In writing for the Fool since 1995 (and "writing" is a generous term for my hacking), I've learned that no matter how strong or weak a column's argument, several people will vocally agree with it, and several will disagree. I've also learned of the need to reiterate that these columns are typically subjective -- especially when it comes to finding new investments. We invest according to our particular interest and knowledge.
Therefore, in the course of making new investment decisions, we typically leave a few dozen companies behind us, in the dust, apparently unloved... adios. In our first food and beverage study in 1998, we looked at more than 20 companies. In our oil and gas study of 1998 and '99, we looked at 16 companies. In our high-growth study, we're narrowing a list of more than fifty companies to about ten. Afterwards, that list of ten will be narrowed to one, or even none, as happened in the oil and gas study.
As we cut companies, Fools around our blue planet sometimes become unhappy when their favorites are dropped. That's understandable, especially in our current study. In past studies, every company that we considered was looked at for a good amount of time. In the current study, our initial company list was so long and many of the companies are so complex (technology-wise) that we can't possibly become experts about them all. That would take several years, literally. Plus, by then, many of the companies or technologies would have evolved.
Instead, we've been cutting based on our existing knowledge, strengths, and preferences. This is the sort of solution that Warren Buffett employs when deciding where not to invest. Using it, you can eliminate 95% of all companies immediately. You should be doing the same kind of thinking at home -- using knowledge and preference biases to cut down the original list of contenders. We now only have a handful remaining to be considered for this cut. They are:
Cree (Nasdaq: CREE)
Trex Company (NYSE: TWP)
Gemstar TV Guide Intel (Nasdaq: GMST)
Jabil Circuit (NYSE: JBL)
Solectron (NYSE: SLR)
ADC Telecommunications (Nasdaq: ADCT)
Panera Bread Co. (Nasdaq: PNRA)
Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX)
Krispy Kreme Doughnuts (Nasdaq: KREM)
Nasdaq 100 (AMEX: QQQ)
Our high-growth study is already seven months old. So, in the interest of getting to our list of finalists before our time actually runs out (in 2017), today we eliminate more contenders for subjectively meaningful reasons.
You can buy the largest companies on the Nasdaq through this index-tracking stock. Like buying the S&P 500 index fund, this is an easy, cheap, Foolish investment, and it will probably beat a majority of all managed mutual funds. You should buy the Nasdaq 100 as opposed to, or in conjunction with, the S&P 500 index if you believe that the Nasdaq will at least match, and ideally outperform, the S&P. Since 1971, the Nasdaq has topped the S&P 500 by a few percentage points per year, on average, and that adds up. (Since 1994, though, the two indices are now even. Before declining, the Nasdaq had gained 100% more than the S&P from 1994 to early 2000.)
That said, it is difficult to logically argue that the Nasdaq's giants will do better than the S&P 500 over our investment time period, and I also believe that, if we choose our new company well, we'll top the Nasdaq average. We've always believed in focused investing -- buying just a few companies we especially believe in -- and I believe this discipline will serve us better than buying a basket of monster-sized technology giants. So, we say adios to the Nasdaq 100, although for many investors it's a great vehicle.
Panera, Krispy Kreme, Starbucks
These three consumer retailers are building strong brands, but we pass on all three. One of our investment criterion is, essentially, profit margins of more than 20%. All three of these companies have net profit margins near 5%. Starbucks is the only company with a double-digit operating margin.
In addition to this, it is difficult for a restaurant such as Panera to maintain lasting relevance. The latest, greatest restaurant ideas come and go faster than fashion: Rainforest Cafe, Applebee's, Planet Hollywood. Panera will be challenged to remain highly relevant for the next 16 years. And by selling doughnuts, Krispy Kreme already rings "low" on the high-relevance meter.
Finally, the one company with promising international potential already has international success: Starbucks. It's a great company that is built to last (and is owned by us in the Rule Breaker), but it doesn't match enough of our criteria in this study, namely the financial criteria. So, that leaves six companies on the list, alongside Vince's data and optical study. We'll consider more tomorrow. To discuss this column, and to disagree with me, please post on the Drip Companies board.
Jeff Fischer wonders why it's so easy to remember bad things like Reagan being shot and the space shuttle disaster, but it's so difficult to remember good things like an amazing sunset, your favorite meal ever, or being abducted by aliens. He doesn't own any stocks mentioned in this column. The Fool is investors writing for investors.