12 December 2006

Cemex (and Salma) are World Class

The Pig, as well as this blog, spends a hugely disproportionate amount of time focusing on all things North of 49th Parallel. I read Canadian media too often, listen to too much Canadian rock, and know far too much about the differences between Harper, Dion, Layton, and Duceppe. So, in this post, I'm going to turn my attention southward. Let's take a look at Cemex (CX)...

but first, let's take a look at another fine Mexican offering, care of Goldenfiddle and Campari:

Now that things have perhaps solidified a bit, let's turn our, um, attention back onto the cement maker.

Fool.com has written up the stock, picking it as the "Best International Stock for 2007" and as a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Cemex is also looking for growth opportunities, and is continuing its attempts to complete a hostile takeover of Rinker Group.

SmartMoney tells me that CX has a very low P/E of 9.3 compared to its competitors, and offers a 2% yield. Morningstar rates it a 5-star pick and was glowingly optimistic in Matthew Warren's analyst note from November 1:

We are raising our fair value estimate for Cemex CX to $45 per share from $33 for three reasons. The first is Cemex's attempt to acquire Rinker RIN for $12.8 billion in cash, which we expect to be additive to our valuation. This stems largely from the additional cash flows that we think Cemex can extract from Rinker's assets (relative to the price paid for those assets) versus what would be possible on a stand-alone basis. If Cemex were pressed to raise its bid 18%-20%, our fair value estimate would drop to about $41 per share. The second reason for the fair value increase is the cash that Cemex has earned since our last revision.

We now know that Rinker rebuffed Cemex on its first attempt, but with CX closing yesterday at $32.26, the stock is still significantly undervalued using Morningstar's admittedly conservative methods.

The subscription-only analyst note continues on, expressing some concerns with Rinker's exposure to the U.S. market and the slowdown on housing construction. That's good to know.

Cemex also yielded two mentions (1, 2) in the recent Economist survey on Mexico. The first piece counters the above-mentioned concern about the U.S slowdown with the growth in Mexican construction:

Until recently the banks did very little lending, but credit is now expanding. Mexicans are able to take out mortgages again and loan interest rates are coming down fast. Such is the boom in house construction that Cemex, Mexico's biggest cement company, in September announced its largest capacity expansion in a decade.

The second piece immediately links "world-class" with Cemex:

Mexico does have a handful of big world-class firms. Cemex has grown to become the world's third-biggest cement company, with factories in 50 countries, thanks to professional management, a highly efficient production system and a string of acquisitions.

Anecdotally, when I was down in the Mexican Riviera last year, I noticed the presence of Cemex throughout the region as it underwent post-hurricane reconstruction. I also noticed the Mega Superstore competing with Wal-Mart, but that's for an altogether different post.

The chart shows quite some volatility, but that comes with investing in Latin America. I would be more interested in CX if and when it gets closer to its 50 and 200-day moving averages, i.e. $.50 to $1.75 below its current share price.

And before we return to North of the Border, how about one more shot of Salma for the road:

11 December 2006

Haverford in Brooklyn

Lovely post this morning from one of the Pig's daily blog reads, according to Curbed, offering up the newest residents of Boerum Hill. Now, I know 'Fords that have moved to neighborhoods like Carroll Gardens, Prospect Heights, and yours truly in Brooklyn Heights, but it's good to see the revered mascot movin' on up.

For more photo action, here's the site to which Curbed linked.

06 December 2006

Scapegoating the green onions

Taco Bell is attempting to shift the focus away from the "processed meat food" in their gorditas and chalupas, and, according to Reuters, blaming green onions for the E. coli scare.

Taco Bell, a unit of Yum Brands Inc. (YUM.N: Quote, Profile , Research), said preliminary tests showed three samples of green onions were found to be "presumptive positive" for the E.coli 0157:H7 strain. Tests were not yet conclusive, the company said.

Amazing. I never would have suspected one of the few fresh ingredients on the Bell menu would make so many people sick.

On the YUM stock front, I noticed yesterday that the opportunity to buy on the bad news was a very brief one. Within ten minutes of the open, YUM dropped from about $61.60 to $60.98 before shooting up to the $63.25 range. YUM couldn't have picked a better time to release news that it was doubling its dividend.

However, the Great Green Onion Scare of '06 has pushed YUM back down to $62 as I write this.

05 December 2006

Yum, the reprise...

It's a ho-hum story about the Salvation Army closing a women's hotel/apartment house on the primest of prime real estate of Gramercy Park. But check out the sexy pose of the Belgian tv producer/hotel resident. It's pleasingly naughty stuff from the normally stuffy Gray Lady.


One of the top stories last night on channel 4, after I typically sorta enjoyed Studio 60, featured an E. coli break at Taco Bell restaurants throughout North Jersey and Long Island.

Here's an excerpt fron the AP story at the NY Times:

It is not immediately clear whether the New Jersey and Long Island
outbreaks are related. A Taco Bell restaurant in South Plainfield,
N.J., where 11 of the people who were sickened ate, has been closed
for inspection. Four Taco Bell outlets in Suffolk County were closed,
and Nassau County officials asked that another four of its locations
in their county be closed.

Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi said the restaurant chain had yet
to respond to the request, but said company officials were cooperating
with the county health department. He said the closures were being
sought "out of an abundance of caution."

YUM is running like a bull in Pamplona.(Check out the chart below) Today's E. coli story didn't
trip up the toro one bit, but will the news take hold tomorrow? Or is the idea of Taco Bell serving tainted "meat" already priced into the stock?

I appreciate that Taco Bell responded immediately to the outbreak by closing stores.

I'm curious to see if this episode challenges the intestinal fortitude of YUM shareholders, and affects the stock today.

01 March 2006

Down, and I Mean Down on the Farm

I figuratively returned to the farm yesterday to listen to Sanderson Farms' conference call. I previously took a brief look at SAFM a few months back when I declared this stock the winner among NASDAQ losers in a silly battle royale. I say silly, because SAFM has continued to lose, going from $31.70 back in November down to $23.32 yesterday.

SAFM is a poultry producer based in Mississippi. (I listened to chicken-talk, delivered in rich, thick Gulf accents, just for you.) There is enough grist in that sentence to tell you exactly why this stock has dropped more that 25% in just a few months. Fears of AI (avian influenza, not artificial intelligence) and the destructive effects of Katrina took SAFM's stock, and feathered it, deboned it, and turned it into a roaster.

On the call, I heard that earnings per share for 1Q06 would be a loss of $0.43 versus a profit of $0.50 for 1Q05. I heard phrases like "difficult current market conditions" and "a very difficult market environment."

Then there was some good news: SAFM is investing in a Waco, Texas plant that will process 1.25M birds per week by 2008. Growth is good news, indeed. (As a blogger, I should add, "Heh.") And Sanderson reported no lingering Katrina effects.

And there were some forward-looking statements and hopeful rationalizations: People will become less emotional, and get used to hearing reports about wild birds with AI, just like they did with reports about additional heads of cattle with BSE. And the growth of casual dining restaurants will drive demand for chicken breasts.

SAFM is a financially secure company riding out some tough times in the poultry market. I think chicken is on sale for 39-cents a pound.

Let's check out the circulars from supermarket to make sure:

SAFM versus its much larger competition (Hormel (HRL), Smithfield (SFD), and Tyson (TSN)):
Net Profit - 7.0%, 4.7%, 2.4%, 1.3%
Forward P/E - 11.1, 17.6, 12.0, 22.2
ROE/ROA - 15.6%/12.1%, 16.6%/9.3%, 15.0%/5.0%, 7.5%/3.3%

I'm not sure how up-to-date the above SmartMoney.com numbers are, but they suggest, if not confirm, that SAFM is a solid poultry player. It's all cock.

And I should correct myself. If you look very carefully at the lower right corner of the Schnucks' circular I found, chicken breasts are on sale (in St. Louis, MO) for 99-cents a pound, so my 39-cents crack was a bit of an exaggeration.

Missing the Quick Dip in the Online Education Stocks?

Apollo (APOL) dropped 15.5% yesterday, to $49.38. The operator of the for-profit University of Phoenix missed earnings and revenue estimates. Analysts' consensus called for earnings of 54 cents per share on $586M of revenue. APOL forecasted 43 to 44 cents per share on $570M of revenue.

