Barron's Recap (4/21/12): America's Portfolio Managers See Gains for Stocks
This weekend in Barron's online: The latest Big Money poll of America's portfolio managers, a cool off in the prices of U.S. farmland, and the prospects for Francesca's Holdings, Devon Energy and LSI.
"Reason to Cheer" by Jack Willoughby. In Barron's latest Big Money poll, America's portfolio managers are cautiously optimistic about the stock market's prospects in the coming year. They are hopeful about the economy, with 55% of investors either bullish or very bullish, compared to 14% who are bearish or very bearish. Technology and finance are expected to be the top-performing sectors over the next 12 months. But America's money managers are wary of bonds, and 52% see inflation as likely. Poll respondents also predict that President Barack Obama will be reelected in November, but that Republicans will seize control of the Senate, resulting in two-party rule.
Debbie Carlson's "Down -- but Far from Out -- on the Farm" takes a look at prices for U.S. farmland. The increasing use of corn-based ethanol as a gasoline additive and growing food demand from China and other emerging nations have been a boon for U.S. agriculture. But after booming over the past decade, including a more than 20% jump last year in some of America's most fertile regions, the market appears to be on the verge of cooling off. However, a crash, similar to those that followed the tech, dot-com and housing bubbles, is not likely. Farmland prices are expected to return to a more typical ebb and flow of modest gains and declines.
In "No Margin for Error," Jacqueline Doherty examines the prospects for Francesca's Holdings (NASDAQ: FRAN). Shares of the parent of the small but successful Francesca's Collections chain of 283 specialty retail stores are up more than 70% year to date. Revenue at the Houston-based company, which sells jewelry, apparel, accessories and housewares, has grown 57% annually over the past three years, and totaled $204 million in fiscal 2012, which ended in January. Earnings have grown at a 70% annual pace, and were $22.5 million, or 52 cents per share, last year. This year, analysts estimate per-share earnings will jump 56% to 81 cents, on a 34% increase in sales.
"Devon Energy: Undervalued and Underrated" by Kopin Tan suggests Devon Energy (NYSE: DVN), one of the largest independent U.S. energy explorers and producers, is underappreciated, a victim of pessimism about oil stocks. Nearly two-thirds of this Oklahoma City-based driller's recent output was natural gas, the price of which is at a decade low. Devon's shares have not seen as much action as some of its peers. But, the article says, the company's sound strategy, its strong balance sheet and its astute joint ventures should pay off nicely.
LSI (NYSE: LSI), a leading designer of semiconductors and software for hard drives and flash drives, is "smack in the middle of a digital sweet spot" says Vito J. Racanelli's "The Little Chip Maker That Could." After a rough five-year period in which the stock underperformed the Standard & Poor's 500 index, and last year's terrible floods in Thailand that curtailed hard-drive production, LSI shares are up more than 30% so far this year and could surge 50% or more. Growing data traffic and storage needs should soon lead to stronger results for LSI, suggests the article, perhaps double-digit profit growth over the next couple of years. Barron's bottom line: Despite the year-to-date climb, the stock still looks cheap.
- "A Muni Fund with a Twist" by J. R. Brandstrader is a profile of the managers of the Forward Credit Analysis Long/Short Fund.
- In "The Man Behind the Big Board" by Michael Santoli, the CEO spotlight is on NYSE Euronext's (NYSE: NYX) Duncan Niederauer.
- "Fiscal Follies, Monetary Mischief" by Gene Epstein is an interview with Stanford professor John Taylor.
- "Limits of Power" is an editorial commentary by Thomas G. Donlan.
Columns in this weekend's Barron's discuss:
- Advice for the Secret Service agents recently terminated
- Growth prospects for the likes of Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO), Colgate-Palmolive (NYSE: CL) and McDonald's (NYSE: MCD)
- Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT) earnings
- The Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS) dividend boost
- The surprising strength in retail sales in March
- And more ...
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