The market's been on a tear since March, but you can still order off the dollar menu.
It's been nearly a year since I wrote the original "5 Stocks on Wall Street's Dollar Menu" article. I was surprised at the time to find so many recognized stocks trading for less than $1 a share.
Even more household names would join the list in the months to come, as familiar companies in all industries buckled under the market's malaise.
Many of these buck babies were also the fastest to bounce back. If we revisit my "dollar menu" column from early March, you'll find that four of the five stocks I singled out at the time now trade for far more than a buck. The lone exception is Sirius XM Radio
A healthy market has certainly cleared out many dollar-menu specials, but the cupboard is not bare. In singling out candidates, I look for two things:
- The stock should be a North American company whose shares trade directly on a U.S. exchange. There are too many foreign ADRs that trade for pocket change, but that's not their fault. It's a currency-exchange thing.
- I also limit myself to stocks with a market cap of $100 million or more, because this list is speculative enough as it is. I don't want to dig my hand too deep into the penny-stock jar.
Let's dive into this month's list.
1. Plug Power
Don't let the wee price scare you -- there used to be a lot of power in these shares. You just have to go all the way back to January 2000, when the stock peaked at a whopping $156.50.
Plug Power manufactures fuel-cell generators, and fuel cells were hot at the time. They certainly doesn't seem to be today, as last month's second-quarter report demonstrates: Revenue clocked in at a pedestrian $3.2 million. Plug Power once dreamed of canvassing the globe with its GenSys and GenDrive systems. Now it's just hoping to fill 1,000 orders for all of 2009.
The story doesn't have to end here, though. We live in a global economy, and different countries will have different takes on fuel-cell energy. Plug Power received an order for 200 GenSys prime power fuel-cell units for cell-phone towers in India.
On the other hand, Plug Power is bleeding money, so it needs to catch on sooner rather than later. However, as far as dollar-menu fare goes, it offers an intriguing nibble.
2. Ladenburg Thalmann
It's hard to be an investment banker these days. The few IPOs and debt offerings that do squeeze through have the luxury of going through the big boys, so smaller players such as Ladenburg Thalmann have to make up the difference on the equity research, trading, and brokerage sides of their businesses.
A quick peek at last Friday's quarterly report is artificially encouraging: Revenue soared by 36% to $34.3 million, but that growth is not all organic. Revenue would have actually dipped slightly if not for last summer's acquisition of Triad Advisors.
Annual profitability is still probably at least two years away, but a buoyant market can improve the fortunes of the downtrodden in a hurry.
3. Quest Capital
There aren't too many penny stocks paying dividends, and an already slim list became one company leaner when Quest temporarily axed its payouts last week. It will resume its dividends once it works its way through its tax-loss carry-forwards, but it will have to turn a consistent profit for that to happen.
Quest provides financing to the real estate industry. This is a lousy specialty right now, but Quest managed to improve its liquidity and eliminate bank debt in its latest quarter. There are also encouraging signs that industries are bottoming out in Quest's areas of focus, such as residential mortgages and the upscale destination-club sector.
We're two days away from Blockbuster's next quarterly report. The company will probably post a loss, but the DVD-rental giant typically more than makes up for its shortfalls during the holidays.
Analysts see Blockbuster posting a reasonable profit of $0.18 a share for the year, with a slight improvement come 2010. These are the kinds of numbers that typically come stapled to a diploma out of Dollar Menu U, but investors fear that Blockbuster may still disappoint its nervous creditors.
Renting DVDs hasn't gone out of style, as the success of Netflix
There always seem to be a few biotech stocks trading for pocket change. Biotech is a volatile sector, as companies pin their hopes on potentially blockbuster drugs that take several years to go through clinical trials before they achieve their dreams of hitting the market.
Insmed's lottery ticket is Iplex, a drug that has been approved for patients suffering from a growth-hormone deficiency, but which also has long-shot potential to treat muscular dystrophy and Lou Gehrig's disease.
Biotech investors know that they have to be patient, but the same can probably said for anyone with the risk tolerance to order from Wall Street's dollar menu.
Feeling flush today? If you have a bit more than a buck to invest, check out "5 Stocks Under $10" for more low-priced stock ideas.