Are These Retail Underdogs Really Dogs?

Short-sellers and hedge funds may be shadowy, but sometimes they are the smartest guys in the room. They've done their homework, and they're willing to bet their capital against the crowd -- an investing strategy that can be as lucrative as it is contrarian.

On Motley Fool CAPS, we've also got leading analysts who find the chinks in a company's armor and correctly call its fall. Our "Underdogs" have earned 100 or more CAPS points by correctly predicting that one or more stocks would underperform the market. However, we're going to focus on the stocks these top members expect will outperform the market. If these CAPS investors have scored big by correctly predicting which stocks will fail, it may be worth our while to see which others they think will succeed.

Not every short sale goes as planned, making shorting a risky proposition. Stock prices can be irrational longer than you have money to stay in the game. And don't end up with fleas by lying down with these dogs until you do your homework.

Short circuiting
The world of big box electronics stores is evaporating. Circuit City got the ball rolling, and privately held Sixth Avenue Electronics followed it last year. While Best Buy (NYSE: BBY  ) doesn't seem in danger of folding just yet, the outlook for its future is pretty grim.

Repercussions from the sex scandal involving former CEO Brian Dunn are still being felt with company founder Richard Schulze stepping down following revelations he was well aware of the improper relationship. It's also had to resort to bribing company executives to stay on board, handing out lucrative bonuses for doing nothing more than showing up for work and breathing. That arrangement so angered Best Buy's compensation consultant that he quit in a huff after the company refused to tie the bonuses to any sort of performance standard.

But of course there are the operational issues. Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) is killing it, and the Christmas Day massacre that resulted in the company cancelling the orders continues to weigh heavily on performance as same-store sales tumbled more than 5% in the latest quarter. Smaller rivals like hhgregg aren't faring any better with comps dropping by a like percentage and its important video segment experiencing a near-17% plunge.

While I did note last month that Schulze wants to take Best Buy private, it really offers no hope for current shareholders, myself included. Let me know in the comments section below or on the Best Buy CAPS page if you agree this dog is just riddled with fleas.

And the dumbest
Although not on par with the ham-fisted clumsiness of Best Buy, pharmacy chain Walgreen (NYSE: WAG  ) is also adept at shooting itself in the foot, most infamously by brawling with prescription benefits manager ExpressScripts (Nasdaq: ESRX  ) .

Walgreen tried to pry a premium from the PBM for filling its prescriptions, and ExpressScripts called its bluff. It took its marbles and its customers to CVS Caremark (NYSE: CVS  ) . And just to rub it in Walgreen's face, they bought MedcoHealth too, another big Walgreen client. Uh-oh. Not a good idea.

Despite its bluster, it could retain its customers, Walgreen's latest results showed sales down 3.4% generating 10.3% less in profits. Year-to-date sales were barely ahead, but profits were off almost 8%.

Apparently Walgreen came to its senses, and the two have buried the hatchet -- and not in each other's head. Although details weren't released, they've renewed their relationship, and the PBM will start sending customers Walgreen's way again in the fall. That's no guarantee of success, though, as CVS says it expects to keep half the customers it gained from the split. Moreover, Walgreen made a pricey acquisition overseas to offset the loss of ExpressScripts' customers, which piled more on debt. Analysts doubt it will be an easy integration.

CAPS member DrGoldin thinks with the dividend Walgreen pays, and depending on how the fallout from the ExpressScripts imbroglio goes, "over the long haul they'll either outperform or seriously outperform."

I'm not sure there aren't still more headaches ahead for the pharmacy chain, but give me your view in the comments box below on what you think is the right prescription for Walgreen.

There's no need to fear...
Underdogs often shine brightest with their backs against the wall, but I think investors would be wise to sit this these out, certainly at least until Walgreen gets its act together later this year. In the meantime, I invite you discover three winning stocks with solid dividend payouts in this free report from The Motley Fool. Get instant access to this free report, while it's still available.

Fool contributor Rich Duprey owns shares of Best Buy, but he holds no other position in any company mentioned. Click here to see his holdings and a short bio. The Motley Fool owns shares of Amazon.com, Best Buy, and Express Scripts Holding. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Amazon.com, Express Scripts Holding, and hhgregg. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy

We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.


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  • Report this Comment On July 26, 2012, at 9:40 PM, DrGoldin wrote:

    Wow, I've been quoted!

    As I see it, WAG is a healthy dividend champ that has been beaten down because of its most publicized recent moves (i.e. the ExpressScripts blunder and the Boots acquisition). That means I'm getting a healthy dividend champ at a discount. And that means I'm in.

    Maybe I'll be wrong. Time will tell.

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