A competitor in the online and distance education field, Strayer (STRA) had a sympathy drop of 6.5% to $96.33.

SmartMoney gave me some quick numbers to consider, STRA vs. APOL:
5-yr Earnings Growth - 19.17% vs. 30.97%
Net Profit Margin - 21.80% vs. 19.90%
PEG - 1.46 vs. 0.87
ROE - 31.90% vs. 71.10%
ROA - 21.60% vs. 37.20%

These are some riveting numbers. They are downright gaudy.

I thought about buying on the dip, but would sleep on it. A prudent, not piggish, move.

Then I saw this piece early this morning in the Times with an opening sentence that should help these stocks rebound quicker than even I expected:

It took just a few paragraphs in a budget bill for Congress to open a new frontier in education: Colleges will no longer be required to deliver at least half their courses on a campus instead of online to qualify for federal student aid.

I think I missed the opportunity to take advantage of a real bargain. I'm looking forward to the opening of the market today to see just how much APOL and STRA rebound on this significant piece of news.

28 February 2006


Blog Hog John C. asked me about BlueNile.com today.

Funny, because NILE caught my eyes and ears earlier today, while seated on the elliptical at the gym (I refuse to run--it's a feat that I finally stopped riding the bike) I heard a caller during the Lightning Round ask about NILE. Cramer said something like "expensive, expensive, expensive" but that it had a solid niche on the internet. He placed it second on the web, to some company I cannot recall (hey, I'm a lawyer, not a court reporter). But then he gave the stock a bullish, but not a "Buy! Buy! Buy!" call.

My blogless friend Grimm made his second or third largest purchase at BlueNile.com. He used their site to learn all about diamonds, beyond the four C's. I even think he sent a diamond back because he wanted something better. Nevertheless, he found the entire process worthwhile. I considered going the NILE route for my so-far largest purchase (living in Manhattan means I rent my place, and don't own a car), but even an online vendor could not come close to my mom's employee discount.

So I was going into the digging-up-research phase with a positive attitude.

Morningstar gives NILE four stars, with a Fair Value Estimate of $42.00.

SmartMoney.com's competition page offers up numbers you'd expect:

NILE vs. Tiffany & Co. (TIF) and Zale Corp. (ZLC)
Net Profit Margin - 6.50% - 13.70% - 3.40%
Proj. Long-Term EPS Growth - 30.0% - 12.9% - 13.5%
Forward P/E - 46.1 - 20.5 - 14.0
PEG - 1.54 - 1.59 - 1.04
ROE - 16.00% - 18.90% - 11.90%
ROA - 11.60% - 12.50% - 6.40%

Tiffany's impeccable brand garners the highest profit margins, and returns on equity and assets. Zale lags, and thus is discounted by Wall Street. NILE has tighter profit margins, but is a leaner just-in-time retailer without the bricks and mortar costs, so it has a healthier ROE/ROA than one may expect. But the key is NILE has wonderful projected growth. Growth trumps value when it comes to share price.

But shareholders owning for growth can be a fickle bunch. Any sign of slowing growth, and many will flee for the latest growth flavor-of-the-month.

And that just happened with NILE, which is another reason I'm checking it out. Kimberly Picciola at Morningstar recently commented on a bump in the growth road:

On Tuesday, Blue Nile NILE reported disappointing fourth-quarter numbers and provided a soft outlook for 2006. Revenue was up 13.5% and operating profits grew 10% from the year-ago period, slightly lower than we expected.

Picciola goes on to relate that NILE was hurt by the increased costs relating to keyword-search-advertising. Jeff Matthews at his excellent blog also discussed this problem.

While I would not go so far as to put this bit of bad news in the BNBNRBN category, the recent drop in the price of NILE was certainly a good opportunity to enter a profitable position in a reputable leader in online jewelry.

Let's look back to rosier times, say, last August, when fool.com ran a positive piece by Alyce Lomax:

The end of spring and early summer might not spark as many marriage proposals as the holidays or Valentine's Day, but Blue Nile (Nasdaq: NILE) seems to be doing fine nonetheless. The company that pioneered online diamond sales reported some rather impressive earnings numbers yesterday evening.

Blue Nile's second-quarter net income increased 50% to $2.8 million, or $0.15 per diluted share. Sales increased 25% to $43.8 million. Average order size was $1,441, an 11% increase from this time last year. Gross profit increased 26% on a year-over-year basis, while gross margin increased to 22.8%, which Blue Nile said was its highest gross margin since the first quarter of 2004.
Plenty of Fools are Blue Nile fans -- after all, it's a Motley Fool Rule Breakers selection. Among the stock's possible catalysts are recent data showing that people are increasingly willing to buy fine jewelry online. Match that with research predicting skyrocketing use of broadband Internet -- Forrester sees broadband in 62% of households by 2010, compared with just 29% last year -- and you've got a recipe for some pretty good times for Internet retail.
Blue Nile's numbers argue that the company continues to make headway in a market that only recently seemed a questionable draw for customers. The intrusion of competitors, and Blue Nile's continued sales and earnings increases, show that the space is a solid one. If it can continue to differentiate itself from rivals, provide users with a better shopping experience, and capitalize on some of the current trends in e-commerce, Blue Nile's got the wind at its back.

Buying NILE last August, and selling it in November would have been the ideal situation. This most-recent dip is a buying opportunity, but I'm wary of the fact that NILE's elevated stock price is dependent on significant continued growth. The soft '06 outlook is refreshingly honest (again, check out Jeff Matthews' post linked above), but I'm not sure honesty will be rewarded. NILE is attractive--it's got one of the four C's covered, clarity. But like when I bought my diamond, I think I'm going to put my money elsewhere, even though I like NILE.

25 February 2006

Creepy Lifecell Update

Here is another BNBNRBN excerpt on the Lifecell story, from the AP, in the Houston Chronicle:

NEW YORK — Shares of human tissue reprocessors have reversed a noticeable dive in the five months since allegations arose that one of their suppliers stole body parts from coffins, but the stocks have yet to return to pre-October levels, even as charges are filed against the supplier.
The first of the companies to issue a recall of tissue products was LifeCell Corp. of Branchburg, N.J. Lifecell recalled products made from human tissue obtained from the supplier on Sept. 30 after a doctor the company hires to screen tissue noticed discrepancies in paperwork from Biomedical Tissue. The recall was made public Oct. 7.
However, the extent of the recall can be seen in financial filings for the quarter. LifeCell took a $1.4 million charge in the third quarter for inventory affected by the recall. The company booked $24.5 million in revenue in the third quarter. Lifecell added that Biomedical Tissue was only one of out about 40 tissue suppliers it used.

Here's the kicker:

FDA spokesman Stephen King said the agency ensured all unused product had been returned after the voluntary recalls started. King said the agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determined the risk of the suspect parts communicating disease to patients is considered very low, but still unknown. The FDA is unable to comment on details of the investigation as it is still ongoing, but King said the agency is working with all affected parties, as well as all state and local officials involved.

I didn't know Mr. King was moonlighting as both an Entertainment Weekly columnist AND an FDA spokesman. King's nothing if not prolific.

And here's the good news to calm the shivers:

Shares of Lifecell have recovered the most. The company's stock closed at $21.63 on Sept. 30, then dropped 11 percent to close Oct. 7 at $17.75, hitting a low that day of $15.11. Lifecell shares close at $21.20 Friday on the Nasdaq, down 56 cents, or 2.6 percent for the day's session and down only 2 percent since announcing the recall.

24 February 2006

Portfolio Changes

I made some changes to the portfolio today, based on two bits of bad news.

The first bit of bad news came from last week's Poore Brothers conference call. The new CEO, Eric J. Kufel, apologized for the abysmal downturn in SNAK's business and promised a turn-around. I expected this, judging from the stock price and events of Q4 2005. But then I listened to the dismal roll-out of the Cinnabon-branded snacks. Kufel mentioned significant inventory write-downs, and said that Poore Brothers management was considering all options regarding the Cinnabon endeavor, including killing it.

The tasty cinnamony morsels on the Poore Brothers website were a (minor) deciding factor in my decision to start a position in SNAK at $2.65. Thoughts of cream cheese icing convinced me to add to the SNAK position at $2.60.

