3 Stocks Insiders Are Scrambling To Buy Before The New Year

StreetAuthority Network

As the fourth quarter comes to an end, company insiders are about to go into a quiet period.

Many companies adhere to a strict no-trading policy between the end of the quarter and the eventual release of quarterly earnings. As a result, a wide range of insiders have been scrambling to make their purchases in recent weeks.

Here's a close look at some of the more notable buying activity. (All insider information supplied by InsiderInsights.com.)

1. Occidental Petroleum (NYSE: OXY)
A pair of insiders acquired a combined 7,000 shares in December of this energy driller at an average price of $92 a share. The purchases came after Occidental posted third-quarter results a month earlier that were solidly ahead of forecasts. But insiders aren't buying on the prospects for further profit momentum, but instead for Occidental's planned financial engineering.

Occidental has identified a range of assets it intends to sell, and much of the proceeds will go toward a share buyback. Merrill Lynch, which rates shares a "buy" with a $130 price target, thinks Occidental can buy back $12-$15 billion in stock over the next few years, which would reduce the share count by 15%-20%.

Formal asset sales are expected to be announced in the first quarter of 2014. Shares currently trade around $94, though Goldman Sachs believes that Occidental is worth around $104 a share, on a purely cash flow potential basis. But when measuring the market value of the company's assets, they think this stock is worth $119 a share. Their $109 price target reflects a partial weighting of each factor.

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2. Atlas Resource Partners (NYSE: ARP)
I like to track the moves of legendary investor Leon Cooperman, who continues to show a very deft investment touch at the ripe young age of 70. Nearly a year ago, I profiled his solid recent track record and the three fresh ideas I focused on -- based on his buying -- subsequently rose 60%-180%.

So I took note of his aggressive recent buying in Atlas Resource Partners. As his firm owns more than 10% of shares outstanding, he qualifies as an insider. Soon after ARP reported disappointing third-quarter results in early November, Cooperman bought another 500,000 shares of ARP at an average price of $19. He now owns roughly 5.3 million shares, according to GuruFocus.com.

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Like other oil and gas master limited partnerships (MLPs), Atlas Resource Partners has come under pressure in 2013 thanks to a changing interest rate environment and slowing dividend growth. (ARP's dividend likely grew 50% in 2013 but will average 10% growth in 2014 and 2015, according to Morgan Stanley.)

It's pretty clear to see why Cooperman loves this stock: The dividend yield now exceeds 10% and approaches 13% when you use Morgan Stanley's 2015 dividend forecast of $2.67. That's quite enticing, regardless of that the 2014 interest rate picture looks like.

 

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3. Merrimack Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: MACK)
It's been a wild ride for this drug development company, as shares plunged and rebounded in 2013. Amidst that recent rebound, six different insiders have been collectively acquiring more than 500,000 shares, at prices ranging from $3.70-$4.80. Shares are now modestly above the high end of that buying range.

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Merrimack has a drug, MM-398, which treats pancreatic cancer in Phase III clinical trials, though investors may know it better for another drug, MM-121, which delivered subpar clinical data earlier this year.

MM-398 appears to be meeting a better fate. Fully one-quarter of patients using the drug have survived, which is a high percentage when you consider that late-stage pancreatic cancer is almost always quickly lethal.

Frankly, it's a bit hard to get a completely clear read on the key strengths of Merrimack's drug pipeline. Brean Murray's analysts think MM-398 is the drug to watch, and could serve as the nearest catalyst. Yet Merrill Lynch is still pretty high on MM-121, assigning a $3 a share value to that drug alone (and just $1 a share to MM-398).

While Merrill thinks that MM-398 -- if approved -- would target a $200-$300 million annual market, MM-121, if approved, would see a market that is twice as big. Merrimack has another drug, MM-111, that faces a $2 billion market opportunity tackling breast cancer, but that drug is too early in development for investors to get too excited about just yet.

Regardless of which drug is the catalyst, insiders clearly think one or several of these drugs will prove themselves through the clinical trials.

Risks to Consider: Insiders are lousy market timers, so if you choose to follow their lead, have a suitably long-time horizon.

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Action to Take --> Insiders have a better read on their company's fundamentals and when they commit their own funds to acquire shares, investors should take note and perform further research.

Other companies with significant recent insider buying include:

•  Ballantyne Strong (AMEX: BTN)
•  Columbia Property Trust (NYSE: CXP)
•  Horizon Pharma (Nasdaq: HZNP)
•  Fifth Street Finance Corp. (NYSE: FSC)
•  LNB Bancorp (Nasdaq: LNBB)
•  RLJ Entertainment (Nasdaq: RLJE)
•  Corporate Office Properties Trust (NYSE: OFC)
•  SAExploration Holdings (Nasdaq: SAEX)
•  Gulfmark Offshore (NYSE: GLF)

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