"'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 145,000 members of Motley Fool CAPS, we hope to find an opportunity or two for you:


How far from
52-week high?

Recent Price

CAPS Rating
(out of 5)

Weatherford  (NYSE:WFT)




Freeport-McMoRan (NYSE:FCX)




United States Steel  (NYSE:X)




Teck Resources  (NYSE:TCK)




Southern Copper  (NYSE:PCU)         




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
There's no two ways about it: If you were invested in commodities stocks last week, you're feeling pretty poor right now. Last week was simply miserable for shareholders in the several stocks named above, and yet -- judging from the galaxy of high-star ratings we see here -- investors haven't given up hope for a rebound.

And they're especially optimistic about the prospects at this week's featured stock. Let's listen in, as some of the brightest minds on CAPS discuss ...

The bull case for Weatherford
CAPS All-Star IsleGirl2010 keeps the bull thesis simple: "Oil will come back and natural gas will be big in the near future because the government favors it in their green energy policy."

That's great news for pure plays in the oil patch, and perhaps just as good for an oil service play like Weatherford. Fellow All-Star rdpatton agrees that: "oil will continue going up this next year. WFT has lagged other oil field services and will most likely catch up over the next 6-12 months." (Indeed, although up 42% over the last 52 weeks, Weatherford lags big names like Schlumberger (NYSE:SLB) and Halliburton (NYSE:HAL), up 58% and 72%, respectively.

And yet ...
And yet, maybe Weatherford deserves to plod while other gallop?

In fact, I argued as much just a few months ago. Back then, I noted that the 35% growth rate Wall Street had posited for Weatherford looked awfully attractive for a stock priced at just 16.5 times earnings. But taking a harder look at the company's cash flow statement, I declared Weatherford's profits "illusory." For while Weatherford was really good at generating cash flow, it was even better at spending it:

Over the last five years, the company's averaged just short of $400 million a year in annual cash-burn. (Incidentally, were this not the case, I doubt we'd see Weatherford carrying $6.5 billion in debt.) ... I think this stock is a dud. I wouldn't touch this debt-laden cash-burner with a 10-foot, diamond-tipped drill bit.

The more things change, the more they ... change
Fast forward four months and -- well, what can I tell you, folks? I was right. Weatherford was doomed to dud, and has in fact lost more than 28% of its market cap since I pronounced it such. But after such a steep fall, the questions now arise: Has anything changed about Weatherford? Is now the time to buy in?

Actually, I think it has -- and it is. Sure, a miserable fourth-quarter performance now has Weatherford looking even more expensive than it did four months ago from a P/E perspective. But beneath the surface, I see value a-brewin'.

Consider: For the first time in I-don't-know-how-long, Weatherford generated positive free cash flow last year -- roughly $100 million of the stuff. And according to its CFO, the company's on track to produce even more free cash flow next year. Granted, that's not a lot of cash for a $12 billion dollar company carrying almost $7 billion in debt, but it's a whole lot better 'n' nothin'. (Which is what Weatherford was producing before.)

Put your money where your stock is
Perhaps even more encouraging is IBDvalueinvestin's observation that Weatherford director and major shareholder William Macaulay recently: "bought $1.6M worth of shares in the open market." Macaulay essentially doubled down on his already sizeable investment at the princely price of $16.33 per share. So if you were to buy the stock today, you'd be getting roughly the same price the director paid.

Foolish takeaway
In the best case scenario, Macaulay's buy-in gives us a clear signal that big oil's about to resume it's bull run -- a signal confirmed by Weatherford's surge in free cash flow. That right there may give you reason enough to buy. And heck, even in the worst case, if the stock keeps going down, at least you've got the moral satisfaction of knowing that the folks running the show are suffering too.

Of course, that's just my opinion -- and heaven knows, you cannot pay the electric bill with "moral satisfaction." If you think the time's not ripe to buy, then here's your chance to tell us why.

Click over to Motley Fool CAPS now, and tell us your thoughts about Weatherford.

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's currently ranked No. 660 out of more than 145,000 members. The Fool has a disclosure policy.