This afternoon, I sold my shares for $2.80, a perfectly reasonable profit after losing my justification for holding the shares.

The second bit of bad news came in the BNBNRBN variety. An ongoing criminal investigation involving a corpse tissue thief mentioned Lifecell.

From NorthJersey.com:

Ex-dentist indicted in plot to sell body parts
Thursday, February 23, 2006


The owner of a Fort Lee tissue recovery firm has been indicted in a plot to sell body parts from corpses illegally dissected in New York funeral homes, his lawyer confirmed Wednesday night.

Michael Mastromarino, a once promising dental surgeon, surrendered to authorities in Brooklyn late Wednesday night, said attorney Mario Gallucci.

Mastromarino allegedly stole tissue from the cadavers and sold it to tissue banks for use in medical and dental implants.

It was unclear whether Mastromarino would face any charges in connection with his work with New Jersey funeral homes. The majority of his tissue harvesting was conducted in New Jersey, but so far allegations have surfaced only in Brooklyn.

The Kings County District Attorney's Office would not discuss the investigation. However, a spokesman for the office confirmed that a press conference regarding the case was scheduled for 1 p.m. today.

Mastromarino will appear in court shortly after the news conference, said Gallucci, of Staten Island. The attorney said his client committed no crimes while harvesting tissue for legitimate sale and will fight the charges.

Gallucci expects that at least three other people could be indicted in the case. They likely include staff at the firm, BioMedical Tissue Service, and could include Mastromarino's alleged partner in the scheme, 49-year-old Joseph Nicelli, a former Brooklyn funeral home owner.

Gallucci said he could only speculate on what charges might be included in the indictment when it is unsealed today.

"The fact that the prosecutor hasn't told me what they are and wants him in custody before he tells me leads me to believe it includes state racketeering charges," Gallucci said.

Mastromarino might also face fraud and forgery charges, the lawyer said.

"We absolutely, vehemently deny the charges," he said. "He was not doing anything illegal or wrong when he harvested."

Mastromarino was a respected dental surgeon with offices in New York and Fort Lee before drug use sidelined his career. After surrendering his dental license in 2000, he entered the world of biomedicine, extracting bones, tendons and skin from hospitals, morgues and funeral homes.

The case involves allegations that the ring carved up the remains of "Masterpiece Theatre" host Alistair Cooke, who died of cancer in 2004 at age 95, and sold them on the open market. In another case, a Brooklyn grandmother's leg bones were replaced with pipes.

Since investigators opened the case in October, dozens of people around the country -- including at least 60 in New Jersey -- have been notified that bones and other implants they received in surgeries have been recalled. Several lawsuits have been filed.

The case also has sparked calls for tighter regulations on the tissue industry, in which more than 1 million bone, tendon and skin transplants help cancer and burn victims annually.

According to New Jersey dental board records, Mastromarino surrendered his dental license in November 2000 after he tested positive for cocaine and the narcotic meperidine. He was arrested for possessing Demerol, a painkiller.

Mastromarino, 42, and his wife, Barbara, live in a $1.5 million house on the Palisades in Fort Lee.

Mastromarino came under suspicion when Branchburg-based LifeCell, which purchased tissue from him, found irregularities while reviewing documents pertaining to the donors.

LifeCell discovered that the phone numbers for the donors' physicians were wrong. The phone numbers listed for family members who gave consent for the donations were also wrong, leading the company to believe the tissue was harvested illegally. LifeCell executives immediately alerted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and voluntarily recalled compromised batches of tissue.

Late last year, the FDA ordered a recall of the potentially tainted products because of an exposure risk to HIV and other diseases.

However, FDA officials insisted the risk is minimal.

The FDA shut Biomedical Tissue Services on Feb. 3 after allegedly uncovering evidence that the firm failed to screen for contaminated tissue. The agency also said it found that death certificates in the company's files contradicted state files on age of death and cause of death.

I know, it takes a while before Lifecell gets mentioned, but when it does, LIFC acted as a responsible corporate citizen. Lifecell investigated the situation, notified the FDA immediately, and recalled batches voluntarily.

I call this Bad News But Not Really Bad News. Yes, the stock dropped 4% yesterday. It dropped another 2% today, just in time for me to take my SNAK money and increase my LIFC position at $21.25 per share.

Why did LIFC drop again today after rebounding at the end of trading yesterday? I'm guessing more BNBNRBN stories from the Rochester and Syracuse newspapers:

7 got suspect tissue, report no ill effects

Matthew Daneman
Staff writer

(February 23, 2006) — Suspect bone and tissue harvested by Biomedical Tissue Services found its way into the bodies of several local patients. None has reported any ill effects.

In October, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration directed the recall of all material that originated with the company, and recommended that hospitals and physicians notify any patients who had received material from that company.

Hundreds of patients nationwide have received that notification in recent months.

Locally, the University of Rochester Medical Center found that it had used nine tissue specimens from Biomedical in medical procedures involving seven patients at its hospitals, spokeswoman Karin Gaffney said Wednesday.

A spokesman at Rochester General Hospital did not respond to a call early this week about any patients affected there. A Park Ridge Hospital spokeswoman did not return a call placed Wednesday.

The UR contacted its seven patients after it received letters from LifeCell of New Jersey and Regeneration Technologies of Florida, both of which provide tissue to UR for medical procedures, Gaffney said. In all, five regional or national tissue processors had acquired material from Biomedical Tissue, according to the FDA.

The seven URMC patients were offered counseling and free testing for HIV, hepatitis and syphilis. None of the seven has experienced any related health problems , Gaffney said.

Several people elsewhere have claimed they contracted syphilis or hepatitis from Biomedical Tissue implants.

UR went through its tissue bank and its database of tissue to make sure it had no Biomedical Tissue Services material on hand, Gaffney said. She said it was the first such recall at UR.

Two CNY patients got tissue linked to indicted supplier
Community General received products from New Jersey firm in body-parts probe.
Friday, February 24, 2006
By Delen Goldberg
Staff writer
Two patients treated at Syracuse's Community General Hospital received transplant tissue supplied by a company facing charges of harvesting skin, bones and tendons from cadavers without permission or proper screening, a hospital spokeswoman said Thursday.

The hospital would not name the patients Thursday or say whether they got sick.

Community General received products supplied by Biomedical Tissue Services Inc., a New Jersey company currently being investigated for selling stolen cadaver tissue for use in skin grafts, dental implants and hip replacements. Biomedical Tissue Services was one of dozens of companies that provided tissue specimens to LifeCell Corporation, Community General's tissue supplier.

In a short statement released Thursday night, Community General spokeswoman Maria Damiano said the hospital "conducted a thorough investigation" and "considers the matter resolved."

Damiano would not elaborate Thursday. She would not say whether the hospital offered free counseling and testing for diseases, as many of LifeCell's other clients did. Hospital President and CEO Thomas P. Quinn did not return several calls.

Late last year, the Food and Drug Administration ordered a recall of the potentially tainted products and warned that an un-

told number of patients could have been exposed to HIV and other diseases during the procedures. The FDA said the risk of infection was minimal.

On Feb. 3, the FDA shut Biomedical Tissue Services, saying it had uncovered evidence the firm failed to screen for contaminated tissue. The agency also said it found that death certificates in the company's files were at odds with those on file with the state over the age of the deceased and the causes and times of death.

Authorities on Thursday announced a 122-count indictment charging four people, including Biomedical Tissue Services founder Michael Mastromarino, with looting dead bodies.

Mastromarino, Joseph Nicelli, a Brooklyn mortician, and two other defendants, Lee Crucetta and Christopher Aldorasi, pleaded not guilty to charges including enterprise corruption, body stealing, opening graves, unlawful dissection and forgery. Each would face up to 25 years in prison if convicted, prosecutors said.

Authorities released gruesome photos of decomposed bodies that were exhumed as part of a widening investigation expected to result in more arrests. The photos offered proof that the defendants removed bone and replaced it with plastic pipe - normally used for plumbing - to conceal the theft, District Attorney Charles Hynes said.

Hynes compared the crimes to "something out of a cheap horror movie."

Among the bodies said to be tampered with was that of "Masterpiece Theatre" host Alistair Cooke, who died in 2004. Paperwork was doctored to show Cooke's cause of death as a heart attack and his age as 85. He died of cancer at age 95.

