5 Surprising Winners of the First Quarter

Stocks & Trading
WWE wrestling in Milan
Matthew James/Alamy

It’s been a rocky year for many investors. The SP 500 climbed just 1.3 percent through the first three months of 2014, surpassing Nasdaq’s 0.5 percent gain and the loss in the Dow Jones Industrial Average that tracks 30 prolific blue chip stocks. Against this ho-hum backdrop there were still plenty of stocks that took off. Let’s take a look at five this year’s surprising winners so far.

Plug Power (PLUG) – Up 358 percent in 2014

Alternative energy battery makers have been some of the biggest gainers in the first quarter, and Plug Power led the way by more than quadrupling.

Plug Power was a penny stock until early December when the fuel-cell specialist stunned the market by forecasting potential profitability by 2014. On the first trading day of the year, it announced a rosy forecast. The cherry on top was a few weeks later when it announced an expanded deal for hydrogen fuel cell charging stations with Walmart (WMT), tripling its presence at the leading retailer’s distribution centers.

magicJack VocalTec (CALL) – Up 78 percent in 2014

Landlines aren’t considered a compelling growth industry. Folks are canceling traditional home phone service, choosing to rely on smartphones. However, magicJack offers a different solution. For less than $3 a month, folks can keep their old phone number and use its Web-based phone service.

Priced a lot cheaper than even other Internet-based platforms, sales of magicJack devices and access rights renewal revenues rose 30 percent in 2013. The platform’s success helped magicJack VocalTec post better than expected bottom-line results in each each of the past four quarters.

World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) – Up 74 percent in 2014

Wrestling wouldn’t seem to be a thriving business these days. If folks crave competitive brutal bouts, they can check out mixed marti. The larger-than-life wrestling personalities are getting trumped in the entertainment realm by superheroes and other action-packed entertainment. However, you can’t seem to pin the WWE down for the count.

Armed with colorful grapplers and evolving story lines, World Wrestling Entertainment is growing. It posted revenue growth in its latest quarter and for all of 2013. It seems to keep striking new deals, like a potentially promising partnership last month that it announced with Mattel (MAT) to put out an animated series based on its WWE Slam City property.

Analysts see revenue growing at a double-digit percentage clip through at least the next two years. Wrestling may be fake, but the growth is very real.

Barnes Noble (BKS) – Up 40 percent in 2014

We’re not reading traditional books as much as we used to, and Barnes Noble’s Nook business is fading fast as tablets and the Kindle have emerged as the e-book readers of choice. However, the market’s not ready to concede that Barnes Noble will be the next Borders.

There’s still value in America’s last major book superstore, and Barnes Noble had a decent holiday season at the store level with only a slight downtick in sales if you back out its Nook business.

Tesla Motors (TSLA) – Up 39 percent in 2014

One of last year’s hottest stocks is still putting the pedal to the metal. Tesla shares more than quadrupled last year, and many skeptics figured that the outlandishly valued maker of plug-in electric vehicles would crash in 2014. It hasn’t happened. Despite selling and delivering less than 7,000 cars during last year’s fourth quarter, bulls continue to hang on based on Tesla’s future.

Tesla announced earlier this year that it will build a battery plant that will help it secure a healthy flow of the lithium ion batteries that it needs — at much lower costs than it has today. Tesla expects to deliver 35,000 Model S sedans this year, and with the slick Model X starting to roll out later this year and a cheaper sedan on the way a in a few years, the future is bright for Tesla. Yes, the stock is overvalued, but that’s what naysayers have been saying all the way up.

Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Mattel and Tesla Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of Barnes Noble, Mattel and Tesla Motors. Try any of our newsletter services free for 30 days.

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