Buy TravelCenters as the Economy Improves

TheStreet.com

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- When traveling between Tampa Bay and the New York City area my wife and I take the Eisenhower Interstate System as well as one of the old roads used before the Interstate, Route 301. When looking for an exit to refuel both our 2004 Town Car and ourselves we often use the TravelCenters of America facilities. They are kept clean and cater to the trucking industry, but welcome all travelers.

We left Florida Monday morning at 5:30 a.m. and entered I-75 via exit 52 after about 10 miles of driving on local rural roads. We exited the Interstate in Ocala and drove a couple of miles east to pickup Route 301 traveling north until we got to I-10 towards Jacksonville. Just before this intersection there's a Pilot and a TA center, which is always one of our pit-stops. When we made this trip during the same time on June 10 the TA was not busy. But on this week's trip is was. I knew then that on the trip north we would be accompanied by at least twice as many trucks as in June.

Back on Aug. 6, TravelCenters reported its quarterly results and missed by a mammoth 43 cents, earning 54 cents a share. The stock dropped like a rock from its Aug. 5 close at $11.70 to its 200-day simple moving average, then at $8.20. Since then the stock has continued to slide to a new post-earnings low at $7.54, as of Wednesday. (It is currently at $7.65.) The stock's decline was enough for two upgrades since Aug. 5, and today the stock is rated strong buy, according to ValuEngine.

TravelCenters is in the retail-wholesale sector, has a 12-month forward P/E ratio of just 7.8, and is trading at 67% of its book value. The ValuEngine one-year price target is $8.93, which would be a gain of 18%. My semiannual value level is $7.18 with a semiannual pivot, now a risky level at $9.32.

Continuing north on I-95, many trucks were still off the road at the rest areas, but many were also on the road and occasionally we got behind a convoy of four or five trucks.

Our first night on the road was the Holiday Inn in Rocky Mount and it took 11.5 hours versus the June trip of 9.75 hours. We lost time in South Carolina due to what the sign said was an incident at exit 82. We exited at this exit and travelled 20 miles west hooking up with Route 301, which took us back to I-95 just south of Santee, exit 98. This cost us the time difference.

Route 301 is now the road less travelled. It was the highway used between the northeast and the west coast of Florida near Tampa Bay. Route 301 is now an alternative for I-95 south bound until Santee, S.C., and then swings west to be the alternative to I-75 to Tampa Bay and points south along the west coast of Florida.

We take 301 North off the I-295 Richmond Bypass all the way to the Delaware Memorial Bridge. It's the same mileage as I-95 around Washington, D.C., and Baltimore but you avoid that congestion. Route 301 is well maintained with much less traffic. The only slowdown is going though the suburbs on Washington. On this trip we made it to exit 8A on the New Jersey Turnpike in just 7.75 hours from Rocky Mount, an hour better than in June.

While truck traffic was heavier than in June, automobile traffic appeared as light as in June, so other than the detour in South Carolina, the trip was a smooth ride.

On July 10 I wrote, The Earnings Bar Is Hurdle For Transportation Stocks and today the transportation sector is still rated "avoid-source of funds" and all eight of the transportation stocks I track remain sell-rated, according to www.ValuEngine.com.

I view TravelCenters as an alternative to transportation stocks, as additional traffic to these service centers will be a leading indicator for renewed demand for trucking services.

In today's table, all eight stocks are overvalued, five by more than 20%. Seven had double-digit gains of 10.7% to 54.4% over the last 12 months. The projected losses for the next 12 months range from down 4.8% to down 9.1%. All are above their 200-day simple moving averages which risks reversion to the mean.

Reading the Table

OV / UN Valued -- The stocks with a red number are undervalued by this percentage. Those with a black number are overvalued by that percentage according to ValuEngine.

VE Rating -- A "1-Engine" rating is a Strong Sell, a "2-Engine" rating is a Sell, a "3-Engine" rating is a Hold, a "4-Engine" rating is a Buy and a "5-Engine" rating is a Strong Buy.

Last 12-Month Return (%) -- Stocks with a Red number declined by that percentage over the last 12 months. Stocks with a Black number increased by that percentage.

Forecast One-Year Return -- Stocks with a Red number are projected to decline by that percentage over the next twelve months. Stocks with a Black number in the Table are projected to move higher by that percentage over the next twelve months.

Value Level is the price at which to enter a GTC Limit Order to buy on weakness. The letters mean; W-Weekly, M-Monthly, Q-Quarterly, S-Semiannual and A- Annual.

Pivot: A level between a value level and risky level that should be a magnet during the time frame noted.

Risky Level: is the price at which to enter a GTC Limit Order to sell on strength.

Con-Way ($43.80) set a multi-year high at $46.52 on Aug. 2. My semiannual value level is $41.77 with a monthly pivot at $43.74 and weekly risky level at $44.63.

CSX ($25.32) set a multi-year high at $26.68 on Aug. 2. My weekly value level is $24.36 with a monthly risky level at $27.34.

FedEx ($108.61) set a multi-year high at $110.33 on August 1. My semiannual value level is $105.29 with a weekly pivot at $108.54 and monthly risky level at $109.97.

JB Hunt Transport ($75.47) set its multi-year high at $78.39 on August 1. My semiannual value level is $72.05 with a weekly risky level at $77.27.

Norfolk Southern ($74.29) is trading between its 200-day SMA at $70.81 and its 50-day SMA at $74.74. My weekly value level is $72.39 with an annual risky level at $75.90.

Old Dominion Freight ($45.65) set a new multi-year high at $45.79 this morning, which is a test of my monthly risky level at $45.73. My weekly value level is $44.82.

Union Pacific ($160.19) set its multi-year high at $165.18 on July 22. My semiannual value level is $149.48 with a weekly pivot at $160.96 and semiannual risky level at $167.94.

United Parcel Service ($87.71) set a multi-year high at $91.78 on July 11. My semiannual value level is $83.04 with a weekly risky level at $88.35.

At the time of publication the author had no position in any of the stocks mentioned.

This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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