A Focus On Firm Profits

Trevon Hunt, a former adviser for the Chicago stock market firm Zacks Investment Research, was right on target with the stock selections he offered us in the August 2003 issue of BLACK ENTERPRISE. The firm’s strategy — to invest in companies that have great potential to show an increase in company sales and rising profits — worked well: Hunt’s five stock picks earned a collective return of 29.10% over the 52-week period from June 5, 2003 to June 4, 2004.

The two biggest growth leaders in Hunt’s portfolio were health insurer Aetna (NYSE: AET) and semiconductor manufacturer International Rectifier (NYSE: IRF). Hunt was confident that the nation’s largest health benefits company would flourish from internal cost cutting and he was right: Aetna’s shares rose 41.31% over its recommendation price, moving from $59.87 to $84.60.

International Rectifier recently traded at $42.06, up 47.42% over its recommendation price of $28.53. Hunt predicted that International Rectifier might surprise Wall Street with larger-than-expected profits, and it came to pass. The company posted quarterly profits in March 2004, which were more than $10 million over recorded profits in December 2003.

Andrew Zimmer, director of Private Client Services at Zacks Investment Management, says Aetna and International Rectifier are current holdings in the firm’s moderate growth portfolio. Zacks downgraded its recommendation for International Rectifier in October 2003 from buy to hold and set a new 12-month target price for the stock at $51.50.

On the other hand, Zacks is very confident about Aetna’s health. It upgraded its recommendation on Aetna from hold to buy in February 2004. Aetna’s 12-month target price was then set at $100.50.

Zimmer says Zacks no longer holds Hunt’s other three picks from last year: property insurer RenaissanceRe Holdings (NYSE: RNR), clothing chain Gap Inc. (NYSE: GPS), or Career Education Corp. (Nasdaq: CECO), which operates higher education campuses such as the Katherine Gibbs Schools.

“Career Education Corp. is no longer a holding. We sold it for a profit some time ago as a result of uncertainty related to the company’s reported earnings,” says Zimmer. Nonetheless, CECO crept up 2.22% since Hunt’s recommendation, going from $64.81 to $66.25.

RenaissanceRe Holdings faired much better, posting a 17.82% gain since last year. Its shares rose from $45.50 to $53.61.

Hunt’s final selection, Gap Inc., fell right in line with his expectation that the clothing chain would increase earnings by capitalizing on costlier fashion trends. Gap posted profits of $5.96 million in January 2004, up from $4.9 million last January. Zimmer said Zacks sold its shares of the clothing chain because it wanted to realize a profit. Since Hunt’s recommendation, Gap Inc. is up 36.72%, trading at $24.65, up from $18.03.