A BIT OF IRISH SPICE

Nicholas Vardy

Nicholas Vardy has a unique background that has proven his knack for making money in different markets around the world.

Time to add a bit of spice.

This week’s pick, Icon PLC (ICLR), combines three global bull market themes: global outsourcing, biotechnology and Western Europe’s tiger economy, Ireland.

Icon is a global contract research organization for drug and medical device makers. It employs over 3,600 employees and provides services to the pharmaceutical, biotech and medical device industries from 45 locations in 30 countries worldwide. That makes Icon a true global player.

Icon’s financials read like a classic growth story. Last week, it reported a 25% increase in net revenue, a 68% increase in operating income, and a 69% increase in earnings per share. Operating margins also grew to 11.5% from 8.6% last year. Icon is also optimistic about its future, upping its revenue guidance range to $425 million to $440 million, from a previous guidance of $395 million to $410 million.

Some more positives? Icon is a company that is firing on all cylinders — yet you’ll find very little coverage of it in the mainstream business press. And Icon is based in Ireland, the most business friendly environment in Western Europe, which has helped the Emerald Isle achieve the highest economic growth rates in "Old Europe."

So buy Icon (ICLR) at market today, and place your initial stop at $54.25. A word of warning: the stock has been on a tear the last few days, and corrections on its trajectory upward may be short and sharp. And as a foreign biotech play, Icon is one of our more volatile picks. So you may want to take only half of your usual position size. There are no options on this one — though owning the stock itself may feel like it.

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PORTFOLIO UPDATE

Acergy (ACGY) was a big winner for us last week, up almost 13%. The options are now up a whopping 65%. These are big, big profits in jittery global markets in the dog days of summer. So sell half your stock and half your options, and move your stop to $15.45 to lock in your profits.

Northern European Oil Royalty Trust (NRT) announced a quarterly distribution of 77 cents per unit for the third quarter of fiscal 2006, payable on August 30 to holders of record on August 11. That’s just under a 2% yield for a stock that we’ve held two weeks.

AstraZeneca (AZN) beat analysts’ second-quarter estimates, earning $1.02 a share, versus the Wall Street consensus of 93 cents. The company predicted that its full-year earnings would be in the "upper half" of its predicted range of $3.60 to $3.90 a share. This is a blue chip to keep.

A new UBS report on Cognizant (CTSH) forecasts 40% to 50% annual growth for the company over the next few years, and maintains a "buy" rating and $78 price target on the company. That’s a 21% upside from Cognizant’s closing price on Friday. So hold on to both the stock and options on this fast growth India outsourcing play.

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You've seen those massive offshore oil rigs -- almost mini cities, constantly buffeted by sea, winds and storms. They make for some of the toughest work environments on planet earth. Just think what it takes to build them in the first place. This week's Global Bull Market Alert pick -- Acergy (ACGY) -- is a company that does just that. Acergy, a British company with project management experience across the globe, builds and manages oil drilling and rig construction projects from the seabed to th

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