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Tom Lee: Why Ford is a top contrarian stock

Strategist Tom Lee is betting contrarian stocks will lead the markets this year amid a rally in global cyclicals and recovery in household formation and oil prices.

One of his firm's top contrarian picks: Ford.

Investors do not recognize how much the auto industry has changed from a structural standpoint, the Fundstrat Global Advisors managing partner said, noting that auto sales have reached 18 million at a seasonally adjusted annualized rate. Lee believes total annualized sales could hit a record 22 million this cycle.

"It's an all-time high because of the pent-up demand. It's the lack of spending," Lee said CNBC's "Squawk on the Street." "And again, it ties into our investment spending cycle, which really benefits companies like Ford."

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In a note Friday, Fundstrat said contrarian stocks—equities with improving fundamentals but lagging prices—have outperformed the S&P 500 by 6 percent since 1992. That trend has broken down in five of the last seven quarters, a phenomenon that Fundstrat chalked up to "sluggish economic" expectations.

However, Fundstrat sees contrarian stocks gaining traction as economic visibility improves.

While many investors view lack of consumer spending as bearish, Lee believes it is in fact a bullish signal.

"I think what we've seen is sort of a dormant consumer, a consumer with a ton of firepower, much better labor markets, much better visibility, but cautious to spend," he said.

"I think it's extremely bullish, because it means as soon as we get a plethora of better visibility, I think consumers are going to be spending and corporations are going to spend and it's going to sort of give us a second wind."

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Lee said his belief in the power of the consumer is underpinned by growing household equity, decreased leverage and a low debt-service ratio.

Friday's jobs report—which showed the United States added 280,000 nonfarm payrolls in May—is proof that an investment cycle is underway, he said.

Lee also foresees a boom in infrastructure spending, noting that the U.S. population has grown by 20 million people in the last seven years, but there has been no net investment in the nation's infrastructure.