Sunday, July 6, 2008

Screening for the Top 2%

How does an investor land up ranked in the top 2%? It takes a serious approach to screening the universe of stocks to sort out the wheat from the chaff. Screening a list of potential candidate stocks is just the first step.

GregB is now ranked 284 out of 17989 players in the Wall Street Survivor Contest (Traders Wanted - Play $50,000 Stock Trading Game). The evening before the contest, I ran the HingeBuy and HingeSell screens in the HingeScreen 1.5 product. These screens normally produce 30 to 50 results. HingeBuy provides a list of stocks that have the potential to out-perform the market; while HingeSell produces a list of stocks that are likely to under-perform.

The next immediate question is how did I narrow these lists down to 5 stocks as longs and 5 stocks as short to use in the Wall Street Survivor contest.

In terms of the five stocks I selected from the HingeBuy list for the contest. I pulled up each stock on the list at the time (there were about 30 to 40) and took a detailed look at the charts, industries, fundamental info, and technical indicators to narrow down the selection. For the HingeSell (short) candidates I basically look for the inverse of the outline below.

Basically the following were evaluated for each potential long stock:

1) Strength of the chart over the past year. Look for a chart where the stock is continually rising with some minor pull-backs. Look for strong increases in the past six months. Do not want a stock where the stock price had a one time big bump due to a news event; nor a stock where the chart is basically flat but still outperformed the associated indexes.

2) Evaluate the industry that the company is in and the industry performance over the last six months compared to other others.

3) Rank the stock within the Industry from a relative performance perspective.

4) Fundamental information evaluation with a focus on earnings growth, revenue growth, cash flow, debt and their associated ratios. Do not focus on forward P/E etc. because many times the projections are nonsense.

5) Technical evaluation of the price chart looking for divergence between the price action and technical indicators (MACD, RSI, etc.). Divergence may indicate an impending change in price action. Also look for extreme readings in oscillator-based indicators which may show that a bounce-back is overdue. Keep in mind that technical indicators are good for evaluating short term action; long term price is driven by fundamentals.

6) Take a look at news from corporate press releases. Look for management churn, re-orgs, layoffs, product cancellations, guidance (vs. price reaction), and regulatory action. These are generally not positive developments.

Basically rank all the stocks on the HingeBuy candidate list from 1 to 5 using the criteria above. Five being the strongest. Select the five stocks with the highest rating.

For HingeSell and shorts - look for the inverse.

Note in my terms, the outline above is my light-weight starting point evaluation. I normally dig into the 10Q / 10K reports when selecting stocks for my actual portfolio. I would urge everyone else to do the same. A stock screener is a tool to find stocks that meet your basic criteria - a more detailed follow-up analysis is needed to find the best stocks for your portfolio that meet your diversification and risk-tolerance needs.

Disclosure: These stocks have been selected in a fantasy stock selection contest. They are not held in my real portfolio. Investing involves risk. Your results using software screening informational tools may vary. Proper portfolio diversification is important and any outlined investments may not be appropriate for your financial objectives or risk tolerance. This is not a solicitation to buy or sell securities.