If you're a contrarian investor looking for some stocks to buy, then the most likely candidates are gold miners, coals stocks, or the emerging markets, as they all struggled this past year. However, maybe you should take a look at a few other stocks that took their lumps this past year instead.
First Niagara falls too much
Take First Niagara (NASDAQ: FNFG ) , which operates retail and commercial banks in the New York area. Its stock was hammered when it named a new CEO. It took the "interim" label off Gary M. Crosby and named him reigning president and CEO, but Wall Street was expecting someone from outside the bank to take over, so the stock was knocked down from $10.80 per share to $10.20. That seemed like an over-reaction to a new CEO. Most say the former CEO was kicked out because of expansion that didn't pay off as planned. However, First Niagara's board expects Crosby to help "drive operational excellence and organic growth in the communities we serve."
And when new CEOs come on board, they tend to put their money where their mouth is, so to speak, and buy big blocks of shares. Let's wait and see whether this is the case for Mr. Crosby. Although it looks like insiders are starting to buy their own shares, and no sales have been made in quite some time, Crosby hasn't stepped in to buy shares yet. But you do get a nice dividend of more than 3% while you wait for the stock to recover.
First Niagara does have some worries, though -- namely, growing too quickly. It bought a lot of smaller banks over the past few years and now has to integrate them. Moody's put the bank's rating on watch for a downgrade, largely due to its expansion and resulting capital position . First Niagara bought 195 branches from HSBC for $1 billion and cut its dividend to help fund the deal. However, First Niagara sold 26 of the former HSBC branches to Key Corp to meet fair-competition stipulations. Overall, it appears First Niagara is now ready to integrate and streamline its banks. And with the housing recovery well underway, First Niagara should see positive growth going forward. Moreover, the rise in interest rates should help it earn more money on all its loans. So, if loan growth continues and interest rates rise, it bodes well for a streamlined First Niagara.
Joy Global prepares for a comeback
Then there's mining-equipment maker Joy Global (NYSE: JOY ) , which not long ago traded at close to $100 a share but is now worth about half that. What happened? Is it all because of the slowdown in China? Perhaps. But won't China turn around and figure out a way to maintain growth? Heck, if China continues to grow at even a 7% rate, that should help stabilize the construction and mining industries. And won't the Brazilian economy grow in the years to come, what with the World Cup and the Olympics on the horizon forcing the country to build and expand its infrastructure? And then there's Europe, whose economy is gradually stabilizing. And in the United States, one could say there's almost a housing shortage in some areas. All this should help Joy Global.
Goldman Sachs gives Joy Global a sell rating, saying there's an excess supply of iron ore, coal, and precious metals, along with an oversupply of equipment. Goldman's price target for the stock is $52. Ouch. The question, though, is whether investors should buy now or back away slowly. I say the time to buy is when all the sell calls are in. Right now, the headwinds are known, and the bad news seems to baked into the stock. The company now sees its stock as cheap, having authorized a $1 billion buyback of stock over the next 36 months. Also, the demand for coal in both China and India is expected to grow at double-digits rates in the coming years.
Lululemon's fresh start
lululemon athletica (NASDAQ: LULU ) , like First Niagara, has a new CEO at the helm. Laurent Potdevin now leads the maker of yoga pants, and he has plenty of issue to address, from the see-through pants controversy to the founder's implication that overweight women shouldn't wear the company's skin-tight pants. Potdevin has his work cut out for him, but Lululemon's board was smart to install him: It's best to start fresh and move on with a new CEO. Now it's all about international growth, and Potdevin -- who has worked at TOMS, Burton, and Louis Vuitton, leading the expansion and growth of all three of those unique brands -- is a nice fit. Right now, Lululemon is concentrated in the U.S., with roughly 200 stores, but it wants to open more stores in Europe and Asia in the years ahead. If Potdevin can settle all the bad press and lead an expansion in Europe and Asia, shares of the yoga pants maker should rise. And Lululemon wisely tests new markets before opening new stores by seeding the area with popup stores and yoga events to gauge interest.
The trend of exercising and practicing yoga remains in Lululemon's favor, which is why it's opening new stores aimed at young athletic girls, called ivivva athletica. Moreover, the growing market for wearable technology should align well with Lululemon's workout gear. Recently, Lululemon even tested a basic heart monitor bra. Further, Lululemon plans to expand into more men's active wear, as well as a golf clothing line.
While Nike and Under Armour have chased Lululemon with their own yoga wear, owning the Lululemon brand outright seems an appealing option for these athletic-apparel giants, especially with the stock at these levels. That raises the big question: At what level is the stock a buy? The stock market has a way of chopping down companies as they adjust their strategies. While it may take a few quarters for Lululemon to turn things around, it may not be a bad idea to buy some shares at these levels and almost hope they go lower so you can buy more. Just today, Lululemon cut their guidance for the fourth quarter by about $20 million, due to slow sales in the month of January. But the stock was hit hard, dropping to as low as $49 a share. However, the CFO said they were looking to build a solid foundation for the future, improving the back-of-house product operations structure which will pay off in the long run. Ultimately, Lululemon has a good product in a niche that's gaining in popularity. Do you even know anyone who did yoga 20 years ago?
Bad news baked in
Finally, while all three of these stocks are badly beaten-up right now, it may be the time to start building a position in these stocks for the long run, as most of the bad news is already baked into their prices. All three companies are trying to focus on their core businesses, looking toward future growth as they streamline their businesses. Two companies, First Niagara and Lululemon, have new CEOs, and the third, Joy Global, has cut costs and is buying back shares.
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