Avoiding stock blowups is in every investor’s interest, but it’s getting a bit tougher.
Many companies that beat fourth-quarter estimates haven’t been rewarded with higher share prices. High-growth stocks are facing steeper hurdles from rising bond yields. Investors appear to be rotating from growth to value and into sectors with more exposure to a cyclical economic recovery.
Quite simply, fatigue may be setting into overcrowded trades and investment themes—whether those are alternative-meat producers, a travel recovery, green energy, or the continued domination of Big Tech.
Against that backdrop, investors may want to tread cautiously. One way to do so: Avoid stocks with low earnings quality and high short interest—meaning there are short positions, or bearish bets, on a large percentage of a company’s shares outstanding. (A short position is when investors borrow and then sell shares, betting that a stock’s price will fall so they can buy shares back at a cheaper price.) Stocks with that combination of attributes may be most at risk of underperforming or blowing up, according to Wolfe Research.
The firm ranks stocks on a relative basis within sectors by scoring earnings quality on seven financial measures, while also looking at valuation and sentiment indicators, based on fourth-quarter financials.
Wolfe calls stocks scoring in the bottom 10% of earnings quality, while also seeing high short interest, “our highest conviction cohort of stocks to avoid.”
One caveat: Low-quality stocks have been a popular trade—fueled by ample market liquidity and demand for riskier assets. High short interest also primes a stock for a short-squeeze, whereby traders who are short buy the stock to cover their positions, exerting upward pressure on the price. Nothing illustrates that dynamic more than the frenzied trading around GameStop (ticker: GME) this year.
Beauty products maker
(COTY), for example, shows up on Wolfe’s screen. But it may have already had its blowup, falling 15% the day it released its earnings report in February. Barron’s was bullish on the stock in the aftermath, and it has been moving up since then.
Nonetheless, plenty of other stocks on Wolfe’s watch list do seem vulnerable. Many have surged in a reopening trade or company-specific dynamics, and all trade at steep valuations. Here are 10 stocks from Wolfe’s list:
(CVNA), for instance, has been a blockbuster, gaining 535% over the last 52 weeks. Investors appear to have decided that it is a disruptive force in car buying and that a pandemic-fueled shift to online sales has accelerated its momentum. However, Carvana isn’t close to reporting a profit, and is expected to lose $1.96 a share this year and 97 cents in 2022.
The stock is up around 11% this year, but it has been wobbling lately and is down from its 52-week high around $315, trading recently at $287. Short interest is high at 22% of the shares outstanding, according to FactSet.
(EXPE) has surged 32% this year. Investors expect online bookings volume to soar as consumers head for vacations this summer and fall. Wall Street doesn’t see
earning a profit this year but expects big gains in 2022 with earnings per share of $6.04. At recent prices around $175, shares trade at 28 times 2022 earnings, a 40% premium to the
‘s multiple of 20 times.
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings
(NCLH) is also trading on hopes for a travel rebound in 2022. Wall Street expects revenues of $1.6 billion this year, up from $1.3 billion in 2020. But the stock is riding on expectations of a surge to $6 billion in revenue in 2022. Analysts are looking for earnings of 62 cents a share in 2022, up from an expected loss of $5.87 a share this year. The stock has climbed 218% in the last 52 weeks, and it is powering ahead this year, up 21% so far.
It’s hardly cheap, though, at 50 times estimated 2022 profits. About 13% of the shares are held short, according to FactSet.
(LYFT) also fits into the reopening theme; shares are up 178% in the last 52 weeks, including a 35% gain this year. Ride-sharing could pick up as more people head to work, meetings, and evenings out.
and its chief rival
(UBER) face rising labor costs and regulatory hurdles in Europe and other regions. Wall Street sees Lyft losing $1.08 a share this year and turning a modest profit of 17 cents in 2022. That gives it a multiple of 379 times 2022 earnings. Short interest is around 9%.
(RH) has been a stay-at-home winner. The stock soared 338% over the last year and it’s ahead 5% this year. The company is profitable, expected to earn $19.17 a share this year, up from an estimated $17.05 in 2020. But the stock hit a rough patch in early March as high-growth, high-multiple stocks sold off.
RH trades at 22 times 2022 earnings, which doesn’t look excessive. But It is now vulnerable to a blowup, according to Wolfe, with short-interest at 11% of the float.
(BYND) has long been a battleground between alt-meat bulls and bears. The stock has surged 93% over the last 52 weeks, defying the bears, but at recent prices around $142, it’s off 36% from its 52-week high of $221.
The alt-meat trend is going strong, and Beyond is working its way into more restaurants and supermarkets, while expanding its product line. But alt-meat rivals are gaining traction. Beyond’s profits aren’t expected to roll in until 2022, when the firm is anticipated to earn 23 cents a share. At that level of profit, the stock trades at 621 times earnings.
Stocks like Beyond trade on underlying business momentum, making earnings less of a share-price driver. Still, it isn’t encouraging that Wall Street sees the losses piling up. Per-share estimates for 2021 have been lowered 12% in the last week, according to FactSet, and 2021 estimates are down 190% in the past three months.
(FSLR) is riding a wave of investor demand for green stocks from ESG funds and others looking for exposure to clean energy. The company, which makes solar power systems and modules, has gained 124% over the last 52 weeks. The company has reported strong sales and bookings, but the stock is also baking in friendly climate policies from the Biden administration.
The stock has been wavering, however, after its big run. It has slumped 17% this year and it’s off more than 20% from 52-week highs around $112, recently trading around $82. Despite a favorable backdrop for green energy, First Solar’s sales and earnings are expected to fall slightly from 2021 to 2022. The stock trades at 24 times 2022 earnings, a premium to the market.
Other large-cap stocks that make Wolfe’s blowup watch list include
Advanced Micro Devices
and AMD are each up more than 100% over the last year, while BioMarin has been flat. All trade at steep valuations, with Zendesk topping the list at 130 times 2022 earnings estimates.
A blowup may not be imminent in any of these names, but stocks without a significant profit in sight may fall sharply if market jitters resurface and investors start to appreciate higher earnings quality.
Write to Daren Fonda at email@example.com