistically significant increases in either exercise response or muscle activation during the treadmill trials, when compared to the normal athletic shoes tested. There was simply no evidence to indicate that the toning shoes offer any enhanced fitness benefits over traditional sneakers, despite studies cited by manufacturers seemingly “proving” the toning shoes’ effectiveness. Bryant warns consumers to be wary of such studies sponsored by manufacturers, many of which are not peer-reviewed and may be of questionable design. ACE’s study also addresses anecdotal evidence consumers have shared indicating that they feel the shoes are working their muscles due to localized muscle soreness. Study researchers explain that this feeling is due to the shoe’s unstable sole design, which cause wearers to use slightly different muscles to maintain balance than they would while wearing normal shoes, resulting in temporary soreness that will subside as the body adjusts to the shoe.

  • Report this Comment On December 06, 2010, at 2:13 PM, brickcityman wrote:

    I noticed a whole pallet full of Sketchers Shape-ups on sale at Costco this weekend... They were literally half of what my neighbor paid for them just a few months ago.

    This does not bode well. It signals they are desperate to unload inventory. And whats worse only a few boxes appear to be missing, and this was on Sunday afternoon!

    Looking forward it appears Reebok has yet to learn from this debacle, I notice a whole new line related to toning is being advertised now.

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