Stock Watch


6 Low-Priced Stocks With Upside

Kathy Kristof

$10 could buy you lunch -- or a share of these stocks.



If you're looking to invest but don't have thousands to pour into the market, low-priced stocks have a visceral appeal. Although stocks that sell for less than $10 a share are often risky bets, they let you buy a 100-share stake for $1,000 or less. If the gamble pays off, particularly with a turnaround story or an untested biotech stock, you could double your money in a relatively short period. On the other hand, if things don't work out, your risk is limited to the $1,000 you put up -- and that's not going to break you, even if you're not a high roller.

SEE ALSO: 23 Stock Picks for 2013

Want to take a chance? Here are six low-priced stocks with potential. (All prices are as of the December 14 close.)

Amicus Therapeutics

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52-Week High: $7.29
52-Week Low: $2.96
Annual Revenue: $21.4 million
Market Capitalization: $289.8 million
Est. Earnings Per Share (2012, 2013): $-1.26, -$1.72

Amicus (symbol FOLD) is a tiny Cranbury, N.J., biotechnology company that focuses on orphan diseases -- those with too few diagnosed cases to attract biotechnology giants. At the moment, the company is in the final stages of the Food and Drug Administration approval process to treat a disease called Fabry, which has just 5,000 diagnosed cases worldwide, says Ritu Baral, an analyst with Canaccord Genuity. Fabry is an enzyme disorder that causes sugar to build up in a body and is manifested in a variety of kidney, nerve and gastrointestinal problems. The company's drug aims to treat Fabry with enzyme "chaperones" -- essentially chemical parents that guide their delinquent charges down the right path. Because Fabry symptoms can be so varied, Baral thinks the disease may be under-diagnosed. But with so few known cases, the drug is unlikely to make Amicus rich.

That said, if the drug wins FDA approval, the company's process, which pairs chemical chaperones with dysfunctional enzymes to make them work better within the cell, could prove a watershed. Baral predicts positive results based on her assessment of the drug's earlier-stage clinical trials. She's also impressed by Amicus's management, led by John Crowley, a former executive at Bristol-Myers Squibb who founded his own biotechnology company after two of his children were diagnosed with Pompe disease, a rare but often fatal neuromuscular disorder. If the FDA gives Amicus the nod, Baral thinks Amicus shares, now $5.86, will trade for $11 within a year.

Anacor Pharmaceuticals

52-Week High: $7.55
52-Week Low: $4.50
Annual Revenue: $2.5 million
Market Capitalization: $178.5 million
Est. Earnings Per Share (2012, 2013): -$1.76, -$1.65

Anacor Pharmaceuticals (symbol ANAC) is also on the verge of a make-or-break FDA approval. The Palo Alto, Cal., company has been working on a topical cure for toenail fungus -- a problem that affects millions of Americans. Although other drugs can treat the fungus, the most effective are ingested medicines that have significant side effects, Baral says. Anacor's treatment, which would be applied directly to the toenail, appears to be just slightly less effective than the ingested drugs but with far fewer side effects. If the drug performs as expected, FDA approval could come as early as January. If the drug ultimately proves able to cure just 25% of toenail fungus cases -- the low end of Baral's estimated range -- she thinks Anacor could nab 20% of a market that's at least $1 billion a year.

Anacor is likely to continue to lose money for years. Still, Baral thinks the stock could rise from its current $4.96 to $9 within a year.

Erickson Air-Crane

52-Week High: $8.50
52-Week Low: $5.35
Annual Revenue: $172.5 million
Market Capitalization: $77.8 million
Est. Earnings Per Share (2012, 2013): $1.97, $1.62

Erickson Air-Crane (symbol EAC) builds helicopters capable of lifting up to 20,000 pounds per load. The Portland, Ore., company initially designed the aircraft for logging but now uses them for heavy-construction projects and firefighting. Erickson, which also sells and services aircraft, had a banner 2012, partly because of an unusually rough fire season that fueled a 42% rise in its firefighting revenue. D.A. Davidson analyst J.B. Groh expects firefighting revenue to drop into more normal territory in 2013, which could cause earnings to fall 10%. But the stock, at $8.01, sells for just 5 times projected 2013 earnings of $1.62 per share. Groh thinks the stock will be worth $10 within a year. With a market capitalization of only $78 million, Erickson is the smallest company on our list.

Entegris

52-Week High: $10.18
52-Week Low: $7.45
Annual Revenue: $749.3 million
Market Capitalization: $1.25 billion
Est. Earnings Per Share (2012, 2013): $0.57, $0.60

Shrinking semiconductors create the need for super-cleanliness because a single speck of dust can destroy a chip. Entegris (symbol ENTG) , the largest company on our list, with a market cap of $1.25 billion, offers contamination control, shipping and storage. Softness in the semiconductor business made 2012 a rough year—and the chip sector may face headwinds for a while. But analysts expect the Billerica, Mass., company's earnings to edge up in 2013, and D.A. Davidson analyst Avinash Kant thinks all the negative sentiment is already priced into the stock. At $9.09, the shares trade at 15 times estimated 2013 earnings of $0.60 per share. Kant thinks the stock will sell for $11 within the next 12 to 18 months.

Verastem

52-Week High: $12.24
52-Week Low: $6.25
Annual Revenue: $0
Market Capitalization: $162.0 million
Est. Earnings Per Share (2012, 2013): -$1.67, -$1.66

Like many early-stage biotech companies, Verastem (symbol VSTM) is not yet profitable. But UBS analyst Matthew Roden thinks the Cambridge, Mass., company has a formula likely to prove pivotal in the fight against cancer. Its treatment aims to solve the biggest problem with traditional chemotherapy, which kills healthy cells along with the malignant ones, making patients sicker and less able to tolerate multiple rounds of treatment. Verastem aims to isolate cancer stem cells -- the bad actors that spread mutated cells throughout the body -- and kill those cells without harming healthy cells in the process. The company's drugs are still untested and could take more than a year to develop. But Roden believes Verastem's scientists have the talent to develop a drug that's effective enough (and, of course, safe enough) to win FDA approval. He thinks the stock, now $7.59, could hit $20 within two years.

Wet Seal

52-Week High: $3.73
52-Week Low: $2.42
Annual Revenue: $620.1 million
Market Capitalization: $246.4 million
Earnings Per Share (actual 2012, est. 2013): -$0.19, $0.02

Wet Seal (symbol WTSLA) is a turnaround story. The retailer of women's clothing is slowly recovering from a disastrous decision to hire a new CEO, Susan McGalla, two years ago. McGalla, previously president and chief merchandizing officer for American Eagle Outfitters, decided to take Wet Seal upscale. But the company historically sold inexpensive copies of the latest hot fashions, and McGalla's move alienated Wet Seal's core customer base, primarily Hispanic and African-American teen girls, who abandoned the stores in droves. After nearly a year of declining sales, Wet Seal dumped McGalla, but not before a disgruntled investment group made a bid to oust the board of directors. Now the Foothill Ranch, Cal., company has four of the dissidents on its board and is slowly attempting to regain its customer base. "There's been a lot going on," says Eric Beder, an analyst at Brean Capital. "But it's a classic turnaround story. This will be a great stock if the company can win its customers back."

Wet Seal still faces major challenges, but Beder thinks the company is making progress and will return to profitability in the fiscal year that ends in January 2014. He believes the stock, now $2.76, will reach $4 within a year.


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