4 Boom-or-Bust Stocks

These stocks could make you a fortune or cost you a bundle.

Travis Hoium
Travis Hoium
Apr 20, 2011 at 12:00AM
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We all want to find the next 10-bagger, but even when the most successful investors think they have the next great stock, it sometimes turns out to be a dud.

But those misses shouldn't keep us from trying to find the next rocket stock. Here are four stocks on My Watchlist that have caught my eye as boom-or-bust stocks.

VirnetX (AMEX: VHC)
It's no secret that LTE, the new 4G mobile standard, is on its way. What's uncertain is how much VirnetX's package of patents will benefit from that move.

VirnetX is licensing its security intellectual property to 4G mobile phone manufacturers, infrastructure providers, and operators. If 4G becomes the success nearly everyone expects it to be, that's a lot of devices and a lot of potential revenue for VirnetX. If those expectations become reality, the stock will continue to move higher.

But the IP game is a risky and costly one. And right now, VirnetX is spending a lot of time in court. The upside is large settlements like VirnetX's $200 million deal with Microsoft last year, but those aren't guaranteed going forward. VirnetX has suits pending with Apple, Cisco, and Siemens just to name a few, all of which have plenty of resources to fight the charges.

VirnetX is an interesting story and should benefit from the move to 4G, but it could make for a choppy ride for shareholders. Both bulls and bears have strong opinions on this stock, and it will take a while to see who will end up with 4G gold and who will be left empty-handed.

Tesla Motors (Nasdaq: TSLA)
As an avid follower of the electric car business, I see two words pop up over and over when talking about this budding business: if and when. Take this statement, which would be a reasonable bullish argument for the company:

If electric cars take off in the U.S., the potential for Tesla Motors is off the charts. And when the Model S launches, Tesla could become "America's Fourth Automaker."

I love a good stock story, and I wouldn't put it past Tesla, but there are a lot of promises in there that often let investors down. When Morgan Stanley put a $70 price target on the stock, fellow Fool John Rosevear pointed to a lot of rosy assumptions that the analysts were counting on.


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I've been back and forth on Tesla myself, and while I think it has as good a shot as any to disrupt the automotive industry, there will be plenty of competition. Ford (NYSE: F) is coming out with an electric Focus this year to compete with GM and Nissan, which already have electric vehicles on the road.

If Tesla has a hit when the Model S launches, we could see this stock move toward $70. But if it doesn't, we will continue to see red ink on Tesla's bottom line. And the market will only take that for so long.

Syntroleum (Nasdaq: SYNM)
Oil is back to more than $110 per barrel, gasoline is $4 a gallon in many places around the country, and the search for alternatives is on. One company providing an interesting alternative is Syntroleum.

Syntroleum can take various types of feedstocks and turn them into synthetic diesel and jet fuel, something the Air Force is committed to using in the future. But right now this is only potential, and Syntroleum had just $8.4 million in revenue and a $9.5 million loss in 2010.

If Syntroleum can produce on a mass scale, it could have a hit on its hands. But the challenge is steep, and the company will have to start producing results soon before investors run out of patience.

Rentech (AMEX: RTK) is in the same boat, offering an interesting technology for synthetic fuels. But so far, fertilizer is what dominates the company's operations.

There's a lot of potential here, but the risks are high.

SodaStream (Nasdaq: SODA)
There's no other company whose potential excites me more than Motley Fool Rule Breakers pick SodaStream. If I have one weakness, it's my daily Mountain Dew fix that I just can't seem to kick. And SodaStream offers a convenient alternative that happens to be healthier than most sodas.

The opportunity is very similar to Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, another Rule Breakers pick that has paid off handsomely for investors. SodaStream wants to get people hooked on the simplicity of making their own soda at home and get them coming back again and again for high-margin syrup and carbonators.

As awesome as that sounds, fighting off Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO) and Pepsi won't be like taking on Starbucks with K-Cups. People aren't used to making soda at home, and the soda giants are built on brand loyalty.

If SodaStream can do it, the opportunity is huge, but it's a long hill to climb.

Foolish bottom line
As long as you know the risks, reaching for the home-run stock every now and again can help you beat the market in the long run. But do some due diligence and make sure your portfolio is well diversified before rolling the dice. Even the best stock pickers sometimes end up holding the stock that goes bust.

Which stocks do you think will boom and which ones will bust? Leave your thoughts in our comments section below.