"'Don't catch a falling knife' ... The idea of buying a former superstar stock at a discount price certainly has its attractions, but you've got to make sure you catch the haft -- not the blade."

So runs the thesis of my recurring Fool column "Get Ready for the Bounce," in which we search among the wreckage of Mr. Market's overturned cutlery drawer, hoping to find future winners in a pile of 52-week losers. But do we really need to sit around for a whole year, waiting for a potential bouncer?

I say nay. Sometimes, stocks fall far in far less time than a year -- and like a superball dropped from the balcony, the harder they fall, the higher they bounce. Today, we're going to look at a few equities that've suffered dramatic drops over the past week. With a little help from the 135,000 members of Motley Fool CAPS, we hope to find an opportunity or two for you:


How far from
52-week high?


CAPS Rating
(out of five)





PotashCorp (NYSE:POT)




Freeport-McMoRan  (NYSE:FCX)




Mosaic  (NYSE:MOS)




Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT)




Companies are selected by screening on finviz.com for abrupt 10% or greater price drops over the past week. 52-week high and recent price data provided by finviz.com. CAPS ratings from Motley Fool CAPS.

Five super falls -- one superball
Last week was a rough one for commodities -- and for the folks at Caterpillar, who help dig the stuff out of the ground. PotashCorp and Mosaic, the twin titans of fertilizer, got crushed Wednesday after PotashCorp announced it was cutting back on production in order to avoid having to cut prices ... and its European rival, K+S promptly responded by cutting prices anyway (which could force PotashCorp and Mosaic to follow suit.) A day later, Caterpillar reported its 43% drop in sales and ... well, you know what happened next.

What I don't know is why CNOOC got hammered. I mean, yeah, the company supposedly retained Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) to help it do another oil deal in Africa -- but CNOOC's interest in the continent is hardly news.

I have to say: It sure looks like a good opportunity. But let's find out what our community of CAPS investors thinks:

The bull case for CNOOC
bosmit13 poses the rhetorical question: "How can you bet against a oil and gas company in China with their population requiring more and more each year!" Plus, as CAPS All-Star FoolSolo argued in November: "Chinese oil security depends on CNOOC, they can't let it fail. Their $586B stimulus almost assures CNOOC and other basic materials will continue to see solid revenues, even if the rest of the world stumbles and falls."

Similarly, LibbyLoo00 expects CNOOC: "to reap benefit from China's growth plus the energy rebound. ... And its HUGE free cash flow (and $6B in net cash) mean the 4.1% dividend is safe." ("Huge," by the way, works out to about $2.74 billion in free cash flow.)

That $2.74 billion is a big number, no doubt. But is it big enough to justify paying up $55.5 billion for CNOOC? Well, let's consider what other goodies lie within CNOOC: At last report, CNOOC claimed to have proven oil reserves of 1.6 billion barrels. Proven reserves of natural gas amounted to 5,623 billion cubic feet which, at standard conversion of 5,800 cubic feet per barrel, works out to another 970 million barrels-of-oil-equivalent -- for a total of 2.57 billion barrels of equivalent.

Now divide this figure into CNOOC's $55.5 billion market cap (yes, I know that Yahoo! Finance says the market cap is $5.5 trillion, but that data is as laughable as it is patently false), and you're looking here at a company valued at just $21.6 per barrel of oil equivalents in its reserves.

Seeing as black gold fetches something closer to $70 a barrel these days, I'll go out on a limb here and say there's some value to be had in CNOOC's shares at these prices. Maybe not as much value as buying good 'ol ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) -- where a similar calculation will show Exxon's stock sells for about $15 per barrel of reserves -- but some.

Time to chime in
Personally, I see no reason to settle for second best. If forced to invest in an oil company, I'd go with the cheapest one I could find -- not just the first one I can find with "China" in its name. That said, my view is not a popular one on CAPS, where plenty of Fools -- and plenty of them wiser than I -- think there's more to the CNOOC story than meets the eye.

Are you one of them? Then what are you waiting for? Here's your chance to click on over to Motley Fool CAPS and tell us why CNOOC's a buy.

Motley Fool CAPS : It's fun, it's free, and it just might make you famous.

Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of any company named above. You can find him on CAPS, publicly pontificating under the handle TMFDitty, where he was recently ranked No. 656 out of more than 135,000 members.CNOOC is a Motley Fool Global Gains recommendation. The Fool has a disclosure policy.