Eleven billion miles? Are you kidding me?
It has to be the most sobering statistic related to the spike in gasoline prices. The Department of Transportation reported this morning that Americans covered 4.3% fewer miles -- which equals 11 billion -- on the country's roads in March than they did a year earlier.
If you've noticed a little more elbow room within the gridlock, you can thank a gas pump, apparently.
As an investor, let's think about this reasonably. Where are the investing opportunities? It really isn't so hard to fish them out. If fuel prices keep going up -- and they will -- who will thrive from a nation of homebodies?
I've got a few names.
Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX ) : The movie rental giant is an obvious winner. It has 8.2 million subscribers enjoying DVD rentals without having to step out much beyond their front porch. Conventional video stores like Blockbuster (NYSE: BBI ) should do OK, but Netflix is the place to be for those who want to save the round-trip treks to rent and return new releases.
Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN ) : If heading out to the strip mall for a movie is a challenge, it's going to be even harder to work up the nerve to hit the local shopping mall. Yes, there will be more room in the parking lot, but why bother, when Amazon's storefront is perpetually widening? If Amazon doesn't have what you want, odds are it will soon. With free and subsidized shipping promotions, expect even the old school cynics who would never dream of online shopping to become e-tail customers.
Great Wolf Resorts (Nasdaq: WOLF ) : I wasn't surprised when the company behind the Great Wolf Lodge chain of family-friendly hotels with huge indoor water parks came through with better than expected results earlier this month. A stay isn't cheap, but the ability to park in one place for water fun, themed restaurants, and lively arcades without logging miles to go different places will be a big selling point this summer. It is why rates, occupancy, and advance bookings are up at Great Wolf.
IAC (Nasdaq: IACI ) : Barry Diller's new media company owns several intriguing properties, but it's making this list as the parent company of the Home Shopping Network. If Amazon doesn't win you over, couch potatoes will love the ability to order products from their sofas. HSN has been a slow grower in the past, but combine its programming that offers discounted merchandise with the ability to shop from home and you have a potent one-two punch in defiance of $5 gallons of gas.
Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA ) : Speaking of couch potatoes, cable providers like Comcast will be able to clean up. Consumers will spend more time at home watching TV, so they're less likely to cancel their subscriptions. The gravy here comes from pay-per-view, where folks who may not want to drive to the video store or the multiplex will simply let their digital video boxes serve them the movie they want.
Papa John's (Nasdaq: PZZA ) : Casual dining is struggling. Staying in and ordering a pizza will be a reasonable alternative. The big caveat here is that pizza chain drivers bear the brunt of higher fuel prices. Dairy prices will also hurt margins as they escalate, a given as food costs rise. In other words, this one may not be the safest of harbors, but as long as parent companies can keep franchisees happy, at least the boom in business will be there.
I singled out six names, but there are a lot more out there. Internet content providers and local amusement park operators should fare well, right? One can always argue that the gas companies are the ones making out like bandits, but they're the ones that will bear the brunt of lower miles and the country's push toward more energy-efficient cars.
Now that we have our reader comment boxes activated, scroll down to the bottom of the article to add a stock or two that you think will thrive this summer. Let's compare notes.
See! I just came up with a Memorial Day weekend activity that won't cost you a penny at the pump.