Are The Bullish Stars Aligned on These 2 Sectors?

Financial and retail stocks -- including Mastercard Inc (NYSE:MA) and J C Penney Company Inc (NYSE:JCP) -- have been strong

by Alex Eppstein

Published on Jun 16, 2015 at 10:25 AM

While the broader market has been taking its fair share of lumps, not every sector has been equally affected. Today, we'll highlight two outperforming sectors -- specifically, financial and retail names -- and then focus on two stocks within those sectors that have fared particularly well: Mastercard Inc (NYSE:MA) and J C Penny Company Inc (NYSE:JCP).

Financial stocks have performed admirably over the long term -- generally speaking -- with the Financial Select Sector SPDR ETF (XLF) notching a post-recession high last month, and up about 10% year-over-year at $25. In addition, of the 23 equities we follow, 15 are currently above their 80-day moving average.

Nevertheless, short interest on these names has soared more than 40% year-over-year, on average, and now accounts for 7.8% of their float -- or more than six days' worth of trading, at typical volumes. In other words, there's plenty of sideline cash to power financial stocks higher.

MA has rallied along with its peers, up 25% year-over-year at $93.71 -- and close to last week's all-time high of $95.13. It's also worth noting that the stock bounced from its 40-day moving average last week, which has historically been a bullish indicator going forward. In seven of the last 10 instances in which MA has touched this trendline, the shares have trekked northward, averaging a 21-day return of 3.5%.


Should history repeat itself, a capitulation among skeptics could catalyze Mastercard Inc's (NYSE:MA) upward momentum. For starters, 15 million shares are sold short -- which would take over a week to repurchase, at typical daily volumes. What's more, the stock's 10-day International Securities Exchange (ISE), Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), and NASDAQ OMX PHLX (PHLX) put/call volume ratio of 1.12 ranks in the bearishly skewed 90th percentile of its 12-month range. In other words, short-covering activity and/or an unwinding among bearish options traders could result in tailwinds.

Shifting gears, the SPDR S&P Retail ETF (XRT) has powered over 15% higher in the last year to trade at $99.29. What's more, of the 69 retail stocks we track, the average 52-week return is nearly 12%.

Nevertheless, not even half of covering analysts have doled out "buy" or better recommendations, suggesting there's plenty of room for upgrades across the board. Plus, over 12% of the typical retail stock's float is sold short, suggesting short-covering activity could work in the sector's favor.

This is certainly true of JCP. Despite the security's 29% year-to-date advance to trade at $8.36, nearly 35% of its float is sold short, and would take eight sessions to buy back, at the average daily volume. Also, 15 of 17 analysts consider J C Penney Company Inc (NYSE:JCP) a "hold" or worse. Should the stock sustain its positive trajectory, an unwinding of this pessimism -- via short covering and/or upgrades -- could add fuel to its fire.


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