Five seconds to present attractive stocks

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Here’s the problem with appearing on television: it’s hard. I can beat grandmasters at chess but I can’t figure out what it takes to be good on TV.

Back in the old days when Jim Cramer and Larry Kudlow had their show I went once or twice purely as a favour to my book publisher, who was threatening to destroy my good name unless I promoted my crappy books.

I swore to myself I wouldn’t do it again. Before I go on, I get nervous, I prepare for about three or four hours per segment (and a segment lasts about five minutes) – I probably overdo it. But, I can’t help myself. When asked to go on, I say, “yes”. I usually go on CNBC’s On the Money where they often pick a topic and pair me against someone (or four someones) who disagree with me.

And then Melissa Francis plays us all like a conductor of the New York Philharmonic bringing it to a final crescendo right before the commercial break. After the five minutes, it’s over. I’m sitting there in a dark room (the remote studio) with something in my ear, waiting for someone to unplug me. And my first thought, always, is: “Did I suck?”

Last week we tried something different.

I love talking about companies and stocks and wanted to do that more. So the producers and I worked out an idea. How about I talk about as many of my favourite stocks as I can in two minutes? They agreed and we called it On the Money In a Minute. Uhh, a minute? I had 30 stocks ready. I whittled them down to 12. I had no idea how I was going to do five seconds a stock.

Cramer once told me he used to practise in front of a mirror so I tried that. I can’t think of a more unpleasant experience to subject yourself to (looking in a mirror while talking) except for maybe some sort of bird flu booster shot.

On the way down to CNBC I practised while on the phone with my business partner, Dan Kelly. At one point the phone disconnected while I was talking and he acted later like it was because I was in a wireless dead zone, but I know better!

I ended up having a lot of fun with it. Here are the stocks I used in the segment last Friday plus some that were left on the cutting room floor.

● We need some rate cut plays: first off, the second tier banks with little subprime exposure: Suntrust, US Bancorp, Wells Fargo, M&T Bank, and finally Bank of America, a big bank, 5 per cent dividend, Warren Buffett owns 9m shares. Come to think of it, he owns all of these banks.

● One more rate cut play. Century Aluminium. Fed cuts rates, inflation goes up, metals go up, Century will go up. It trades for just 4.8 times earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation. Plus the chief executive officer just bought stock. What does he know?

● Herbalife – I just saw myself on TV for the first time and I have a little bit of a double chin. It makes weight loss nutritional supplements. Just started a $450m share buy-back programme. Forward price/earnings ratio of 14.

● Claymore/Clear Global Vaccine Index ETF – if you’re worried about getting bird flu or some other global pandemic then hedge yourself with the global vaccine ETF. It only buys companies that make vaccines.

● Ctrip.com International – the Expedia of China. Nine out of 10 people who go to Beijing in 2008 will visit other Chinese cities and many of them will book through Ctrip.

● United Stationers – forget the internet for a second. United Stationers just started a $200m share buy-back and trades for just six times cash flows. Paper is the new internet.

● Trico Marine Services – worried about hurricanes? Trico Marine has a p/e of 10 and fixes all the offshore oil rigs after a hurricane. It will have a busy summer.

● Tessera Technologies – we all love Apple but let’s get in the back door. Tessera licenses the patents to pack those chips into a small package like the iPhone. Cash in the bank of $236m, no debt, enormous margins. Size matters.

● JC Penney – my favourite internet play. Online sales is the fastest growing part of the business now that it has installed 35,000 internet kiosks. It has boring multiples but is a fast-moving internet stock.

● Finally, a short play. Deckers Outdoor Corporation: fewer people are eating lamb chops, which means fewer farmers are raising sheep, which means fewer hides are going to tanneries. That means sheepskin prices go up and Deckers, maker of UGG boots, will see its margins go down.

At the end of the day I had fun with doing the show and I’m looking forward to doing it again on On the Money this Friday.

james@formulacapital.com

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