Mastromarino's defense attorney Mario Gallucci has said his client "vehemently denies doing anything illegal or wrong."

LifeCell, which used tissue from Biomedical Tissue Services for several skin graft products, issued a recall on Sept. 30. Community General conducted an investigation shortly after, Damiano said.

Community General appears to be the only hospital in Central New York to receive potentially tainted tissue. Other hospitals in the region use tissue supplied by different companies that never worked with Biomedical Tissue Services, spokespeople for those hospitals said.

17 February 2006

A Batch of BNBNRBN Stocks

Tomorrow, I'm going to follow the progress of some potential BNBNRBN stocks. For now, I'm going to offer recaps of today's news, along with my musings on these stocks backed up by minutes and minutes of in-depth research.

And yes, my horrible acronym-of-sorts is back. I'm interested in a few stocks that the market eviscerated today, to see if any fell in price because of "Bad News But Not Really Bad News."

Here were today's losers, excerpted from MarketWatch.com's Movers and Shakers page:

Shares of Educate Inc. (EEEE :8.89, -3.01, -25.3% ) tumbled 25.3% after the Baltimore-based provider of education services posted a loss from continuing operations of $1.7 million, or 4 cents a share, down from a year-ago equivalent profit of $3.9 million, or 9 cents a share. The average estimate of analysts polled by Thomson First Call was for a profit of a nickel per share in the December period. Revenue totaled $76.6 million in the quarter, compared to Wall Street's consensus estimate of $77.4 million. "We were disappointed by our fourth quarter operating performance," said Chris Hoehn-Saric, the company's chairman and CEO. Looking ahead, the company said it expects its operating performance in the first half of 2006 to continue to be hurt by declines in enrollment in the fourth quarter, and the integration of acquired territory.

Espeed Inc. (ESPD : 8.37, -0.93, -10.0% ) shares fell 10% after the New York-based provider of electronic marketplace and trading technology posted an in-line adjusted profit of $900,000, or 2 cents a share, for the fourth quarter, but gave a disappointing forecast for fiscal 2006. The company said it sees an adjusted profit of 2 to 6 cents a share for the year on revenue of between $147 million and $150 million. The current average estimate of analysts polled by Thomson First Call is for earnings of 17 cents a share for 2006 on revenue of $165.4 million.

Expedia Inc. (EXPE :19.82, -4.43, -18.3% ) shares plummeted 18.3% after the company reported fourth-quarter earnings of $25.2 million, or 7 cents a share, down 43% from $44.1 million, or 13 cents a share, in the year-earlier period. Excluding certain items, earnings came in at 20 cents a share compared with 27 cents last year. Revenue at the Bellevue, Wash., travel-services company rose 13% to $494.7 million from $439 million. Analysts polled by Thomson First Call had forecast revenue of $505 million.

Shares of Navigant Consulting Inc. (NCI :19.83, -2.52, -11.3% ) dropped 11.3% after the Chicago-based consulting services provider said it's received an adverse order and an interim finding from an arbitrator related to its dispute with the City of Vernon, Calif. The order denies the company's right to recover unpaid fees and expenses previously billed to Vernon. For the fourth quarter, these fees and expenses totaled $1.4 million. The arbitrator also found that Vernon is entitled to recover certain amounts already paid to Navigant. In addition, the company reported fourth-quarter earnings of $11.6 million, or 22 cents a share, up slightly from a year-ago profit of $11.1 million, or 22 cents a share. The latest results include charges totaling $1.5 million, or 3 cents a share. Revenue rose 16% in the latest three months to $150.5 million from $129.3 million in the same period a year earlier. The average estimate of analysts polled by Thomson First Call was for a profit of 25 cents a share in the December period on revenue of $151.6 million.

Each of these stocks is highly rated by Morningstar, except for Navigant, which is not rated.

First off, Jonathan Schrader at Morningstar relayed the bad news at EEEE:

Educate reported fourth-quarter results Thursday that were much worse than we'd expected. The company actually posted a loss in the quarter, while consensus estimates were for a nickel per share. We've been somewhat concerned about weak demand for Sylvan's services brought about by declining consumer confidence, but it does not appear that this was an issue. Rather, the company blamed the shortfall on a declining conversion rate, meaning that a lower-than-usual percentage of the people that inquired about its tutoring services in the quarter actually enrolled. This declining conversion rate points to subpar execution by management, which is quite troubling from our perspective.

Educate admitted that it had done a poor job, suggesting that the significant number of acquisitions during 2006 distracted Sylvan's managers from their most important job: providing topnotch service to potential and current customers. In response, Educate moved its president and COO Peter Cohen back into his old post as president of Sylvan, while adding two new positions reporting directly to Cohen: vice president of company-owned centers and vice president of franchise services. Educate also replaced two of its five regional managers and hired a new director for its important contact center operation.

It appears that Educate has recognized its failure and has moved quickly to improve. Heads have rolled, but that doesn't mean that improvement will be immediate. Rather, we suspect that conversion and organic growth will gradually improve in the coming year. It should help that management has decided to turn off its acquisition machine until it rights the ship. No acquisitions, however, doesn't mean no growth. 2006 should still be a pretty good year thanks to acquisitions made in 2005, greenfield additions in Sylvan's territories--the firm has already added seven this year--and organic growth in Hooked on Phonics. We're forecasting 20% growth, at the low end of management's projection for 20%-25%.

Educate will have to spend some more money in order to make money, so we have increased our cost assumptions for 2006 and 2007. This reduced our near-term cash flow estimates--the most valuable in any discounted cash-flow model--and brought our fair value estimate down by a little more than 10%, to $15 per share. With the stock now trading near $9, we think it is an extremely compelling investment. The stock, however, is very volatile, and near-term results will likely be poor. If you don't like volatility in your investments, Educate is probably not the stock for you. But if you don't mind some volatility and have a two- to three-year window, Educate could be a good pick.

Morningstar missed this one. And the last paragraph definitely has some hedging of one's bets.

Cantor Fitzgerald's Espeed deals with bond market trading. All I really know about Cantor is that Lutnick pours a lot of cash into our alma mater. I knew Cantor as the name of Haverford's art gallery before I knew that it was a bond-trading powerhouse. Morningstar suggests that Espeed is run more for his and Cantor's interests, and not the other minority shareholders.

EXPE competes with Cendant's Orbitz, which is now part of the WershovenistPig Portfolio. And the competition between these two players and Travelocity is good for travelers, but does not seem to be a good deal for shareholders. And personally, I use SideStep.com for my flight, car, and hotel needs. But a compelling price is a compelling price.

Navigant provided litigation consulting services on an obscure bit of litigation I worked on for the past three years. From my perspective, if you want to talk about a growth industry, it's companies that help law firms deal with enormous document-intensive litigations. This price dip seems like a fine opportunity to me.

Such a slew of bad news for all of these stocks, and on an up day for the market, too. Out of these four, I am most interested in NCI and EXPE.

Do you agree?

16 February 2006

Rearranging the deck chairs at Pier One?

Back in August, back when this blog was a wee one, I compared DWRI and PIR. Fortunately, I did not have money to invest, because I may have flushed it into DWRI. Yes, I picked the purveyor of sorta-affordable high design furniture over the Pottery Barn wannabe Pier One.

Cramer can and does change his mind on a stock from one day to the next. I'm taking a second look at PIR six months later.

Nat Worden at thestreet.com thinks Pier One could be a Danish takeover target:

Jacobsen, a European retail magnate and chairman of an Iceland-based firm called Lagerinn ehf, franchises Jysk stores (pronounced yoo-sk), a home furnishings chain that's known as the Danish version of IKEA. Jacobsen's chain has 1,000 stores worldwide, with 23 stores in Canada and two in New Jersey under the name Inspiration. Some investors see his interest in Linens 'n Things, which has now shifted to Pier 1, as a sign that he is looking for a cheap acquisition to expand his reach in the U.S. -- the consumer capital of the world.

"It's entirely possible that he views Pier 1 as a potential takeover target," says Morningstar analyst Anthony Chukumba. "Acquiring Pier 1 would give him entry into the U.S. with a company that has a fairly well-known and well-respected name brand, a nationwide store presence and a decent amount of scale."

