The house rules are simple in this weekly column.
- I bash a stock that I think is heading lower.
- I offset the sting by recommending three stocks as portfolio replacements.
Who gets tossed out this week? Come on down, YRC Worldwide (Nasdaq: YRCW ) .
More mud than flap
We may be at the end of the road for YRC. The heavily traded shares of the trucker specializing in less-than-truckload shipments are down to a buck and change today, but investors may want to think twice about catching this falling jackknife.
YRC is bracing its investors for a possible bankruptcy filing, making Nil City the likely final destination for the company's speculative shares.
It didn't seem that way just a few months ago. YRC appeared to be striking a tentative agreement with the Teamsters and FedEx's (NYSE: FDX ) move to combine its freight businesses back in September was cheered by investors as a precursor to nix the cutthroat pricing that had been plaguing the less-than-truckload shippers.
The euphoria didn't last long.
In its 10-K filing this week, YRC warns that it has missed its deadline to gain approval for its restructuring plan from some pension funds. It's easy to see why major investors are nervous. The restructuring plan entails some heavy dilution.
Is that really worse than a bankruptcy filing that will likely wipe out all equity investors and return pocket change on the dollar -- if that -- to its creditors?
We've seen General Motors and Six Flags successfully emerge from bankruptcy reorganization last year. If consumer-facing companies can dust themselves off in the rebirthing process with less baggage and healthier balance sheets, YRC itself should have no problem in continuing to keep trucking despite the potential filing.
Equity investors are the ones that would pay the stiffest price, as their stock certificates get canceled with little chance in getting anything back beyond a tax loss write off. YRC's stock may be at its cheapest split-adjusted level in ages, but it's never been more risky.
Step aside unless you've got the nerves of a riverboat gambler.
As I do every week, I don't talk down a stock unless I have three alternatives that I believe will outperform the company getting the heave-ho. I typically go with related companies, but this time I'll address YRC's 1-for-25 reverse split last year. The trucker's plunge since the zero-sum maneuver to retain its exchange listing is going to give reverse stock splits a bad name, but it's not like that. A reverse split is only as good as the quality of the company swapping out a set number of shares for a single share at a multiplied price. My three fill-ins this week will be companies that declared reverse splits and lived to tell the tale.
- priceline.com (Nasdaq: PCLN ) : The high-flying travel portal wasn't exactly taking off after the dot-com bubble popped. Taking its "name your price" mantra to heart, Priceline declared a 1-for-6 reverse split eight years ago. The website operator's been trading comfortably in the triple digits for a while now, fueled by its enviable streak of topping Wall Street's profit targets in each of the past 19 quarters.
- Coeur d'Alene Mines (NYSE: CDE ) : The silver mining specialist with a few interests in gold went in for a 1-for-10 reverse split when its stock was at $1.40 nearly two years ago. The split-adjusted shares have gone on to more than double with the stock trading just above $30 these days. Coeur is coming off a blowout quarter, and last month raised its 2011 production targets.
- Biglari Holdings (NYSE: BHI ) : CEO Sardar Biglari took some heat when the Steak 'n Shake owner declared a reverse stock split. Why would a company that's already trading in the double digits go for a 1-for-20 reverse? I dismissed it as little more than Warren Buffett envy, and it may be right since Biglari is angling for another reverse split even though the stock is trading comfortably in the triple digits. It's just skin art for the ego. What matters here is bottom-line performance, and Biglari has come through with market-thumping results for three consecutive quarters.
I'm sorry, YRC. Maybe I'll warm up to the more shareholder-friendly version that emerges from the bankruptcy wreckage.