Red October: Forbes Best Small Cos (2013)

It’s that time of year again. Red October. Some people refer to small company stocks as Red Chips and we take our annual look at one of our favorite shopping lists — a tradition that has bagged a number of extremely rewarding investments over the years.

Forbes is out with their annual list of spooky small companies, the Best Small Companies for 2013.

This year’s headliner is Questcor Pharmaceuticals (QCOR). Questcor is among eleven healthcare companies in this year’s list. Acthar is the company’s main drug, used in the treatment of multiple sclerosis, infantile spasms and rheumatic disorders. The drug accounted for the bulk of QCOR’s annual sales total.

The companies featured at the top of Forbes list are:

1. Questcor Pharma (QCOR)
2. Grand Canyon Education (LOPE)
3. Proto Labs (PRLB)
4. Invensense (INVN)
5. Sturm, Ruger (RGR)

We’ll audit, confirm, study and whittle the list down to identify our favorites and see how they compare.

But these potential future titans don’t have to be scary. As we’ve hunted down buying opportunities from this annual listing over the last several years, we’ve discovered that the best returns tend to come from the entrants with the highest quality ratings.

Dashboards Past

We obviously still like to talk about the companies featured in 2008. These are the selections we bring up at the hair salon or barber shop. There are lessons to be learned (and celebrated) in companies like Neogen (2006), DXP Enterprises (2007), Stratasys (2008), Middleby (2008), Dril-Quip (2008), Boston Beer (2008), Bio-Reference Labs (2008 & 2011), Buffalo Wild Wings (2007-2011), Carbo Ceramics (2012), FactSet Research (2008), Mesa Labs (2012), NIC (2012), Peet’s Coffee (2009), Portfolio Recovery (2007,2010-2011), SolarWinds (2011) and SS&C Technologies (2012).

We note that Bio-Reference Labs (BRLI) is now the second most widely-followed company by MANIFEST subscribers, having first appeared on this list back in 2008.

It’s interesting to see Grand Canyon Education (LOPE) near the top of the list because of the damage done by the likes of from the educational services stocks like Strayer and Capella in recent years … and Quality Systems (2006-2008,2010-2011) — a multiple selection that’s done considerable damage to the all-time results.

It’s been a good year for our Forbes Best Small Company tracking portfolios. All in all, the outperformance accuracy is 51.4% and the relative return since 2006 is +2.3% (17.4% vs. 15.1%).

Halloween: Our Cue To Haunt Some Studies

Ken Kavula noticed that Forbes had released the 2013 listing earlier this week. I hope you’re not surprised that Ken is all over this as one of our favorite small company advocates.

So we start whittling with all 100 thanks to Ken:

We’ll require a minimum growth forecast of at least 10%, a quality ranking of 80 or better, and a return forecast greater than 11%. The screening results will be maintained here:

Here’s the results of auditing the 100 candidates … a short list of companies with small company growth characteristics, exceptional quality … that appear to be attractively priced.

The difference between tricks and treats? Quality.

Challenge Club (March 2013)

The Challenge Club voted to accumulate Qualcomm (QCOM) and to buy Echo Global Logistics (ECHO) during the March session.

Financial Results

The unit value for the Challenge Club is $24.31, up +2.1% from last month ($23.80). The Wilshire 5000 is up +3.3% over the last thirty days.

Since inception (1999), the annualized total return for the Challenge Club is 6.8% — with an annualized relative return checking in at +3.1%.

Challenge vs benchmark 20130323

Sorting by Return Forecast (PAR) & Sweet Spot Analysis

With MIPAR at 6.8% — the target for the overall portfolio PAR is 11.8-16.8%.

This range serves a dual purpose as it’s also the sweet spot for individual stocks — companies that would be attractive with PAR from 12-17% so long as quality is suitable.

All three primary portfolio characteristics (overall return forecast, quality and growth) are suitable and within the target range with the greatest need for a growth boost — if anything.

Candidates for Accumulation: AFLAC (AFL), QUALCOMM (QCOM) …

Challenge dash sort 20130322r

Challenge valuation 20130322

The ending dashboard for the portfolio can be found and monitored continuously here.

Three Stooge Group in the Windy City

Photo Credit: twm1340 via Compfight cc

It’s that time of year. It’s in the air. You might even say it’s in the wind.

Whether we wrap the theme around March Madness or simply the advent of educational event season, we spent the weekend in Chicago at an investing conference developed and delivered by a coalition of local investment education volunteers. The Chicagoland Investment Conference was well done and kudos to the team. Ken Kavula and I are honored to be invited and included in the festivities.

Howard “Bunny” Mack. Photo Credit: Deb Severson

Speaking of madness, I’m not sure we can take the master of ceremonies (Howard Mack, President – Chicagoland Chapter) all too seriously when he’s trotting around wearing Trix rabbit ears (General Mills presented at the event) while channeling Playboy bunnies and referring to the closing Stock Talk panel participants as “Three Stooges” but he did. Seriously, the crowd seemed to enjoy the banter and discussions as Ken Kavula, Mark Robertson and Doug Gerlach shared some thoughts and stock study ideas to take home.

Ken Kavula reminded the audience of successful selections made at one of the inaugural Stock Talk panels at the Chicago National Convention for NAIC held in Schaumburg a few years ago. See BINC Stock Talk 2008

Most of all, this Stock Talk panel reminds and underscores why-we-gather and emphasizes the power of what-we-do gathered in community, sharing and exploring investment ideas.

Doug Gerlach, Ken Kavula and Mark Robertson. Photo Credit: Deb Severson

Ken’s suggestions for the audience included Mesa Labs (MLAB), NIC (EGOV) and  Aerovironment (AVAV). EGOV innovatively pursues IT projects for predominantly state (and local) government agencies — seeking to optimize and improve things like making it easier to drive away with a new driver’s license.

Doug’s study roll call included Echo Global Logistics (ECHO), Yandex (YNDX) and SodaStream (SODA) — and yes, he tied sulzer bottles into the Stooge theme. His final selection was Mistras Group (MG), a worthy engineering & construction company to study.

Any study of ECHO might also include: CH Robinson (CHRW) and Expeditor’s (EXPD).

Mark’s selections included Qualcomm (QCOM) courtesy of Houston’s Anne Manning and the Mid-Michigan Round Table (our monthly stock discovery webcast), AFLAC (AFL) and the hospitalization of the duck … and a nudge to study Cognizant Technology (CTSH) and to explore the other candidates in our Ivory Soap Stock Screen.

At the end of the day, Howard removed the rabbit ears (probably went home and tried to see if they improved his TV reception) and can rest assured that he, Dean Hartley and their Chicago team favorably affected the investing future of at least one person several times over.