The presence of Jacobsen at Pier 1 adds one more wrinkle to a value play that has already attracted legendary investor Warren Buffett, whose Berkshire Hathaway (BRKA:NYSE) disclosed a 9% stake in 2004. Buffett cut his stake in half as the retailer floundered, and Berkshire now owns about 3 million shares.

Shares of Pier 1 have declined about 50% over the last two years as its sales and earnings have consistently slowed and disappointed Wall Street. So far this year, the stock has shown some signs of life after dipping below $9 in December. Despite a dreary holiday performance, shares are now up 29% for 2006, and with a major merchandise overhaul in the works, investors are starting to look at it as a glass-half-full situation.

Sanford Bernstein analyst Colin McGranahan says an investment in Pier 1 is speculative, as it is currently trading at about 86 times earnings estimates reported by Thomson First Call through 2006. But he also says the upside reward potential far outweighs the downside risk.

"It's a very cheap stock with massive potential upside if any kind of turnaround ever materialized," McGranahan said. "It looks like the downside, especially with this guy Jacobsen poking around, is minimal. The stock has bottomed out at around $9 on a few occasions.

Anthony Chukumba at Morningstar spells out the four possible reasons to pick up shares of PIR as a value bet:

We think that there are four possible scenarios for Pier 1 over the next 12-18 months that could significantly increase shareholder value. The first is the planned introduction of more modern styling to the company's products being well received by customers and spurring a sales rebound. The second is the closing of several unproductive locations, leading to higher sales and profits in the remaining store base. The third is an overhaul of top management, which is long overdue, in our opinion. Finally, with all the recent interest in the retail sector by private equity firms, we think that a leveraged buyout of Pier 1 is a distinct possibility. If none of these scenarios appears likely to play out, we will cut our fair value estimate substantially.

Morningstar puts a fair value of $17 on this $11.11 stock. I'm putting PIR in the on-deck circle.

15 February 2006

The Mighty Wind

I've made my oil investment.

Ethanol is a bunch of hooey. Nobody has convinced me that the energy used to grow, harvest, and convert corn into fuel is or will be economical without governmental handouts.

But the wind. Yes, the neverending wind. The mighty wind. And the panoply of original Quixote references, made by journalists (or headline writers) who've never read Cervantes. Speaking of, here's Claudia H. Deutsch in today's New York Times:

Investors Are Tilting Towards Windmills
"When you get the president talking about renewable energy, it has to be turning up the dial at G.E.," said Deane M. Dray, an analyst at Goldman Sachs who has an outperform rating on General Electric shares.

Certainly, it is getting attention from Energy Financial Services. The unit recently bought a wind farm in Germany and is installing new turbines there at a rapid pace. It has invested in solar energy farms in California and is in the end stage of negotiations for a large solar project in Europe. Indeed, renewable energy projects already account for $1 billion of the unit's $11 billion portfolio and are its fastest-growing niche. "The renewables space has really heated up, and I hope it will account for 20 or 30 percent of our investments in five years," J. Alex Urquhart, the unit's president, said.

Today, alternative energy financing is barely a footnote in G.E.'s revenue stream. But the G.E. machine is gearing up for change. On Jan. 30 — a day before the president bemoaned the nation's "addiction to oil" — Mr. Urquhart carved out a separate group to focus solely on renewable energy projects. Lorraine Bolsinger, who runs G.E.'s Ecomagination program, says she has begun to "run the financial projects through our scorecard process" to see which ones she should include in her group of G.E.'s "green" products.

The pace is quickening in G.E.'s industrial camp, too. Energy equipment and related services, which accounted for about $42 billion of G.E.'s $149.7 billion in revenue last year, is G.E.'s largest industrial business. Alternative energy products like wind generators accounted for less than $6.3 billion of last year's sales.

Four years ago, G.E. bought Enron's wind-turbine unit, and it is now a $2 billion business, heading rapidly toward $4 billion. In five years, G.E. expects that alternative energy products will account for more than a quarter of energy equipment revenue.

Institutional investors are backing this strategy as well:

G.E. is not alone in backing renewables, of course. In November, Goldman Sachs committed to investing $1 billion in renewable energy, and it is already "well on its way" to achieving that, according to Lucas van Praag, a Goldman spokesman.

J. P. Morgan Chase , too, has said it will invest more than $250 million in wind-energy projects. And venture capitalists have for some time been investing in smaller renewable energy projects and technologies.

Cramer had an alternative stock suggestion back on January 20th. Here's the Mad Money recap:

Chasing Windmills
General Electric (GE:NYSE) , the parent company of CNBC, which airs "Mad Money," reported earnings Friday. While Cramer wouldn't say whether the conglomerate is a buy or a sell, he did say that its performance could indicate which sectors warranted a closer look.

Wind power was one of the most exciting things happening at GE in the latest quarter, he said. So for a wind power play, Cramer suggested taking a look at Zoltek (ZOLT:Nasdaq) , a stock recommended to him by Will Gabrielski, co-author of TheStreet.com Stocks Under $10 newsletter.

Zoltek is not strictly speaking a wind power company, but it makes carbon fibers used to reinforce windmill blades, Cramer said. It supplies its products to Spanish and Danish wind power companies, and it doesn't really have any competition, he added.

If Zoltek were the best play on wind power on earth and everyone thought so, the stock would be expensive, Cramer said, but right now no one knows about it and it's near its 52-week low.

There is some risk here because the company issues warrants, which Cramer said is not the best way to raise money. But it's a well-positioned wind power play.

So while he was excited about Zoltek, he cautioned viewers to use limit orders if they want to buy it because it is such a small stock.

Zoltek (ZOLT) is trading at around $14.70 right now, up 4% for the day, and up about 40% since Cramer's mention. Talk about the wind blowing this stock up. ZOLT is not profitable, with a large and growing negative free cash flow. But who cares about that--this is a momentum play based on windmill write-ups in the Times, an off-note portion of the State of the Union delivered by our former-oil-man President, and attention by James J. Cramer.

As you would expect, Morningstar has not rated ZOLT.

GE gets 4 stars and a fair value of $38 from Morningstar. GE currently trades at around $33.35, with a 2.72% yield, near its 52-week low. It's a classic mega-cap multinational that seems to be trading right now at a bit of a discount.

ZOLT could jolt one's portfolio. I personally wouldn't even consider ZOLT as a speculative play until it pulls back considerably. GE looks like the staid, safe investment it is. If the Times article is correct, GE is a long-term alternative energy play that is priced right, right now.

14 February 2006

Three stocks priced 50% or more below Morningstar's fair value

Beautiful blizzard this weekend. On such a snowy Sunday, I had my first snowboarding experience--in Riverside Park, of all places. Didn't fall as much as I expected, but my ass did find a bit of concrete under the 26 inches of snow once. But after a quickly-muttered "ouch", I gracefully got back on my own two (bound to a slippery board) feet. When I say gracefully, I mean something completely different.

Speaking of falling, I found three stocks using stock screening tools at Morningstar. I wanted some real outliers, so I requested stocks that are priced at 50% or more below Morningstar's fair value. What each stock shares in common is a precipitously falling chart and membership in a very exclusive club.

The three are Domstar (DTC), Lear (LEA), and TVL.

Here's some extensive research, Dykstra-style (i.e. cribbed from Morningstar):

DTC: Canada-based Domtar is one of North America's leading integrated paper and forest products producers. The company maintains four operating divisions. Its flagship paper division produces coated and uncoated paper. The company is also involved in the distribution, warehousing, and marketing of paper products, timber harvesting, and lumber manufacturing. Its packaging division, a 50%-owned joint-venture operation, produces corrugated packaging material and containers.

DTC closed yesterday at $4.86. Morningstar's fair value for the stock is $10.00.

Why the disparity?

Paper is a commodity, with the attendant slim profits and minimal pricing power that comes with the production of a fungible good. Contributing to these economic constraints are higher prices for energy and pulp. DTC is countering these effects by restructuring, cutting costs and closing inefficient plants. Buying DTC shares is not a speculative bet on a company growing from nothing into something--it's a value bet that DTC will eventually rebound and generate profits from its significant operations.

