Well, the first quarter of the year is behind us, and stock market returns have been decidedly ho-hum. The S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average are each up an unremarkable 1% to date. Global growth concerns remain intact, and traders are walking on eggshells waiting for more clarity on when the Federal Reserve will finally raise interest rates.
An equally balanced portfolio of their 10 picks would be up an incredible 15% to-date — that’s an annualized return of 60%.
Not too shabby.
Let’s take a gander at how each of the picks in the 10 Best Stocks for 2015 competition is performing, from worst to best.
Best Stocks for 2015: #10, Noble Corp plc (NYSE:NE)
YTD Performance: -15%
Investor: John Jagerson and Wade Hansen
The editors of Slingshot Trader are playing from behind in this year’s Best Stocks competition. Jagerson and Hansen chose Noble Corp plc (NYSE:NE) as their pick, counting on a rebound in the energy markets to send NE stock higher. That hasn’t happened yet, but Noble Corp should still be well-positioned to bounce back if energy returns to its levels of yesteryear.
Jagerson and Hansen outlined their reasons to be bullish on Noble stock in late December:
“Unlike many of the shale companies in the U.S. that operated as highly leveraged partnerships or regular C-corps, this contract-driller still has an attractive capital position.
Noble Corp missed out on some of the speculative windfall over the last few years, but it can now afford to swoop in and ramp up production when energy prices start to recover.”
Remember, it’s not about how you start, it’s about how you finish. And we’ve got nine more months for NE stock to make back its early losses this year.
Best Stocks for 2015: #9, Yahoo! Inc. (YHOO)
YTD Performance: -11%
Investor: Greg Harmon
Yahoo! Inc. (NASDAQ:YHOO), which was largely reliant on Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (NYSE:BABA) for gains in 2014, won’t have that crutch going forward. Veteran options trader and investor Greg Harmon didn’t see that being a problem when he crowned YHOO as his Best Stocks pick in December.
Although YHOO stock still sits well below breakeven for Harmon, he was right about one thing: A decreased exposure to Alibaba has been very beneficial for Yahoo in 2015, as BABA stock is off almost 20% to date.
YHOO shares should reap some benefit in the coming years from a stock buyback program that was recently increased by $2 billion, according to a recent SEC filing.
Best Stocks for 2015: #8, iShares Dow Jones US Oil Equip. (ETF) (NYSEARCA:IEZ)
YTD Performance: -6%
Investor: David and Michael Fabian
This low-cost ETF has an expense ratio of just 0.45%, and boasts a diversified portfolio of oil services stocks to its name, with industry heavyweights like Halliburton Company (NYSE:HAL), Baker Hughes Incorporated (NYSE:BHI) and National-Oilwell Varco, Inc. (NYSE:NOV) constituting its three largest positions.
IEZ is a definite contrarian play, and David and Michael consider it one of the best ways to play an eventual rebound in energy prices. While that hasn’t happened just yet, if it does, I expect IEZ to enjoy handsome returns.
The market-cap weighted ETF tracks 53 stocks in the oil services area. The Fabians like this weighting methodology:
“This slant towards larger and more established companies within the industry makes IEZ more attractive than other equal-weighted ETF alternatives. In addition, these larger companies may benefit from merger and acquisition activity within the energy services industry as smaller firms look to survive or consolidate their assets.”
Best Stocks for 2015: #7, Old Dominion Freight Line (ODFL)
YTD Performance: Flat
Investor: Mike Turner
Though year-to-date gains don’t quite show it, Old Dominion Freight Line as a company has actually been humming along quite nicely. It clobbered earnings expectations in its fiscal fourth quarter, with EPS clocking in at 81 cents against estimates for 72 cents. That marked the fourth straight quarter of earnings beats for ODFL.
As long as the U.S. economy keeps generally chugging along this year, ODFL shares should be ripe for a comeback. The less-than-truckload transportation company is benefiting handsomely from a fall in fuel prices, and an increasing amount of federal laws and regulations should create barriers to entry for potential competitors.
Best Stocks for 2015: #6, Google Inc (GOOG)
YTD Performance: +5%
Investor: Paul R. La Monica
Let’s be honest: The biggest news for Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG, NASDAQ:GOOGL) this year has simply been the fact that the U.S. government decided not to pursue antitrust charges against the search giant.
That might not be the most bullish way to frame the state of GOOG in 2015, but the year is still young.
2015 should be a big year for Google’s gadgets, as the company makes new inroads in the wearables market. Apparently its Internet-connected eyewear, Google Glass, will return to market this year after being unceremoniously pulled in January. Far more promising in the short-term are the prospects for a premium Google Watch to compete with the Apple Watch.
