The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, has been in the news a lot lately thanks to the insulting utterances of its "architect," MIT economist Jonathan Gruber.
Yet the controversy over Gruber's comments surrounding the "stupidity of the American voter" aside, the fact is that just about everybody needs health care and health care insurance, in one form or another. It's this understanding that has likely led investors to buy into this defensive sector.
This year, health care has been one of the market's best-performing sectors, up nearly 25% in 2014, compared with 12% for the S&P 500. And one of the best-performing stocks in the health care sector is health insurance provider Centene Corp. (NYSE: CNC).
In late October, Centene reported better-than-expected Q3 revenue and profit that was primarily fueled by growth in Medicaid members. The company said its total membership count rose 42% year over year in the quarter to 3.7 million as of Sept. 30. Nearly 70% of that was Medicaid members.
For the quarter, Centene reported a profit of $82.6 million, or $1.36 per share, up 56% from a year ago. Adjusted EPS was $1.01. Analysts were expecting just $0.96 per share. As for the top line, the company reported revenue of $4.35 billion in Q3, up 55% from the same quarter last year, and above estimates for $4.2 billion.
The good earnings news helped vault CNC to new all-time highs in November. While new highs tend to peak traders' interests, there's a key metric that says this stock is a screaming buy: relative strength (RS).
During the past six months, CNC shares surged nearly 40%. That performance relative to all other publicly traded stocks translates into a relative strength rank of 92 out of a possible 100. That means that CNC's performance is in the top eighth percentile of stocks -- not just in the health care sector, but throughout the entire market.
By assigning a numerical score from 0 to 100 to a stock based on its price performance relative to other stocks in the market, RS provides a great way of objectively quantifying the strength of a stock's performance during the recent past. And while it's not always the case, strong performance relative to the rest of the market has been a proven harbinger for how well a stock is likely to perform going forward.
The efficacy of relative strength has been well known and documented for decades by academics and professional traders who use it as a tool to help identify the strongest performers in the market.
Buying into bullish momentum has proven to work extremely well. Yet perhaps even more effective is the use of relative strength along with strong fundamentals.
A little-known indicator called the Alpha Score, which just happens to have predicted some of 2014's biggest winners, combines RS rank with a key fundamental metric and compares that to all other stocks in the market over a six-month period. The Alpha Score is then calculated from 0 to 200.
In the case of CNC, the Alpha Score is 189 out of a possible 200. That means CNC has outpaced 94.5% of all stocks in the market in terms of share price performance and fundamental strength.
So far in 2014, the Alpha Score has identified the 7th, 9th, 11th and 16th best-performing stocks -- and generated an average gain of 109% on those positions. It also pegged 29 stocks right before they made double-digit percentage jumps within a month.
Given the efficacy of the Alpha Score, it's easy to see why I am extremely bullish on CNC. I suspect this underinsured service provider can keep delivering double-digit percentage gains well into 2015.
If you want to learn more about the Alpha Score, and get the name of another stock it just identified as a top pick, follow this link.
This article originally appeared on ProfitableTrading.com: The Health Insurer Beating 92% of the Market is a Screaming 'Buy'