LEA: Lear is a leading provider of vehicle interiors, including seating, flooring, door panels, and electronics. The company employs more than 110,000 people worldwide with revenue of about $17 billion. The seating segment makes up about two thirds of revenue, about another fifth comes from interiors, and the remainder comes from electronics. Lear has been named the most admired company in the auto-parts sector by Fortune magazine.

LEA closed yesterday at $22.36. Morningstar's fair value for the stock is $56.00.

LEA also has issues with commodity costs and restructuring plans. It's also dependent on those two decaying pillars of the American economy, GM and Ford.

But like DTC, LEA is one of the top companies in its sector.

TVL: LIN TV is a pure-play television company with operations in the United States and Puerto Rico. At Dec. 31, 2004, LIN operated 23 stations, including two under local marketing agreements and three low-power stations, along with equity investments in five other stations. The company has stations affiliated with eight networks.

TVL closed yesterday at $11.08. Morningstar's fair value for the stock is $28.00.

Morningstar likes TVL's Puerto Rican-focused content that it is now distributing throughout the contiguous 48 states as well as on the island. Morningstar also likes TVL's stations in places like Austin, TX, Indianapolis, IN, and Norfolk, VA, and the fact that in even years, political ad revenue drives up income.

On the downside, TVL spends too much on asset acquisition, leaving a crummy ROIC. TVL has a high debt load, and Morningstar is, well, skeptical of management.

13 February 2006

Pegging Nails on the PEG

I know it's not particularly fair to pick on Lenny "Nails" Dykstra column over at thestreet.com. He's seemed to have developed a nice niche writing up his exploits involving deep-in-the-money-calls. I'm not about to criticize his advocacy of some conservative options trading (or at least as conservative as options trading can get).

The Pig is pegging Nails on his use of the PEG ratio.

I explored the PEG early in this blog's existence. I still use it as a quick metric; one tool of many. I treat it like a phillips head screwdriver I inherited that's just a bit too big--can't use it for every screw, but sometimes it's just right.

Lenny's raves about Nabors Industries (NBR) arise from it's appealingly low PEG of 0.20 (or 0.25 according to SmartMoney.com).

Here's Dykstra's argument:

Its balance sheet, and all of its key numbers (or at least what I consider key) are off the charts. Its P/E-to-growth ratio, based on its long-term (i.e., five year) expected earnings growth rate, is 0.20. That is such an awesome number, I was afraid to type it, thinking you might not believe me. Believe it, I checked 30 times.

But guess what? This number isn't so awesome. NBR's PEG ratio is not all that much lower than its competition in the oil drilling business.

Check 'em out:

Diamond Offshore (DO) 0.37
ENSCO International (ESV) 0.28
Noble (NE) 0.35
GlobalSantaFe (GSF) 0.31
Transocean (RIG) 0.42

To give Lenny some credit, NBR is the best pick, according to the numbers. Morningstar gives NBR and its driller brethren one star, but gives NBR grades of B- for growth, B- for profitability, and A for financial health. Not a stellar GPA, but good enough to make it to the head of this special ed class:

DO - C- D+ A-
ESV - D C+ A
NE - D+ B A+
RIG - D- D B-

And Lenny does offer up some fruits of his extensive research:

After some extensive research, I have donned my work gloves, put my ear plugs in securely, and I will commence "drilling for some serious oil" this week.

Nabors Industries (NBR:NYSE) , one of the world's largest drilling contractors, is about as good as it gets. The company has nearly 600 land drilling rigs and more than 900 land workover and well-servicing rigs. Nabors Industries operates across the U.S. and in Africa, Canada, Central and South America, and in the Middle East. Its offshore equipment includes platform rigs, jack-ups, barge drilling rigs, and marine support vessels. Nabors also provides oil field hauling, maintenance, well logging, engineering, and construction services, and invests in oil and gas exploration.

I think what Lenny means by extensive research is cutting and pasting the company profile off of MarketWatch, or an 8-K filing.

I keed. I keed. Go Phils.

Dykstra overemphasizes the power of the PEG. If the PEG were so damn useful, then screw diversification, and let's load up on these "cheap" drilling stocks!

What I see Dykstra doing is very simple. He's making a simple bet that oil will head back up between now and June. Seems a very reasonable bet to me. I've made a smaller, safer version of this bet with the EEP purchase. But he's overstated his case for NBR's PEG.

07 February 2006

Let me introduce you to the Pig Portfolio

The Pig has finally, and belatedly, accumulated the seed money for the WershovenistPig Portfolio.

I established four positions yesterday. The portfolio is diversified in several ways. I used different, and competing investment theories behind the stock picks. There is variety in the market capitalizations and the risks for each of these picks. There's the small-cap speculative growth pick (Poore Brothers - SNAK); the value and spin-off play (Cendant - CD), a momentum/earnings growth choice (Lifecell - LIFC), and a high-dividend-yielding energy stock (Enbridge Energy LP - EEP).

Let's take a quick look at each of the stocks, my reasoning and justification for the purchase, and my outlook for either maintaining or selling the position. If you want some more background, just search the Pig archive.

SNAK - Position established at $2.65/share. Stock recently tanked, bottoming out in December after some lowered earnings, earnings restatements, and a brief tenure with the ticker SNAKE. Now with a new interim CEO, a PEG of 0.39, and a license to produce and market some tasty-looking Cinnabon shelf-stable cookie products, I thought it was time to plunge into owning this speculative small-cap.
Outlook: I'm looking for some significant upward movement in the next six months, perhaps when the next quarter's earnings are announced. If SNAK gets into the $5-6 range, I will probably shrink the position.

CD - Position established at $16.00/share. Beginning this spring, Cendant is spinning off some of its diverse array of holdings and abandoning its sullied moniker. This move should simplify the company, making it easier for investors to understand, and hopefully unlocking significant shareholder value. Morningstar gives CD five stars, and gives a fair value estimate of $23.00.
Outlook: I may add to this position in the near term if CD continues to drop in price. As a value play, I'm looking at a long-term hold.

LIFC - Position established at $22.30/share. Yes, I first looked into this stock back when it was trading at $18/share. I liked it then, as did those CANSLIM-lovers at IBD. I like it now, even though Cramer boosted the stock on Mad Money last week. Here's the 2/2 Mad Money recap re LIFC:

The Skin He's In
"When I go hunting for stocks ... I look for jaw droppingly good earnings," Jim Cramer told "Mad Money" viewers Thursday, which is why he said to take a look at LifeCell (LIFC:Nasdaq - news - research - Cramer's Take).

The company makes artificial skin to repair the body and reduce scarring after complex hernia procedures, he said. While this doesn't sound like the most attractive business, Cramer said that LifeCell has very little competition.

And, he added, the competitors are using pigskin.

With 133,000 complex hernia procedures a year, Cramer sees room for growth. Plus, he said, the company could expand into the breast implant market to reduce scarring in these cosmetic procedures.

The company says it will see more than 30% sales growth a year, a number Cramer said is probably radically conservative, and better than any company he follows.

A caller wanted to know if the company was exposed to litigation risks. Cramer said that like all medical stocks, the company would have to deal with lawsuits and the threat of lawsuits.

However, Cramer said it would be no more of a concern for LifeCell than for other companies in the sector and that it would not dissuade him from buying the stock.

Outlook: I'm looking for the big move, and will be patient in the meantime.

EEP - Position established at $45.75/share. I picked this Morningstar three-star-rated pipeline partnership while seeking out a solid energy stock that has not surged to a toppy top of the stock charts. Unlike the Fort McMoney watch list stocks, EEP has a share price below its fair value estimate. Currently $7, or 20% below. Speaking of percentages, the 8% yield caught my attention. Lucky for me, I bought just in time to qualify for the upcoming dividend distribution. EEP also allows me to capitalize on the potential of the Alberta oil sands without as much risk as high-priced stocks like Suncor.

Since I have not written about EEP before, here's a very brief excerpt from a recent Morningstar analyst report:

[T]he largest portion of Enbridge Energy LP's operating profit still comes from one very large pipeline system, Lakehead. This massive system delivers 1.4 million barrels a day from the fields of Alberta to the U.S. Midwest and Northeast. Lakehead owns an impressive share of its market, with about three fourths of the crude transport capacity coming out of western Canada. Enbridge Energy LP owns the U.S. portion of this system, while its general partner, Enbridge ENB, owns the Canadian side.

