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As the year draws to a close, I tend to break out my crystal ball and search for the investing trends that will come to define the year ahead.
Today, I'll focus on a few stocks that I think have the appropriate balance of built-in catalysts and upside potential to outperform the market in 2010. You probably won't agree with all of my picks, but that's why I'll hand you the crystal ball in the end.
With that in mind, let's go over some of next year's market winners.
1. IMAX (Nasdaq: IMAX )
It's time for the feature presentation at IMAX. Over the past couple of years, the company behind senses-shattering cinematic experiences has been expanding its reach through global deals and joint-venture arrangements with leading multiplex operators. Now it's showtime!
Every major movie studio knows that its blockbusters can make even more money with beefed-up IMAX versions. Whether it's Harry Potter, Batman, or this month's slam-dunk Avatar, folks are willing to pay a few bucks more for an IMAX screening, and the evidence is in IMAX's bottom line -- finally. After several years of laying profitless groundwork, the company has delivered back-to-back quarters in the black.
Things should only get better from here for the cineplex savior. Analysts see IMAX earning $0.46 a share in 2010, after delivering a profit of $0.08 a share in 2009.
Studios need IMAX more than ever, in a climate of diminishing DVD sales and devalued rentals. The company shouldn't let them -- or shareholders -- down over the coming year.
2. Perfect World (Nasdaq: PWRD )
It's been a lackluster year for China's online-gaming companies. Regulator crackdowns and foreign ownership restrictions have scared investors from a sector that's still booming.
You rarely find the perfect combination of improving fundamentals and meandering share prices. Over the past three months, analysts have gone from projecting a 2010 profit of $3.33 a share to $3.70 a share. Perfect World's stock, on the other hand, has gone nowhere.
How cool is it to run into a company that's expected to grow its bottom line by 83% this year, and 27% come 2010, for less than 12 times forward earnings?
Here, uncertainty has created opportunity. Rival Changyou.com (Nasdaq: CYOU ) is trading for less than 10 times next year's net income target, but it's not growing as quickly as Perfect World.
3. Sirius XM Radio (Nasdaq: SIRI )
Satellite radio has come a long way since last year's merger between Sirius and XM. The combined company is focused, generating operating cash flow, and breaking even.
Many of the survival concerns that plagued the media giant earlier this year have evaporated. Sirius XM has extended debt maturities and won credit rating accolades, and its destiny is no longer tied to an egg timer.
There are too many shares outstanding to get this stock back to where it was a couple of years ago, but it doesn't have to move too much higher to beat the market averages.
4. OpenTable (Nasdaq: OPEN )
One of the more surprising companies to go public this year is OpenTable. The casual-dining industry is struggling in a recession, and we get the leading online reservations company as an IPO?
In this case, OpenTable has earned its place at the public table. It has beaten analyst estimates in its first two quarters as a public company, and it's growing nicely. As of the company's latest quarterly financial report, there were 10,338 North American restaurants merging OpenTable's proprietary electronic-reservations book with its Web-based bookings. That represents 18% more eateries than the company had enlisted a year ago. Dining reservations rose by 22% over the past year, meaning that the average restaurant is actually relying on OpenTable even more.
OpenTable could be more profitable, but if 2010 is a year of recovery, it'll be a strong one for upscale restaurants that require advance reservations.
5. Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL )
Yes, Apple. The tech darling's stock has had a strong 2009, but the fundamentals have more than kept pace. It's hard to bet against Apple with all of the built-in iPhone revenue in a smartphone industry that's still in its infancy. Even if we don't get the iTablet during the company's fiscal 2010, there's enough in the tank for Apple to continue to outpace the market.
Despite its heady gains, Apple is trading at a reasonable 24 times its projected profit for the current fiscal year (which ends next September) and just 20 times next fiscal year's earnings target.
This may not be the feast-or-famine kind of swing that smaller smartphone rival Palm (Nasdaq: PALM ) is looking at, but Apple's consistent quality and proven pedigree have little reason to come unglued over the next year.