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If you must speculate, try cheap stocks


My wife and I are indebted to you. In August 2002, you wrote a column that recommended a dozen cheap speculative stocks for a reader who had $70,000 to invest. We invested $100,000 in the companies on that list and those stocks are now worth $224,000.

Could you recommend another list of low-priced speculative stocks?

D.K. Fort Walton Beach, Fla.

Dear D.K.:

I would like to believe that those picks were due to my brilliance and insight, but that would be delusionary. Frankly, the market gains of these issues must be chalked up to unbelievably fantastic luck — timing has an awful lot to do with the success of a rain dance. Here’s a new list of speculative stocks, with no guarantees attached.

Tegal Corp. (TGAL-$1.69) had $14 million in 2003 revenues. TGAL makes plasma-etch and deposition systems for the manufacturers of integrated circuits and related electronic devices. TGAL traded in the teens a few years back, has no debt, barrels of cash, 36 million shares out and 2005 may be a record earnings year.

Capstone Turbine Corp. (CPST-$2.55) had $17 million in revenues last year, traded in the high $90s a few years back and then crashed to 50 cents in 2003. CPST makes portable microturbines that generate heat and power on site. CPST has never made a profit, has no debt, an unconscionable cash balance and there still is no profit in sight.

Digital Angel Corp. (DOC-$3.13), with $36 million in 2003 revenues, owns a proprietary chip technology that is used to monitor people, animals and objects. The stock traded in the high $20s a few years ago and crashed to 86 cents last year. DOC has never made a penny, but a friend, who is a retired analyst, thinks that it will earn 39 cents this year on higher revenues. Debt is negligible, cash is scarce and there are 32 million shares out.

Transgenomic Inc. (TBIO-$1.29) was bouncing with enthusiasm in the low $30s a few years ago and crashed to 93 cents last year. TBIO, with $34 million in 2003 revenues (it has never made a profit), provides DNA separation and analysis systems to the genomics segment of the life sciences industry. My source expects a loss this year but a 30-cent profit in 2005. TBIO has no debt, a good cash position and 25.4 million shares out.

Stratos International (STLW-$4.83) is an optical subsystems manufacturer and traded at $50 a share in 2000. STLW (with $51 million in revenues) has oodles of cash, no debt, 13.5 million shares and no profit in sight. However, the shares trade at $9 below book value of $13.75 and that’s intriguing.

Dynatronics Corp. (DYNT-$2.30) has enjoyed steady revenues of $16 million each year since 1999. DNYT makes a panoply of rehabilitation equipment for physical therapists, podiatrists, chiropractors, dermatologists, and orthopedic and plastic surgeons. The stock, which is trading at a five-year high, makes a few thousand pennies a year. There’s no debt, a fair cash balance and 9 million shares out.

Calpers Life Sciences Inc. (CALP-$6.54) markets a proprietary system that allows research labs to conduct experiments normally requiring many people and lots of equipment with just a couple of chips. CALP, with $50 million in 2003 revenues and no profits in sight, traded at more than $200 in 2000. CALP has zero debt, a very strong cash balance, 28 million shares out and a solid book value of $7 a share.

Maxygen (MAXY-$10.89) is a biotech company that modifies genes for commercial uses and has never made a profit, nor is there any profit in sight. Revenues last year were $37 million. MAXY has an obscenely large cash position, no debt and 35 million shares out.

PalmOne Inc. (PLMO-$17.24) had $900 million in revenues last year selling PALM-branded hand-held devices. The stock traded at more than $1,000 in 2000 when PLMO earned $1.80 per share on $1 billion in revenues. The company hasn’t had a profit since and none is expected soon. PLMO has a fair cash position, no debt worth discussing and 46 million shares out.

Valentis Inc. (VLTS-$4.19) is a therapeutic products company that seeks genomic discoveries in the fields of oncology and cardiovascular diseases. VLTS traded at more than $600 a share in 2000 and doesn’t know how to make a profit. There’s no debt, a tenuous cash position (considering VLTS may lose $37.23 a share this year on $4 million in revenues) and 11 million shares out.

D.K., issues like these are not my bowl of broth. I wouldn’t touch a hair on a share of any stock on this list. But if you have to do this, I must remind you not to cherry-pick the issues you think are best. Purchase even dollar amounts of each stock. If you get lucky, I’ll be pleased as punch, but if you lose money, which is more likely, please remember that I told you so.

Please address your financial questions to Malcolm Berko, P.O. Box 1416, Boca Raton, Fla. 33429 or e-mail him at malber@adelphia.net.  

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