Outlook: The attractive dividend and cash flow could keep me holding EEP longer than I originally envisioned. Of course, I will be keeping track of the price and demand for oil, and react accordingly.

01 February 2006

Penniless Pampering Stocks - RDEN

Blog Hog Jonathan Last started me down this perfumed path with a passing thought on our generation's futile struggle to financially surpass our parents. So in that quest to make some cash, I eventually found myself at Yahoo! Finance's small cap growth screen. There I found Elizabeth Arden (RDEN). I then moseyed over to the usual places (Morningstar and SmartMoney) for some sweet smelling insight. I found that RDEN is a dog, the runt of the litter. Here are some fundamentals and grades:

Ticker - 5-yr Sales Growth - Net Profit Margin - PEG - Price/Cash Flow - ROE/ROA - On-Balance Volume Index - Morningstar Grades (Growth, Profitability, Financial Health)

RDEN - 1.08 - 3.6 - 1.34 - 10.4 - 13.1/4.5 - 91 - (B, C-, C-)
EL - 7.37 - 4.9 - 1.53 - 13.9 - 22.6/9.9 - 476 - (B, A, A)
ACV - 8.71 - 6 - 1.55 - na - 14.4/9.5 - 215 - (B, A, A+)
IPAR - 22.74 - 5.5 - 1.74 - 20.3 - 11.8/6.3 - 133 - (A, A-, C+)
PARL - 10.33 - 11.3 - na - 16 - 19.9/15.5 - 142 - (A, B, B)

RDEN has the weakest fundamentals and growth. Even its volume indes shows that the Street is ignoring this stock in favor of some more attractive offerings.

Speaking of dogs, here are some flattering picks of two of the faces of RDEN:


Blog Hog John Coumarianos pointed me to Estee Lauder (EL). EL's brands are not tied to individuals who can age less-than-gracefully, or quickly revert to their natural Cinderella-after-midnight trailer trash state upon marrying a Cletus. EL's brands include Beautiful, White Linen, and Pleasures--all timeless, pristing, evocative names.

Parlux (PARL) and Inter Parfums (IPAR) have classy brands as well. PARL has the licenses for Todd Oldham and Perry Ellis scents. IPAR manufactures and distributes Burberry, Paul Smith, and, um, Celine (but they looove her in Vegas...and in Quebec).

Alberto-Culver (ACV) owns TRESemme, a sponsored product featured on the Best Reality Show, Project Runway. Why is it the Best? Because if I'm compelled to tune in every week to a show about fashion designers, AND Heidi Klum is shaped like an over-inflated kickball, then the show is doing many things right.

EL and ACV are the established players getting tremendous notice by the Street, at least according to their trading volumes. PARL and IPAR are smaller growth plays that are getting also getting some notice. To me, they are the difference between floral and musk scents; just depends on your nose and personal taste. They all seem fine.

Any thoughts from my seven or eight readers?

24 January 2006

Whole Foods

Blog Hog JVL is an antibiotic-and-hormone-free Bull for Whole Foods.

He e-mailed me his bullish (not bullshit, that's my portion of this post) thesis. Here it is in almost it's full glory:

I'm very, very impressed with the way they've slowly expanded in the DC are--they've picked great, up and coming locations. And they've managed, despite their high-prices, to become a staple for 20-somthings who can't really afford to shop there.
Whole Foods isn't about picking up the staples--milk, eggs, OJ. When you go to Whole Foods, you're not "grocery shopping." You're pampering yourself in a small way--in fact, in such a way that you can convince yourself isn't that much of a luxury; after all, we all need to eat.

I'm as much of a sucker for this as anyone. My favoirte place to shop is a Whole Foods-like place called Balducci's. When I'm there, I like to just walk around the store and feel good about myself. And then I spend $70 on one bag of groceries.

And here I go back to my hobby-horse: The Whole Foods places in DC have all been positioned around areas that are young, developing, and condo-heavy. In a setting where no one can afford what used to be standard for the middle class--a single-family home--people are defining down their expectations for their adult lives. At the same time, they're trying to find other, new ways of indulging themselves to make up for this disappointment. We can't afford a 3BDR, 2Bath Cape Cod, so we buy a bag of $4 potato chips.

Since I think that the American standard of living is on an unavoidable downward spiral--too many people, not enough land--I think this is a trend we're going to continue to see. People are going to look for little luxuries to make up for the big things that they can't have anymore. (The rise of the spa culture among young women is another sign of this, btw.)

Whole Foods.

Jonathan wrote up a nice big-think piece, tying in some sociological musings with a stock idea. And in response, I pounded out the following bit of hackery, using my usual references and resources:

Whole Foods has been on the radar since I started watching Mad Money. Cramer's talked up this stock as "best of breed" for 9 months. And therein lies the problem. WFMI is now a $10B company that has risen 73.6% in the last twelve months, and 206.9% over the last three years. If you check out its chart you will see that the stock has been on a straight line upward trajectory, but is trading considerably higher than its support.

I think we missed the boat (shopping cart?)on this one. Two numbers suggest this: a PEG ratio of 2.69, meaning the price of Whole Foods stock is growing 2.69 times faster than Whole Foods' earnings. Bargain stocks tend to have a PEG of 1.0 or below. Price/Cash Flow is 33.80; a value investor looks for something below 10-12.

So the value investor in me is not finding supportive numbers.

Then I checked out Morningstar's grades: A+ for growth, A- for profitability, A+ for financial health. I haven't seen marks like that since 6th grade, from some very nurturing Quaker teachers.

A momentum investor may want to jump into the arugula for the phenomenal growth of Whole Foods, and its potential for more.

I completely buy into your theory that we spend on small luxuries because so few of us can afford the big ones. Whole Foods fits perfectly into this idea. It's tough to buy into WFMI when you see how much missed opportunity is before you. If only I had plunked down for some shares when Cramer first mentioned the stock, instead of buying those heirloom tomatoes and two-inch-thick porterhouses at Time Warner Center. (Actually, I buy such things through FreshDirect.com, but it is privately held, so allow me some poetic license.)

And in regards to JVL's last point, perhaps I should be looking into public companies that are profiting from spa culture. I'll have to dig around the apartment for the brands and companies behind the lotions, oils, sloughing agents, and perfumes that reside in various drawers, shelves, and nooks.

19 January 2006

Another fast food IPO coming around the bend...next week

The Chipotle IPO is next week. Here's the news from MarketWatch:

11:56am 01/19/06
Chipotle IPO from McDonalds expected next week (MCD, REXI) By Steve Gelsi
NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- Chipotle Mexican Grill is expected to offer 7.88 million shares at $15.50-$17.50 each in a bid to raise $144.5 million in an initial public offering next week. IPO analyst John Fitzgibbon expects the stock to gain $2-$3 a share once it debuts. Chipotle plans to trade under the symobl "CMG" on the New York Stock Exchange. A total of seven initial public offerings are on deck next week with the richest weighing in at $160 million from Resource Capital, a real estate investment trust managed by a unit of Resource America (REXI) .

Even though I had an enormous carnitas burrito last night (with both pinto and black beans, minus the rice), I'm still hungry for some CMG.

Wendy's and Tim Hortons Spinoff Updates

Wendy's (WEN) is in the midst of quite a run-up, from the low $40's in October to around $57 today. Versus its competition, WEN has a high PEG of 1.94 and very low ROE/ROA numbers, among others. WEN is too expensive, unlike its value menu cheeseburgers and finger-free chili. But if you own WEN stock, you will soon own shares of THI:

Wendy's will first sell up to 18 per cent of Tim Hortons in an IPO that is expected to put up to $600-million (U.S.) in the company's till. Shortly after that debut, Wendy's plans to give its shareholders new stock that represents the remaining 82-per-cent stake in Tim Hortons, according to investment bankers working with the Dublin, Ohio-based burger chain.

So should I buy WEN in order to get some THI? The Globe and Mail says no:

Many of Wendy's major shareholders are hedge funds and are expected to quickly sell their Tim's shares into the market.
"Wendy's is going to use the strong Canadian demand for Tim Hortons shares to get a premium valuation on the IPO, then spin out the rest of the company as quickly as possible," said one Canadian financer working on the deal.

