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Zacks.com featured expert Kevin Matras highlights: Allied Waste Industries, Nextel Partners and PLATO Learning.

CHICAGO -- Kevin Matras looks at the 'short ratio' as a market sentiment indicator and shows how to use it for finding winning stocks. Stocks in this week's article are: Allied Waste Industries, Inc. (NYSE:AW), Nextel Partners, Inc. (NASDAQ:NXTP) and PLATO Learning, Inc. (NASDAQ:TUTR). Click here for the full story exclusively on Zacks.com: http://at.zacks.com/?id=109

Screen of the Week written by Kevin Matras of Zacks Investment Research:

This week's Screen isn't so much a screen, but rather a look at how using a market sentiment item can help find new stock picks.

The item is called the 'short ratio'.

The short ratio is the number of shares sold short (short interest or bets that the stock will go lower in price) divided by the average daily volume. This is also sometimes referred to as the "days to cover" ratio because it tells approximately how many days it will take short-sellers to cover their positions if good news sends the price higher. The higher the ratio, the longer it would take to buy back the 'sold' (borrowed) shares. And in theory, the more short positions there are to cover, the stronger the short covering rally would be.

Many people who use this indicator like the number of "days to cover" to be higher than 8-10 days. It's generally believed that a short ratio of that size could prove difficult to cover and therefore trigger a strong rally on any hint of an upswing. (Kevin's personal preference is to take that into consideration, but also compare it to the industry's average ratio and the stock's own historical ratio.) And while Kevin wouldn't recommend using just the short ratio as the 'be all and end all' of screening items, he does think it can be a great tool for helping define great opportunities.

For example; sometimes when looking for stocks that have been in a lengthy consolidation, Kevin will look for those stocks with high short ratios. Why? Because consolidation ranges are basically areas of market indecision. Bets are being made by both bullish and bearish investors. So finding stocks that are going back and forth near their price highs with a growing short ratio, shows that ever-increasing bets are being made on prices going lower.

However, if the stock breaks out to the upside, properly positioned bulls will more than likely add to their winnings, ... undecided traders will now be convinced to get long, ... and shorts will have to scramble to cover their bearish bets. This can be an explosive situation. This can also be used quite effectively for bottom fishing too. When a stock is getting battered and pundits are wrangling over whether it's the bottom or not, you should pay close attention to the short ratio.

Of course, there has to be a reason for a stock to move higher. So seeing an improving fundamental outlook is important. But when lopsided market sentiment seems to be at its worst (reflected in investors' buying and selling) the short ratio can be just the thing to uncover extremes.

For example: you can search for companies near their 52 week lows with increasing short ratios to locate beaten-down stocks. Or better yet, look for short ratios above their average values or even ones that are at (or near) their two-year highs.

For stocks moving higher, try looking for historically high short ratios for stocks up 20% or more (new uptrend) or that have just rallied past an important moving average like the 50 or 200-day average. (Funds will often pile in at those points. So a large short ratio could propel the market significantly higher as huge buyers bid the market up while panicky shorts chase it even higher just to get out.)

A screen Kevin is currently running looks for stocks that are;

--Trading within 10% of their 52 week high.

--With upward earnings estimate revisions for the current quarter over the last four weeks.

--And that have seen a month over month increase in their short ratio. (The short ratio has to be over 10 to qualify.)

--All of this is added to companies trading over $5.

--And that have an average daily trading volume of at least 50,000 shares or more.

Here's three of the companies that made the list.

AW Allied Waste Industries, Inc.

NXTP Nextel Partners, Inc.

TUTR PLATO Learning, Inc.

Try using the short ratio in some of your current screens and see if it doesn't give you a greater edge and keener insight into what's really happening in your stocks.

This item isn't available in all screeners (especially the historical values and industry values), but it is available in the Research Wizard.

And remember the key to successful screening is in discovering those screens that have produced profitable results in the past. And that's exactly what you get with the powerful Screening and Backtesting ability of Research Wizard. http://at.zacks.com/?id=111

Disclosure: Officers, directors and/or employees of Zacks Investment Research may own or have sold short securities and/or hold long and/or short positions in options that are mentioned in this material. An affiliated investment advisory firm may own or have sold short securities and/or hold long and/or short positions in options that are mentioned in this material.

About Screen of the Week

Zacks.com created the first and best screening system on the web earning the distinction as the "#1 site for screening stocks" by Money Magazine. But powerful screening tools is just the start. That is why Zacks created the Screen of the Week to highlight profitable stock picking strategies that investors can actively use. Each week, Zacks Profit from the Pros free email newsletter shares a new screening strategy. Learn more about it here http://at.zacks.com/?id=112

About Zacks

Zacks.com is a property of Zacks Investment Research, Inc., which was formed in 1978 to compile, analyze, and distribute investment research to both institutional and individual investors. The guiding principle behind Zacks work is the belief that investment experts, such as brokerage analysts and investment newsletter writers, have superior knowledge about how to invest successfully. The goal is to unlock these pros' profitable insights for individual investors hard-pressed to find this valuable information in one source. A free subscription to "Profit from the Pros" weekly e-mail newsletter provides the best way to use these experts' insights for more profitable investing. Register for a free subscription to the Profit from the Pros newsletter at http://at.zacks.com/?id=113

Zacks Investment Research is under common control with affiliated entities (including a broker-dealer and an investment adviser), which may engage in transactions involving the foregoing securities for the clients of such affiliates.

Disclaimer: Past performance does not guarantee future results. Investors should always research companies and securities before making any investments. Nothing herein should be construed as an offer or solicitation to buy or sell any security.
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Publication:Business Wire
Date:Dec 21, 2005
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