2017 Turkey of the Year

By Travis Johnson, Stock Gumshoe, November 22, 2017

I love Thanksgiving. I love that we all try to remember to slow down our lives a little bit, spend time with family and friends, and give thanks for the incredible blessings most of us enjoy (and often take for granted).

But I also love naming our annual “Turkey” teaser stock.

What is this? Well, if you haven’t been around these parts for long it’s the continuation of a tradition that started in November of 2008, when Stock Gumshoe was about a year and a half old. Here’s how I described it back then:

“This honor is not bestowed lightly — to be named Turkey of the Year in Gumshoedom, you must have been a truly awful stock idea, chosen within the last twelve months, and, preferably, you should stand for all that is entertaining (and misleading) in stock newsletter teaser ads.”

Seeking out these Turkeys is made easier by our tracking spreadsheets, of course, which we’ve been keeping since we started solving these teasers for you in 2007… so we know which stocks were hinted at and teased as “God’s gift to the individual investor” over the years, and we know exactly what happened to them after that. You can browse those spreadsheets yourself if you like, they’re all on our Teaser Tracking page here, so you can also sniff around and see if your Turkey is different than mine this year.

So it’s not just that we identify the worst teaser pick of the past twelve months — though usually the Turkey is one of the worst few picks (there are almost always a couple stocks that are teased by newsletters which fall by at least 90% in any given year, and typically at least one that falls by 99 or 100% and disappears into bankruptcy). The Turkey has to stand out, too, for the absurdity of the newsletter ad’s promise when contrasted with the actual stock’s performance — you’re not going to win “Turkey of the Year” if you promise 20% gains and your stock falls by 90%… you need to promise us that crazy thousand-percent gains are right around the corner, and you need to make that promise with a straight face.

This year has been better than many in Gumshoedom — not as many teased stocks have descended into the 90%+ loss pit, and the win/loss ratio is better than usual… that’s what a bull market gets you, no matter how aged it might be. But, as usual, there were a few big losers… and, of course, pretty much all of the teaser stocks, even the ones that did pretty well, failed to deliver on the ridiculous promises made in their name.

But the two that make the short list are Chicago Bridge & Iron (CBI), which was pitched by Brad Hoppmann as a huge post-Trump infrastructure investment winner just after Thanksgiving last year… and the more recent pick by Cabot Small-Cap Confidential of Aqua Metals (AQMS).

It’s a tough call… Aqua Metals was teased as a “$17 battery doubler going to $35” and is a company whose business model looked appealing at first glance… but which, on further inspection (and further stock market attention) turned out to be a hollow promise, with the stock reflecting that by falling 80% in about six months.

And Chicago Bridge & Iron is an energy construction and engineering company that faltered thanks to their failure to win new projects or make the expected profits on the projects they already have. And it also stands as a lesson in PE ratios — CBI had a forward PE of about 7 and therefore looked pretty cheap a year ago, when analysts were optimistic that their $4-5 in earnings would repeat for years… but it turned out that the $4 in earnings didn’t show up, and they lost more than $2 a share instead. And now, looking out into the future, the expectation from those same analysts is that they will earn close to $2 a share in 2018 and another $2.50 in 2019, so the forward PE is, well, right around $7 again.

So we’ll let math make the call for us… AQMS is down 90% compared to the S&P 500, while CBI is down only about 70%, so Aqua Metals makes the grade as the Turkey of the Year for 2017.

And it helps that Aqua Metals is more clearly a single-stock disaster whose plan didn’t work, while Chicago Bridge & Iron can spread at least some blame around on the still-weak energy markets and the lack of infrastructure spending (though the other two stocks Hoppmann teased, TTEK and NWPX, did much better than CBI). Both stocks came with ridiculous promises — Tyler Laundon told us Aqua Metals was on its way to doubling again, and it was instead just about to roll over… Brad Hoppmann told us CBI could easily rise 95% in just a few months.

There are plenty of weak stocks in the world, of course — and I should point out the biggest recent turkey in my own portfolio, US Gold Corp. (USAU), which is down 50% or so in the six months since I bought shares, despite the fact that gold is up about 1% and the S&P 500 is up about 6%.

And, of course, I’m sure you all have your own turkeys to throw on the Thanksgiving table for us — have any turkeys you’ve traded or happily avoided? Thanks to give for stocks you’ve failed to fall for? Let us know with a comment below… and have a Happy Thanksgiving!

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