I'm thinking a potential time to get into THI is shortly after the IPO, not by buying an inflated, bloated red-head with pigtails.

Here's some more informative grist from the piece:
Tim Hortons commands a premium valuation because the company's mix of double-double coffees and crullers has posted impressive sales growth on both sides of the border. Same-store sales were up 5.8 per cent in Canada and 6.7 per cent in the U.S. during the last three months of 2005.

In contrast, Wendy's fourth-quarter U.S. same-store sales, or sales at stores open at least a year, fell 2.9 per cent at company-owned outlets and were off 1.9 per cent at franchises, the chain's fifth successive quarter of declining sales. In a recent filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Tim Hortons outlined its dominance of the Canadian marketplace, saying that it represents 74 per cent of the coffee and baked goods sales in the quick-service sector.

Tim Hortons stock is expected to start trading in March on the Toronto and New York stock exchanges, under the symbol THI. Investment banks RBC Dominion Securities Inc. and Goldman Sachs & Co. are leading the Tim Hortons IPO.

Tim Hortons earned $157.5-million in profit in 2004, or roughly $1.36 a share, according to research conducted by analyst Larry Miller of Prudential Equity Group LLC. In a note last month, Mr. Miller suggested that with a $600-million IPO, Tim Hortons shares could be worth between $29 and $36 apiece, with individual Canadian investors stepping up to the counter for stock. "It's a Canadian demand story," Mr. Miller said. "Retail-wise, it's going to be zero in the U.S."

Even Cramer is wary of Tim Horton's:

A viewer said that he was thinking about staying away from Wendy's initial public offering of its Tim Hortons doughnut chain because it is being offered in installments. Cramer agreed, saying he'd hold off on that IPO too.

18 January 2006

Playing around with S&P Momentum Plays

After an eventful evening of apartment hunting, I thought I'd close out the night with some light reading on some of my favorite stock blogs. The Kirk Report linked to an S&P stock screen picking out some momentum plays. I thought I'd check out their SmartMoney numbers and Morningstar grades, to see if they look interesting beyond the fact that Wall Street is paying attention to these stocks as of late. And perhaps find some competitors that are being unfairly ignored. Before I begin, here's the Business Week article on this momentum stock screen:

By Michael Kaye, CFA

Riding Stocks' Momentum Waves
S&P identifies four promising plays using the theory that what goes up must keep going -- at least for a while
One strategy we at Standard & Poor's like to touch on from time to time is momentum investing. Basically, this approach assumes that what goes up can continue to go up, using the notion that strong investor demand for a stock can continue to feed on itself for a certain period of time.

Our latest screen starts off with a widely used momentum measure: relative strength. This measures a stock's performance over a defined period against that of the broader stock market. Our first search was for stocks that have an S&P 13-week relative strength ranking greater than 90 (meaning over the past 13 weeks they have outperformed 90% of the stock universe).

BULLISH PICKS. We then wanted to ensure that the stocks on our list were attractive in other respects. So we next looked for issues with the highest score of "bullish" under S&P's proprietary technical investing measure. In addition, each stock had to have the highest rank of our proprietary insider activity rating. Favorable insider activity may signal that management and others crucial to a company's success view its prospects favorably.

To avoid speculative issues, we limited our screen to companies whose stock price is above $5 per share and whose market capitalization is greater than $500 million.

When we finished out search, these four names popped up:

Company Ticker
AAR Corp.p AIR
Fossil Inc. FOSL
Humana Inc. HUM
Meridian Bioscience VIVO

Here are some SmartMoney numbers of choice for each of these stocks, as well as their Morningstar grades:

Ticker / 5-year Sales Growth / Net Profit Margin / PEG / ROE / ROA / On-Balance Volume Index / Morningstar Grades (Growth/Profitability/Financial Health)

AIR - (2.62%) - 2.60% - 0.74 - 7.60% - 3.20% - 246 - (C C D+)
FOSL - 16.22% - 8.80% - 0.94 - 16.70% - 11.90% - 163 - (A A A)
HUM - 6.12% - 2.10% - 1.22 - 13.00% - 4.70% - 271 - (C B+ B)
VIVO - 10.73% - 13.50% - 2.35 - 23.40% - 14.70% - 162 - (B B+ A)

The numbers for AIR, in light of its competition, do not look good, as reflected in Morningstar's grades. Apart from its low PEG and Wall Street's keeness for the stock, I'm not impressed. Looking at the industry peers of AIR, complied by Morningstar, I am drawn to Ceradyne (CRDN) with its grades of A+, A, B- as well as its low PEG of 0.5 and high ROE/ROA of 28.4%/12.4%. The markets are noticing CRDN, too, as its on-balance volume index is 147. Less noticed is Flir Systems (FLIR), with similar ROE/ROA numbers to CRDN, but a higher PEG of 1.08, and a lower on-balance volume index of 52.

FOSL looks solid. One industry peer with gaudy ROE/ROA numbers, as well as "triple A" grades, is Forward Industries (FORD).

United Healthcare (UNH) looks more attractive numbers and grade-wise than HUM.

Biosite (BSTE) and Diagnostic Products (DP) receive better grades than VIVO, and have PEG ratios close to 1.0. But their on-balance volume numbers are low, so they aren't momentum plays right now.

So what are we left with for further investigation? The original four stocks spit out by the stock screen (AIR, FOSL, HUM, VIVO) have morphed into something almost completely different. AIR has been replaced by CRDN and FLIR. FOSL is joined by FORD. HUM disappears into the ether, while VIVO lives.

Do I still have a list of momentum plays, or did I create more of a stock salad with these switches? Using some rudimentary technical analysis, and a quick look at stockcharts.com, CRDN and VIVO are clearly on the upward trajectory. FOSL and FORD are also on the rebound after some serious hemorrhaging of investor cash in late '05. FLIR has momentum--the negative kind.

14 January 2006

Does the recent dip mean a good time to buy BBBY?

Sorry for the blog hiatus to any remaining readers. I blame the holidays, the flu, and changes at work for my lack of posts. But I was also lacking in inspiration.

As the lethargy and phlegm remnants of the flu fade, I'm feeling the investing juices flowing again. And I'm a mere $300 in savings away from starting my long-awaited portfolio, so let's check out a potential first purchase...

Does the recent hit to Bed Bath & Beyond's stock mean that I should look to pick up some BBBY soon?

Let's take the familiar quick look at SmartMoney competition numbers, as well as Morningstar's grades:

5-year Sales Growth / 5-year Earnings Growth / Net Profit Margin / PEG / ROE / ROA /(Morningstar Growth, Profitability, Financial Health Grades)

Bed Bath & Beyond - BBBY
19.06% - 26.64% - 9.90% - 1.14 - 23.00% - 16.00% (A- A+ A+)

Linens 'n Things - LIN
11.86% - (4.44%) - 1.30% - 2.84 - 4.10% - 2.10% (C+ B- B+)

Willams-Sonoma - WSM
13.76% - 29.50% - 6.10% - 1.29 - 20.70% - 11.90% (B+ A A)

Restoration Hardware - RSTO
9.79% - n/a - 0.20% - 2.97 - 1.00% - 0.40% (B D F)

I buy into the theory that a great time to buy stocks of solid companies is right after a market sell-off. I've previously discussed my awkward acronym on the blog, BNBNRBN, i.e. bad news but not really bad news. Usually, the Movers & Shakers column at MarketWatch.com tips me off on stocks that tank, as well as those that make big moves, stocks that I would otherwise have missed.

After a quick look at BBBY's numbers and its competition, it's clear to me that BBBY is a prosperous and profitable company that had an earnings shortfall that disappointed Wall Street. The numbers still look good to me, with only Williams-Sonoma coming close. However, WSM the stock is not currently on sale like BBBY. The value investor in me likes a discount, much like my wife and I enjoy taking advantage of Bed Bath & Beyond coupons (Note to readers: save expired BBBY coupons, as well as their competitors, since in my experience, they honor them with no fuss. Quite a consumer-friendly business move on their part.)

Looking at the moving averages on the chart atop this post, I will buy some shares of BBBY if the stock stays below $40 by the time I'm ready to purchase. Otherwise, I think I will wait until another BNBNRBN opportunity comes along.