Searching for Rule Breakers

Dear Fellow Fools,

eBaynever looked cheap.

That's a perfect observation to kick off our weeklong exploration of Rule Breaker investing. Think about it: A great company and a great stock such as eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY  ) -- which has risen 16 times in value over the span of the past six and a half years, during which time the market has been flat -- was trading at price-to-earnings ratios (P/E) of 50 and more for that entire period.

That's through a hyped 1998 IPO. Through the Internet boom. Through the Internet bust. Right through to today -- even after eBay has been cut in half here in 2005. In fact, even now, following its drop from $60 to about $30 so far this year, the P/E for eBay is 52.

eBay has never looked cheap.

Yet years ago, we Rule Breakers bought and still hold shares of eBay. We bought in the face of an "overhyped" and "overpriced" stock that has gone on to multiply our money several times, even after the drop....

What would possess someone to pay 70 times earnings for a company?

And how does one actually make profits -- sometimes huge profits -- off a stock that was always so seemingly richly priced?

That's exactly what we'll be exploring with you in the week ahead. For our exploration, we'll be taking a look at eight dynamic stocks that have some of the most intense and vocal followings of any companies in today's market. Do these companies merit rabid enthusiasm? Are they true Rule Breakers? Or, in the language of our service, are they "Faker Breakers"?

A decade ago, eBay was a pure-play Rule Breaker -- one of the best, really. It was the sort of company we'd analyze, recommend, and follow within the Motley Fool Rule Breakers service. In the week ahead, we'll be explaining in more depth just what a Rule Breaker is. But I want to begin by explaining, by contrast, what a Rule Maker is.

Hey, you already know Rule Makers. As my brother Tom and I wrote in our best-selling 1999 book Rule Breakers, Rule Makers, Rule Makers are the industry dominators, the industry standards -- McDonald's (NYSE: MCD  ) , Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) , Intel (Nasdaq: INTC  ) , Federal Express (NYSE: FDX  ) -- companies so powerful that through their pricing, marketing, volume, and setting of customer expectation, they're able to make the rules in an industry.

How does anyone else compete?

Great question. Lemme ask you: How would you compete? The correct answer is to do just about anything but play by their rules. No, you'll need to break the rules. Like Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX  ) did for movie rentals, you need to reshape how business is being done, create different consumer expectations, hit 'em with a new technology or business model, whatever it takes. You break the rules.

Companies that shrewdly, effectively, and profitably break the rules, and keep it going over time, will wind up Rule Makers -- just as eBay has done. And they will make patient investors large sums of money.

Tune in all week to keep up with our educational series, which we hope will help you spot the moneymaking opportunities in some of today's most dynamic stocks. As our starting point we'll ask, simply, "Is the company a Rule Breaker?"

Hey, even better, we'll answer the question.

Fool on!

David Gardner

To check out our exploration of Rule Breaking companies, see:

Motley Fool co-founder David Gardner heads up theMotley Fool Rule Breakersnewsletter service. David owns shares of eBay, Microsoft, Netflix, Intel, and Federal Express. Check out The Motley Fool's disclosure policy here.


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