Best Stocks for 2015: #5, Prospect Capital Corporation (PSEC)
YTD Performance: +5%
Investor: Charles Sizemore
Two-time champion of the annual Best Stocks competition, Charles Sizemore, chose a Cinderella stock to win it all in the 2015 competition. Turning to the world of dividend stocks for his pick this year, Sizemore tapped Prospect Capital Corporation (NASDAQ:PSEC) and its hefty 12% yield as his entrant into the contest.
While PSEC admittedly has some ground to make up in the competition, Charles’ bullish thesis remains stubbornly intact. Business development company and financier Prospect Capital trades at a solid discount to its book value, with PSEC stock going for 80 cents on the dollar.
While Sizemore has revised his target gains in PSEC stock downwards from 40% to a more modest 33%, if he’s right, he still may stand a chance of winning this year’s showdown.
With dividends, PSEC’s year-to-date returns clock in at about 5% already.
Best Stocks for 2015: #4, ABM Industries, Inc. (ABM)
YTD Performance: +13%
Investor: Hilary Kramer
No one will ever hail ABM Industries, Inc. (NYSE:ABM) as the most exciting stock on Wall Street. The company — formally referred to as American Building Maintenance Industries, provides janitorial, parking, security and other services for its clients.
Fairly boring stuff, to be honest.
But you can’t knock ABM’s growth, which GameChangers Editor Hilary Kramer cited as the main reason for picking ABM in the Best Stocks competition. She’s been on point so far this year, with ABM stock easily outperforming the S&P 500 by double-digit percentage points in 2015.
Legendary growth investor Peter Lynch was crazy about yawn-inducing stocks like ABM, for the simple fact that Wall Street was likely to ignore those stocks in the early days, making shares far cheaper than more exciting names. ABM just might be one of those stocks.
Best Stocks for 2015: #3, Apple Inc. (AAPL)
YTD Performance: +14%
Investor: Louis Navellier
Veteran stock picker and Blue Chip Growth Editor Louis Navellier has been on the right track with his pick, stock market darling Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL). Apple enjoys a laundry list of catalysts that could make this a dangerous dark horse pick to win this year’s Best Stocks competition.
Perhaps the most compelling advantage AAPL has over its competition comes down to the girth of its wallet. At last check, it had a staggering $178 billion of cash and investments, more than the combined GDPs of Cuba and Ecuador. It’s getting better at figuring out ways to share that hoard with shareholders, paying out a healthy 1.5% dividend and buying back shares.
On top of its cash-rich bank account, a number of new or future endeavors promise to haul in money for years to come. Apple Pay, a new-look Apple TV, the Apple Watch and even a rumored Apple-made electric car are just a few of the products and services that should help drive the AAPL stock price higher.
Best Stocks For 2015: #2, Ambarella Inc (NASDAQ:AMBA)
YTD Performance: +45%
Investor: Jon Markman
Ambarella Inc (NASDAQ:AMBA), the up-and-coming chipmaker who first caught the attention of investors by being the supplier of GoPro Inc (NASDAQ:GPRO), followed up a stellar 2013 and 2014 with another top-notch performance through the first quarter of 2015.
Jon Markman, the editor of daily trading service Trader’s Advantage, chose AMBA as his pick in the Best Stocks competition for good reason: AMBA isn’t a one-trick pony. It’s diversified, with more than 40% of its business coming from the internet-connected security market. Ambarella also has exposure to high-growth areas like 4k video, automotive rear-view camera technology and the drone surveillance space.
The AMBA stock price target was recently hiked by an analyst at Chardan Capital, sending the stock higher on the news, so the recent run-up could continue in earnest for some time.
Best Stocks for 2015: #1, Rave Restaurant Group Inc (RAVE)
YTD Performance: +97%
Investor: Rick Rouse
Momentum Options and Momentum Stocks Weekly Editor Rick Rouse didn’t actually select Rave Restaurant Group Inc (NASDAQ:RAVE) when he initially made his pick for the 10 Best Stocks for 2015 competition in December.
He chose Pizza Inn Holdings Inc, which had the ticker PZZI … but just a week into the new year, Pizza Inn changed its name. And boy, has life under the Rave Restaurant Group moniker been good for investors. Rouse’s pick is the runaway leader in the 2015 Best Stocks competition, nearly doubling in the first three-plus months of the year.
It’s rather appropriate for RAVE stock to be enjoying such marvelous returns. In February, the company announced remarkable growth at its young brand, Pie Five Pizza Co., a fast-casual pizza business. Revenues for Pie Five jumped 118% year-over-year, and its former namesake Pizza Inn saw same-store sales rise 6.4%.
At a $150 million market cap, it’s hard to find another small-cap restaurant stock with the growth exposure RAVE enjoys.
As of this writing, John Divine owned shares of GOOG stock, GOOGL stock and AAPL stock, and was long Jan 2016 $25 AMBA calls. You can follow him on Twitter at @divinebizkid.