Overall market gains will be modest in the year ahead, but these picks should beat the pack:
• Cemex (symbol CX; recent price $29). Mexico-based Cemex is the world's largest producer of ready-mix concrete, which is ideal for small jobs. It is also a global force in traditional cement, which is used for big projects such as bridges and tunnels, and in aggregates, which are used for road paving. Although Cemex has been hurt by the housing recession in the U.S., sales in Eastern Europe and South America are a growing part of its revenue mix.
Earnings have tripled since 2003, but they were down 10 percent in the most recent quarter from the year-earlier period. As a result, Cemex's American depositary receipts slumped. Cemex predicts that 2008 will be better. The stock should rise to $35 in the coming year.
• Consol Energy (CNX; $65). Coals to Newcastle? It's no joke. U.S. coal exports rose 11 percent in 2007. High-sulfur coal works just fine in scrubber-equipped European power plants. And with their currencies so strong, Europeans have no problem paying an average of $54 a ton for Appalachian coal, which nets $45 a ton here..
Shares of Consol, the largest coal exporter, more than doubled in 2007. But with analysts expecting profits to rise sharply in 2008, the stock still represents a good value.
• Intel (INTC; $28). The threat of a plunge in U.S. consumer spending hurts chip makers worse than it does companies that sell to businesses. But Intel logs more than 80 percent of its sales outside the U.S., so such investor concerns are largely misplaced. Meanwhile, Intel's profits from supplying wireless companies are growing rapidly.
Intel has a market value of $147 billion more than all of its U.S.-based competitors combined. The stock should benefit from investors' continuing comfort with large, growing companies that have a worldwide reputation. Watch for shares to hurtle past $35 for the first time since 2004.
• XTO Energy (XTO; $66). The price of natural gas is depressed compared with crude oil. But gas prices are sure to rise again, and companies with proven reserves in promising places, such as Texas's Barnett Shale, will prosper. XTO is one such producer.By discovering new gas fields and acquiring existing ones, XTO normally adds 30 percent annually to its reserves, and it expects to boost production in 2008 by 17 percent.
Jeffrey R. Kosnett is a senior editor at Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine. Send your questions and comments to [email protected].