A few weeks ago, my Foolish colleague Bill Barker laid out a 10-step strategy for making half a million dollars. The idea is to use CNBC's Million-Dollar Portfolio Challenge to pick what might otherwise be risky stocks, but play them for maximum effectiveness over a two-month period.

I decided to follow Bill's plan and see how I did. While everyone's stock picks in the game are secret -- I guess they don't want you piggybacking on someone else's winning stocks -- I figured I'd keep investors everywhere apprised of how I'm doing, updating one of my five portfolios every week.

An investing strategy for special occasions
Bill's plan was ingeniously simple, though it's not something you would want to do in real life. He recommended keeping super-concentrated portfolios of small-cap stocks that were trading near their 52-week lows and were about to announce their earnings. By doing so, an investor would have the best chance of capitalizing on the volatility necessary to vault a portfolio into the lead over the contest's short time frame.

Following that idea, I screened for the smallest cap companies permissible (at least $500 million) whose stocks were trading below $10 a share and showing relatively high levels of short interest. Bill suggested delving into biotechs, since they often show the greatest price fluctuations, but I opted to find companies where they lay.

So how am I doing? Well that depends. I can tell you I'm not leading the pack -- yet. My five virtual portfolios have an average return of 4.7%. This week I'll look at my best-performing portfolio, Portfolio No. 5.


Purchase Price

Price 5/18/08


Cirrus Logic (NASDAQ:CRUS)




Lawson Software (NASDAQ:LWSN)




Smurfit-Stone Container (NASDAQ:SSCC)




TriQuint Semiconductor (NASDAQ:TQNT)




Average Return



While I haven't yet figured out just how many players there are, that average return is good enough to earn me the 49,652nd spot in the rankings. My portfolio's value of $1,055,278.54 puts me well behind top player James Fox, whose portfolio is valued at $1,318,246.43.

Pulp fiction
So far, my best performer has been paper-container maker Smurfit-Stone Container. Earlier this month, International Paper (NYSE:IP) had a fatal explosion at one of its mills. According to IP's filing with the SEC, it doesn't know how long the mill will remain out of operation, but its production represents approximately 10.5% of its linerboard capacity and 1.5% of the industry's North American capacity.

Happening so soon after IP agreed to buy a bevy of assets from Weyerhaeuser (NYSE:WY), the probability that Smurfit-Stone stands to benefit from this seems pretty large. I'll keep looking for Smurfit-Stone to continue improving over the coming weeks.

A lead balloon?
Not everyone is sold on Smurfit-Stone, however. Over on Motley Fool CAPS, while 83% of the investors rating the stock think it will outperform the market, it has garnered only a two-star rating, suggesting tenuous support at best. However, for those who do think it will outperform, top-rated All-Star investor kristm perhaps sums it up best when stating:  

Nearly everything you can buy in a store or restaurant comes in a box, was delivered in a box, or contains parts/ingredients that were.

Movin' on up
While a lot can happen in a week's time, next week I'll look at my worst-performing portfolio, Portfolio No. 3. Who knows? Maybe it will have become my best performer and catapult me into the lead. I could really use the $500,000 grand prize, and I wouldn't scoff at the first-place prize of $250,000 or the second-place prize of $100,000, either.