How to profit from Castro's resignation

Shares of companies that hope to eventually conduct more business in Cuba surged on news that Fidel was stepping down as president.

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By Kenneth Musante, CNNMoney.com staff writer

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Cuban president Fidel Castro is resigning as the leader of the island nation, leading to hopes that some American companies will soon be able to conduct business there.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Cuban dictator Fidel Castro announced his resignation Tuesday, sending stocks that could do more business in Cuba surging amidst hopes that the four-decade-long trade embargo against the Communist nation might finally be lifted.

Shares of the publicly traded Herzfeld Caribbean Basin Fund (CUBA), which invests in companies that do business in the Caribbean region, jumped more than 20% in mid-day trading.

Thomas Herzfeld, president of the Herzfeld Caribbean Basin Fund, said his firm has historically invested in companies that should perform well even if trade with Cuba does not resume.

But over the past year the fund has been shifting its strategy, investing in companies such as Trailer Bridge (TRBR), which ships cargo between the U.S. and Puerto Rico, and food company Seaboard (SEB), whose Seaboard Marine subsidiary operates an ocean transportation company that ships goods to the Caribbean.

Herzfeld said both are well positioned to enter the Cuban market if the embargo is lifted. Shares of Seaboard rose more than 3% Tuesday while shares of Trailer Bridge were up nearly 5%.

Still, there appears to be no reason to believe that the embargo against Cuba will be lifted just because of Castro's resignation. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte said Tuesday the U.S. has no plans to change its stance toward Cuba anytime soon.

According to the Helms-Burton Act of 1996, the U.S. will resume trade with Cuba only if Cuba makes drastic changes which include freedom for political prisoners, free elections, and compensation for U.S. citizens who had property seized.

Castro's brother Ral is widely expected to be named as Fidel's successor. Fidel temporarily ceded power to Ral in 2006 when he underwent intestinal surgery.

But another Wall Street strategist said there is a chance an end to the embargo may finally be on the horizon.

Ral is less of a hard-liner than Castro, said Robbert Van Batenburg, head of global research for Louis Capital Markets. He has released some dissidents in the past and "played around with" capitalism in the 1990s.

The 2008 U.S. elections could also speed up U.S. efforts to restore trade relations to Cuba, said Van Batenburg, because Cuban-Americans make up an important voting bloc in the state of Florida.

Companies such as Starwood Hotels (HOT, Fortune 500), which is owed about $50.7 million from Cuba, according to the U.S. Foreign Claims Settlement Commission, could benefit if the embargo is lifted. Shares of Starwood were up slightly Tuesday.

And shares of OfficeMax (OMX, Fortune 500), the largest property claimant in Cuba, surged nearly 8%. The company reported better-than-expected results for the fourth quarter Tuesday.

But OfficeMax, formerly known as Boise Cascade, also used to own the Cuban Electric Co. before it was seized by the Cuban government following the 1959 revolution that brought Castro to power.

Batenburg added that Imperial Tobacco (ITY), whose subsidiary Altadis controls a large portfolio of Cuban cigar brands, could benefit as well, since the U.S. accounts for 50% global cigar sales. To top of page

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