12 ‘ninja’ stocks spring out of the shadows – USA TODAY

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After a serious decline in 2015, these 12 stocks have seen an uptick of 60% or more.

The stock market’s stealth rally has caught many investors off guard — especially with some ninja stocks hardly anyone could’ve known were ready to spring.

Twelve stocks in the Standard & Poor’s 500, including a group of energy companies such as Chesapeake Energy (CHK), not to mention materials company Freeport-McMoRan (FCX) and utility NRG Energy (NRG) have soared 60% or more this year after punishing investors with vicious declines in 2015, according to a USA TODAY analysis of data from S&P Global Market Intelligence.

Investors have been surprised by a stock market rally that has practically sprung out of nowhere since the market bottomed this year in February. Since that time, the S&P 500 has surged a respectable 14.8% helping to allay investors’ fears the market’s momentum was fading. But even this strong rally is nothing compared with some of the best performers’ runs — most of which are hailing from the energy sector.

Eight of the 12 top stocks from the market’s trough this year are all from the energy sector. The reason is straightforward: oil. The price of Brent crude oil has surged 33% this year and pulled to over $50 a barrel during the week. Just this month alone, oil prices have raced nearly 6% higher, arresting what had been a freefall in the price of the commodity last year.

“Commodity prices are exhibiting positive momentum, taking their lead from the energy patch.  The improvement is credited to modest economic expansion and production cutbacks,” says Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at BMO Private Bank.

The result has been powerful energy-stock rally. No one knows better than investors in Oklahoma City-based oil explorer Chesapeake Energy. Shares of the oil-exploration stock are up 134% since the market bottomed on Feb. 11 to close Friday at $4.16 a share. That’s a powerful rally for investors — after suffering through a 77% decline in 2015. Despite the huge rally, though, investors are still cautious. After all, the shares are still down 70% from their highest point over the past 52 weeks — even after the rally. Analysts think the company will lose 41 cents a share this fiscal year, which is an even deeper loss in the previous fiscal year. The stock has an average rating of “hold,” and analysts think the shares will only be worth $4.64 apiece in 18 months.

It’s not just an energy rally, although the oil stocks have been the key driver. Copper, gold and natural gas producer Freeport-McMoRan has seen its shares surge 128% since the market bottom to Friday’s close of $11.14 a share. It’s a welcome rally for investors who lost 71% of their money on the stock last year. Analysts are even more skeptical of this rally as shares have already surpassed the average 18-month price target of $10.43 a share. Analysts rate the stock a “hold.”

Utilities stocks have also been strong as investors seek safety and dividends. NRG has been the strongest performer, jumping 69% from the low to close Friday at $16.19 a share. The diversified New Jersey-based power company, however, fell 56% in 2015 as the company took a massive $6.4 billion loss last year due to a $5.1 billion asset writedown connected with falling natural gas prices. Analysts are more optimistic about NRG’s prospects, rating the stock an outperform with an 18-month price target of $18.13 a share.

Investors might have been caught off guard by the rally, but at least they’re getting hit with good news from what’s been a dark alley of the markets for months: energy.


Company, Symbol, 2015 % ch., % ch. from 2016 low

Chesapeake Energy, CHK, -77%, 133.7%

Freeport-McMoRan, FCX, -71%, 127.8%

ONEOK, OKE, -50.5%, 117.8%

Murphy Oil, MUR, -55.6%, 92.2%

Marathon Oil, MRO, -55.5%, 82.7%

Apache, APA, -29%, 69.5%

Devon Energy, DVN, -47.7%, 68.9%

NRG Energy, NRG, -56.3%, 68.8%

Williams, WMB, -42.8%, 61.6%

Wynn Resorts, WYNN, -53.5%, 60.8%

Navient, NAVI, -47%, 60.3%

Southwestern Energy, SWN, -73.9%, 60.2%

Source: S&P Global Market Intelligence, USA TODAY

* Gains since market low this year on Feb. 11

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