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In the movie The Social Network, Mark Zuckerberg offered a simple explanation for how his partner, Eduardo Saverin, made $300,000 betting on oil futures. "You can read the weather, you can predict the price of heating oil," he told his girlfriend.
Luckily for those of us who missed out on that opportunity, there are many other market plays to make based on the weather. As anyone who lives in the nation's colder climes knows, this winter barely showed. Last month was the warmest March on record in half the country, and for businesses that depend on cold weather, like ski resorts and snow removal services, the high temperatures were a disaster. A slew of other companies, however, were raking in the dough while the sun was shining. Let's take a look at a few of them.
Zipcar (NYSE: ZIP ) , the world's leading car-sharing service, is a clear beneficiary of the early spring. Warm weather means more outdoor activity, and young urbanites need a way to escape to those out-of-town locales. In 2011, Zipcar brought in nearly 40% more revenue in its third quarter than in its first. Even factoring out improvements due to its general growth, that's still a near 27% advantage during the warmer months.
Furthermore, three of Zipcar's four established markets are located in the Northeast corridor (Washington, New York, and Boston), which was as balmy as any other part of the country over the last few weeks. Over half of the car-sharing service's revenue comes from its established markets. Zipcar had given disappointing guidance in its last quarterly report, projecting first-quarter revenue of $58 million to $60 million, but given the pleasant temperatures in the Northeast, I would expect revenue to come in at least $5 million above that range.
Excursions out of town weren't the only activity that was popular in the unseasonably warm weather. A Gallup poll released in March indicated that Americans exercised more than usual this winter. This trend figures to boost outdoor and exercise-oriented retailers Dick's Sporting Goods (NYSE: DKS ) and lululemon athletica (Nasdaq: LULU ) . Analysts are expecting revenue to come in at the high end of guidance now for the yoga clothier, at close to $270 million, and have bumped up EPS estimates by $0.02 a share for both stocks. If the warm weather keeps up, as predicted, that number could move even higher.
The auto market
Car sales rose by 13% in March, making 2012's first quarter the best for U.S. auto sales since early 2008. While this jump figures to lift carmakers across the board, one company that could benefit even more than the manufacturers is Sirius XM (Nasdaq: SIRI ) . While the carmakers certainly appreciate the boost in sales, as durable goods, more sales now could mean fewer later. Since Sirius is a service provider with a subscription model, it doesn't have this problem. The more potential subscribers they get now, the better, and with sales highly correlated to the auto market, the first quarter looks to treat the satellite radio provider well.
Analysts have bumped up earnings estimates for the quarter from $0.01 to $0.02 per share over the past three months.
The warm months have been a boon to farmers during the normally frigid times as well, and in some parts of the country, the growing season is two weeks ahead of schedule. Unseasonable temps also mean an early jump on lawn care for many Americans. These trends should beef up quarterly sales for Deere (NYSE: DE ) , maker of farming and lawn care equipment, Analysts have not adjusted their earnings estimates for the manufacturer, however, and the stock still trades well below its 52-week high, even though the broad market is as good as it's been in four years. The upside potential on an earnings beat looks credible.
The companies above aren't the only ones heating up with the warm weather. Retailers and restaurants have benefited across the board. Same-store sales were up an average of 11% in February at retailers across the country, and restaurant stocks soared in the first quarter, with many up 30% or more. Higher gas prices, however, could cramp those sectors in the second quarter.
For now, the good times should keep rolling for these companies as the National Weather Service has predicted that April and May will be warmer and drier than normal.
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