Look Who's Buying Dell!

Let's get this out of the way up front. What I mean by that headline is that Motley Fool co-founder David Gardner will buy a new Dell (Nasdaq: DELL  ) PC after Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) ships its Vista operating system next year.

He believes he will be one of thousands who feel similarly. That's why he's rated the stock to outperform the S&P 500 in Motley Fool CAPS, our new service that ranks players by their ability to predict the price movements of the stocks they follow versus the performance of the S&P 500. Of the more than 4,800 players participating in CAPS as of this writing, 637 have an opinion on Dell.

Praising Dell
But it's David's "pitch" -- a brief investing thesis that accompanies the pick -- that is the most popular among CAPS community members. Allow me to share:

The stock is down 50% over the past year vs. a flat S&P 500. This is an evergreen type of stock; in my parlance, that's one that you should tend to add to as it drops. Look at that balance sheet -- despite the sell-off, Dell remains financially very strong ... As I called Merck to bounce back in the face of negative sentiment, that's my feeling about Dell now, too.

Others are keen on Dell because of valuation, including a CAPS player named fool2besomeday. His is the second highest-rated Dell pitch:

Despite the fact that the consumer is waiting for Vista, Dell has been able to generate nearly $4 billion in free cash flow. Think about that for a minute. When you run that number through a [discounted cash flow] model with a modest 11.5% growth rate, an intrinsic value of nearly $30 can be found. Factor in the current share price, and you are talking about a mega cap trading with a 25-30% margin of safety.

Raging Dell
Such numbers have created hundreds of CAPS players -- 443, to be precise -- who are bullish on Dell. That leaves a minority who believe Dell's stock isn't worth buying. Count me among that den of bears. Here's my pitch:

This strikes me as a classic value trap. Certainly Vista is a short-term catalyst, but what comes after that? Sure, Dell has plenty of cash. And there's no doubt that it still has a very efficient and lean manufacturing operation. But, really, where's the long-term advantage? Price? See Lenovo. Notebooks? See Lenovo again. ... No company in the history of the stock market has ever cut its way to outperformance, but that's exactly what Dell is trying to do. Color me skeptical.

And I'm not the only one. Player CheesyPoofs writes:

All Dell [has] going for [it] is low pricing. Unfortunately, competitors can match and often beat them. HP is killing them in the enterprise space, and Sun just nudged Dell into 4th position for business server sales. ... Dell is spending cash reserves in an attempt to prop up the stock price while insiders cash in their options. Dell's executives are leaving for Lenovo. The market is in denial about the poor shape that Dell is in. This stock is set to implode.

Open-source dueling
Fools often disagree. That's why I think of CAPS as the world's largest and most interactive stage for Dueling Fools, our weekly feature that pits Fool vs. Fool in an attempt to educate you, our readers, about all aspects of a stock you may be considering. Just yesterday, Ryan Fuhrmann and Seth Jayson dueled over Home Depot (NYSE: HD  ) , for example.

CAPS goes further by taking the Dueling Fools idea open-source. Varying bullish and bearish ideas mix to create a collective Foolishness that leads to star ratings on thousands of stocks. And, like eBay, as more players enter ratings and post pitches, the value of the service grows.

How can this benefit you, the investor? Think of it as a vetting tool. Want to know what the current thinking is on a stock? Go to CAPS and see how many bulls and bears a stock has. At the very least, the varied debate may serve as a welcome distraction from otherwise dry and numbers-laden analyst reports, which too often say nothing worthwhile. (Seriously, what does "market perform" mean anyway?)

Earn your Fool cap!
So, who's right when it comes to Dell? David? Me? You? Get in the game now, and tell us what you think. Or if Dell doesn't strike your fancy, Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ  ) , Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) , and Sirius Satellite Radio (Nasdaq: SIRI  ) are also among the most discussed stocks in CAPS right now. Ready to earn your Fool cap? Click here to get started.

Dell, Home Depot, and Microsoft are all Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations. Johnson & Johnson is a Motley Fool Income Investor pick, while Merck is a former selection of that service. Dell and eBay are Motley Fool Stock Advisor selections.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers has 32 picks in his CAPS portfolio, including Gateway (NYSE: GTW  ) , which he believes is a wonderful short candidate. Think he's wrong? Get in the game and add your own rating. Tim didn't own shares of any of the companies mentioned in this story at the time of publication. Get the skinny on all of Tim's stock holdings by checking his Fool profile. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy always beats the average.

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