Ever get the feeling you're going in circles?
Three months ago, I began to chronicle my battle to get out of the gutter in Motley Fool CAPS, the stock-picking community experience where you can join your fellow investors in sharing stock ideas.
I didn't stack up very well in the simulation. When I started this weekly diary, I had a rating of 0.55, meaning that my individual picks were doing worse than 99.45% of the players. After three months of more twists and turns than an episode of Soul Train, I find myself essentially back where I started, losing out to 99.49% of you with my 0.51 rating.
This is either embarrassing for me, or a tribute to how good the tens of thousands of you CAPS participants are. OK, it's probably both.
Here's how my ratings have clocked in over the past few weeks:
As I have every week, let's go over some of my recent picks and pans.
Making moves and taking names
I've been pruning more than picking in recent weeks, so I decided to go in a new direction. I'm adding six new calls today, and they're all reporting earnings next week. I'm going long on four of them and betting against the other two.
Let's get to the bearish calls first. Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX ) hit a new high yesterday. It reports earnings on Monday. Expectations are high, especially after the company raised its guidance targets two months ago. I've been a satisfied shareholder and subscriber since 2002. The company's only real threat in its mail-order DVD rentals niche -- Blockbuster (NYSE: BBI ) -- is moving back gradually toward real-world retail. Home-delivered flicks sound great these days when gasoline prices make leaving the home a costly call.
So why did I just peg Netflix as losing to the market over the next few weeks? I've learned that when the skies are clear, it's a good time to worry. The company's revised guidance also upped every target except for actual net income.
I'm guessing that costs related to its digital-streaming program may eat into margins. With the stock so buoyant, anything other than a blowout quarter on Monday should lead to a dip on Tuesday. I'm definitely not selling my own shares or canceling my subscription. I'm a long-term bull there when it comes to Netflix. I just think that more can go wrong than right next week.
My other bearish pick is Stamps.com (Nasdaq: STMP ) . The company had a good run with its PhotoStamps, stamps that feature personalized photographs. Unfortunately, there are too many companies diving into this niche.
PhotoStamps revenue fell a sharp 19% during its most recent quarter, and that's the telltale holiday season. This finds Stamps.com promoting its flagship PC postage service, but it's spending way too much on marketing the service with nominal growth in return. Its cash-blessed balance sheet will keep it from coming completely undone, but I don't see a good quarter out of the company next week.
Things can only get better
A few companies will come through with flying colors next week. Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN ) is a stock that is trading well off last year's highs but is still fundamentally sound. Despite its stocky frame, sales growth has actually accelerated over the past two years. You have to go all the way back to the second quarter of 2006 to find the last time that Amazon fell short in meeting or exceeding Wall Street's guesstimates. Recent share repurchase and debt payoff initiatives should also help, if executed.
I also hopped back on the Build-A-Bear Workshop (NYSE: BBW ) bandwagon. Oh, I know it's a mess. Comps are falling as fickle kids have tired of the pricey stuffed-bear birthing process. Last year's quest for strategic alternatives was a round trip to nowhere. I don't see a good quarter at all. So why the near-term bullish call? Well, all of that is already priced into the battered stock. The company is finally coming around with an online community to ape the successful Webkinz, and that could be a catalyst.
My other two bullish calls were to go with Janus (NYSE: JNS ) and T. Rowe Price (Nasdaq: TROW ) heading into next week's earnings reports. Mutual fund companies have held up better than the rest of the financial services minefields. With yield-chasing investors seeking alternatives to plummeting money market rates, I can see both companies attracting new assets to their quality no-load funds.
What will I do next? You're welcome to follow along on my CAPS page to see how I'm doing before next week's update.
Another thing you may want to do is to give Motley Fool CAPS a shot. The moment you start, you'll be way ahead of me. But I'm not going to stop fighting just because there's one more person at the front of the line.
In fact, I won't rest until my rating grows respectable. See you there!