Welcome to the first-ever Motley Fool Battle Royale! Our Battle Royale features eight stocks among the top 250 of most interest to Fool readers. Those eight stocks are randomized into a standard eight-team tournament bracket and battle off against each other to see which one wins. "Winning," in this case, is winning my confidence to select one of these eight stocks as my favorite to beat the market over the next 12 months.
GONG! The tournament has begun.
Frontier Communications (NYSE: FTR ) vs. Baidu (Nasdaq: BIDU )
Frontier is a new consideration for me, while I know Baidu quite well. Frontier is an incumbent local exchange carrier, which basically means that it's a phone company serving rural customers since back before the breakup of AT&T. Baidu is, of course, the formidable, leading search company in China. I have no problem passing Baidu through to the next round. Though its share price has already more than doubled over the past year, Baidu is still just a fraction of Google's market cap with arguably a larger opportunity and the ability to piggyback on Google's innovations for the Chinese-language market. Frontier is a sleepy company with a dead-end growth opportunity whose stock has demonstrated just that over the past decade. You may get lured in by its amazing near-double-digit dividend yield -- the highest on the S&P 500 -- but what's a 9% dividend when your sales are declining year after year? Pass BAIDU to the SECOND ROUND.
Philip Morris International (NYSE: PM ) vs. Sunrise Senior Living (NYSE: SRZ )
I must begin by resisting two possible addictions: the seductive lure of nicotine as a profit-driver, and the lure of ticker symbols containing the letter Z. I know a lot of people hate cigarettes and Philip Morris, and having lost a mother and an aunt to lung cancer, I suppose I could adopt that pose. But the truth is, these are legal consumer products (as legal as alcohol and high-fructose corn syrup -- there are lots of "bad" legal things out there), and many of my fellow human beings, it turns out, regularly appreciate and buy these legal products. My task is not making your consumer or ethical decisions for you; it's deciding which of these two stocks is more likely to beat the market over the next year. Philip Morris has a 4.5% dividend yield and winning stock performance. Sunrise Senior Living, the assisted-living purveyor, has dramatically downsized in the past decade and these days is practically a penny stock. A month ago, it jumped 66% in a single day on a legal settlement. This is a tough one to call because of Sunrise's volatility. But the complete contrast in these companies' balance sheets makes Philip Morris by far the more dependable pick. Pass PHILIP MORRIS to the SECOND ROUND.
VirnetX Holding (NYSE: VHC ) vs. Veeco Instruments (Nasdaq: VECO )
Never heard of VirnetX? Neither had I. Would you be interested to know that it has gone up five times in value over the previous year? VirnetX focuses on smartphone security for 4G technology, reminding me a bit of InterDigital, a stock I have recommended for Motley Fool Stock Advisor. Like InterDigital, VirnetX spends a lot of time in court with big opponents; unlike InterDigital, it has beaten Microsoft in court over the past year, and has crushed the market. Veeco is a diversified designer and manufacturer of high-tech equipment, using the tag line "driving the tiny changes that change everything." Heard of LED lighting? Solar? Data storage? Veeco is serving solutions within all these industries and has mangled the S&P 500 over the past five years. This is by far the toughest and most interesting bracket. I like the prospects for both of these companies. But I'll choose Veeco to have a higher probability of beating the market over the next 12 months. I prefer to invest in companies winning in the marketplace by serving up solutions that please partners, as opposed to companies winning in the courtrooms by serving up lawsuits that antagonize partners. Pass VEECO INSTRUMENTS to the SECOND ROUND.
Nuance Communications (Nasdaq: NUAN ) vs. Visa (NYSE: V )
A very interesting pairing, putting the $5 billion leader in voice recognition technology up against a company that is "everywhere you want to be." As I am an active recommender of Nuance for Stock Advisor, you would think I should recuse myself from judging this contest. But this is Battle Royale, baby, and I make the rules. I really do like Nuance for the next five years and more, because the inevitable ubiquity of voice-activated technologies in our daily lives is for many already upon us. And Nuance leads. But this is a battle over just the next 12 months, and I have to be impressed with Visa's relatively simple, brainless way of making money. So I consider Visa a safer, higher-probability pick to outdo the S&P 500 over the next 12 months, despite much preferring to own Nuance for the long term. I'll take the $54 billion operator of the worldwide retail electronic network that's just now bouncing off its 52-week lows. Pass VISA to the SECOND ROUND.
