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  Taking stock of 2005: Canadian firms

BENJ GALLANDER and BEN STADELMANN

Friday, December 30, 2005

Well, it is time for that annual look at our performance on the Canadian side of the ledger. The next column will cover the American content.

Brick Brewing was featured last January, when it sat near one of our recent sales at $2.24. The rest of this trendy microbrewer was discarded at $2.34. The stock subsequently crested at $2.59, and currently is $2.25, the heart of our sell zone. Given the time value of money, our sale was propitious.

In April we wrote about NQL Drilling, which has since changed its name to NQL Energy. The stock was trading well above our December purchase price of $1.11, but at half of our target of $5.50. Since then, it touched $7. At $5.50 we sold 40 percent of our position and expect a further move upwards from today's mid-$6 level. We're in no rush to push out the rest.

Junior gold stocks were highlighted in both 2004 and 2005, including Atna Resources, Band-Ore Resources, Glencairn Gold, South American Gold, TVI Pacific, and Twin Mining.

Unfortunately, except for Atna, which has tripled this year, the others have performed in either a desultory or poor fashion. Which means that the laggards make for interesting specs in the eyes of one Contra guy, while the other would mostly prefer to steer clear.

Another stock that caught our eye was Bombardier, which was trading around $2.50. We wrote, "The combination of high debt, poor asset value and sensitivity to the economy means we could be watching Bombardier from the sidelines for a long time." It has since edged upward but still does not draw strong interest from us. Perhaps if a chairman like Paul Tellier were appointed.

In the takeover department, three Contra portfolio stocks were featured. Leitch Technology was front and centre when Harris Corp. moved in for the kill. We also wrote about Sodisco Howden and Hudson's Bay before overtures were made from suitors. The jury remains out on HBC as it deals with the ongoing takeover process, but Sodisco proved to be an excellent deal.

We are optimistic at the news that Sodisco's former chief executive officer, Jos Wintermans, and his righthand man James Shannon have just assumed top positions at Cygnal Technology. Under their tenure, Sodisco's stock tripled.

Avid readers probably know that Cygnal was our choice in The Globe and Mail's My One and Only competition. It proved to be a dismal pick, down about one-third. Far from discouraging us, this state of affairs so pleases our contrarian bent that Cygnal is one of our ultimate faves for 2006. We added to our position for a second time in November, lowering our average purchase price to $1.13 — still above today's cost of around a loonie. Our target price remains $4.54.

What does our crystal ball envisage for the upcoming year? In all likelihood, this will be a down year. In July we wrote about "The Darkness of 2006." However given the season, we prefer to be optimistic and simply conclude that joy will likely be muted, and many tears will likely fall in the income trust sector after March's completion of the inclusion of many of these outfits into the S&P/TSX composite index.

Of course, it is far easier to pick stocks that will do well than it is know how the market will flow in the short time frame of one year.


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