STOCK WATCH


Five Stock Surprises for 2007

Jeffrey R. Kosnett

These companies should see continuing 2008 growth despite market and economic woes.



This year has had its share of surprises: stocks that should have done better but didn't and others that overcame economic or business troubles to rise nicely. In fact, many of those surprise winners generated most of their gains in the highly unsettled second half.

Here are five stocks that delivered surprisingly good results in 2007 and that should be good investments in 2008, too. Next week I'll discuss five 2007 disappointments that are well positioned to rebound next year.

The return figures are for the year-to-date through December 5. The stocks are listed in order of the extent of the surprise factor, from most surprising to least.

1. Expedia (symbol EXPE), up 57%. The online travel agency, which owns Hotels.com and TripAdvisor.com, had a bad 2006 as a newly public company but won over investors this year by expanding more in Europe and generating higher advertising revenue.

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Expedia is strictly an agent and an advertising medium. As long as travel holds up --and if you've been on a plane lately or booked a hotel, you know it's booming -- Expedia will do well.

2. Costco (COST), up 27%. Retail stocks have been big losers in 2007, but here's the glorious exception. All the gibberish about how consumers will curtail buying now that it's more difficult to tap their home equity hasn't stopped Costco, whose performance has swamped rivals Wal-Mart (WMT), which is up 4%, and BJ's Wholesale Club (BJ), up 16%, and all the other mass-market retailers.

If Costo's stock can rise this much-including 19% over the past three months-in a year when Wall Street thinks consumers are dragging America down, imagine how the shares will fare once the sluggish economy begins to pick up steam.

3. Eaton Vance (EV), up 33%. In a year when Eaton Vance's mutual funds did just okay and the company's earnings per share fell 31% for the nine months ending July 31, the market still poured more iron on this hot fire.

EV keeps building its assets under management, now $150 billion. And its shares held up even though the company reported a huge bulge in "distribution expense," what it pays brokers and securities firms to sell its funds. EV says the $52 million extra it paid to Merrill Lynch, A.G. Edwards and others during the year is in lieu of future payments, so at least $9 million, or 8 cents a share, will soon go back into the profit column. That doesn't explain how the stock can gain 33% when operating earnings fall 24%, but perhaps this stock is so ironclad nothing can harm it.

4. Chicago Bridge & Iron (CBI), up 102%. They ought to change the name because this company, which has almost nothing to do any longer with Chicago or bridges, would then be recognized as one of the world's biggest builders of refineries and liquefied natural gas terminals. Perhaps there's a little exuberance in the stock, which has returned 50% annualized over the past five years, but it's still not overpriced relative to the company's earnings growth rate or its peers in the industry.

As a midsize company with a market value of $5 billion, you'd think the shift in investor sentiment toward larger companies-in this case to such rivals as Fluor and Jacobs Engineering-would leave CBI's shares behind. That has not been the case. Global heavy industry is booming, and it's hard to see a slowdown in energy construction.

5. Coca-Cola (KO), up 33%. After a long spell of CEO turnover and controversies about unhealthy drinks unpopular with this generation, people are drinking Coke again, and the stock has regained some of its glamor.

Coke has handily exceeded earnings expectations in 2007, is growing faster than it has in years, and generally is operating at or close to the standards it established in the 1990s.




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