Beginneth Round 2:
Baidu (BIDU) vs. Philip Morris International (PM)
OK, if we're talking straight stock-price performance, I would happily be invested in either of these companies over the next 12 months. But now I have to show my cards. My service, Motley Fool Rule Breakers, has made Baidu a core stock holding for our members, and Baidu has performed brilliantly, ringing up an 11-bagger so far since we thumbed this stock in November 2006. Did you notice I wrote "so far"? I believe Baidu will continue to be an exceptional stock, and I far prefer to be investing in a company that is promoting the spread of greater knowledge and awareness in China than a company whose products truly create, in my opinion, a darker world. It's my Battle Royale, Fools: Send BAIDU to the FINALS.
Veeco Instruments (VECO) vs. Visa (V)
This David vs. Goliath matchup features comparatively little Veeco taking on a company with a market cap nearly 40 times in excess of its own. We all know Visa. Very few of us know much of anything about Veeco. But forget brand names and sizing: Which company has best rewarded investors over the past several years? Veeco has more than doubled Visa's performance. There's something to be said for finding smaller and lesser-known companies -- call them underdogs or hidden gems -- and very frequently you can find better outperformance of the market averages. Not only that, but while I appreciate Visa's business convenience and transactional power that it has brought to the world, I definitely don't feel great about how it charges high interest rates and effectively aims to get America deeper into debt every day. Can you see where I'm going with this, with my money? Pass VEECO INSTRUMENTS to the FINALS.
And so, with six of our eight foes lying clobbered and bloodied, strewn about the arena, only two stocks are still standing ... ladies and gentlemen, we feature for you:
The Finals: Baidu (BIDU) vs. Veeco Instruments (VECO)
Part of the fun of Battle Royale is taking on whatever eight stocks get randomized from our Motley Fool database. You know you're going to learn something new every time. Before today, I had never really acquainted myself with Veeco Instruments. By contrast, Baidu continues to be one of my top 10 holdings in real life, and has greatly rewarded my patient confidence in it. All of this said, I have to pick one of these two as my Battle Royale winner. Let me say first of all that I would happily remain invested in both of these companies over the next five years. In this first-ever Battle Royale, though, in which I'm picking one stock over the next 12 months, for a variety of reasons I'm going to select Veeco Instruments. The reasons range from "nobody knows about this quiet strong performer" to Baidu having had a huge recent run to "it's more fun for me to pick a stock I knew little about." (More about that in a sec.) For this debut of The Motley Fool Battle Royale, I therefore crown VEECO INSTRUMENTS as my CHAMPION!
Veeco and I walk together out of the arena in which it has just survived: the world's most successful tobacco company, a rampaging Chinese search winner, and a fellow gladiator that has tattooed into the American mind that it is "everywhere we want to be." And as we talk over its performance for the next 12 months, I make a commitment: I commit to picking VECO right now -- in conjunction with publishing this article -- to beat the market over the next 12 months on Motley Fool CAPS. Given my 99+ CAPS rating earned patiently over the past four years, this is not a commitment I throw around lightly -- my CAPS scorecard has beaten the market 65% of the time, and by an average of 14 percentage points per pick. So Veeco, I'm committed now, and you better not do me wrong!
I will also watchlist the stock on the Motley Fool's new My Watchlist feature. I will also keep it in mind as research fodder for the two services I oversee: Stock Advisor and Rule Breakers, both of which have eviscerated the S&P 500 market average for nearly a decade. I can't say right now whether I think VECO fits the mold, whether it will pass my ultimate test and become a long-term Motley Fool recommendation.
But as the curtain closes and the cameras reel back from this Motley Fool Battle Royale, I can say with certainty one thing: Veeco is, this day, my champion.