It's that time of year again. America is ready to rediscover its love for pigskin. Naturally, I'm not talking about some Bacon Eaters Anonymous reunion or the county fair's pork rind festival. I'm talking football. One hundred yards of marked up turf, anchored by end zones in which goal posts sprout up like skyward-pointing prongs.
As investors, the game can serve as a metaphor to so many things. From well-formulated game plans to offensive and defensive stances, it's a wonderful sport this market is. All the due diligence in the world might still find you on the wrong side of the play. Getting flagged for being off sides will cost you, and probable a lot more than a fiver.
But more than many spectator sporting events, football is a team sport. It's a collection of players with specialties and unique strengths. United in drive and purpose, it can be an undeniable force of forward momentum. So, take a look at your own portfolio. Dole out jerseys and find out which stock serves what purpose. Just to get you started, here is my take at our Rule Breaker roster.
AOL Time Warner (NYSE: AOL), Center. Dating back to our 1994 roots, America Online has been our cornerstone holding. In the smack-dab middle of the trench, a center is the first player to touch the ball. Has AOL fumbled a few snaps along the way? Sure. Last year's announced merger with Time Warner was not exactly well-received around here. Is the company over-promising on the financials front? Jeff and I tackled that issue among others in a Dueling Fools segment last month. Still, it is there, in the middle of the field. It's grasping the ball while surveying the field ahead.
Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN), Fullback. That's a mighty heavy load that the e-tail bellwether is carrying. With the $2 billion debt monkey on its back and its status as the alleged shoo-in favorite at the office death pool, it isn't easy being Amazon.
While I have always been critical of Amazon, I've changed my tune recently. It's not just because I want to be colored contrarian, nor am I allured by a brand so omnipresent now trading in the single-digits. That helps, naturally, but just as it was relatively easy to see how the low barrier to entry would create cutthroat competition from any upstart with money to burn could be harmful to Amazon in the past, where are we today? Venture capital is nowhere to be found for e-tailers. We're back to the two original expectations of the online shopping experience: convenience and great prices. It was never logical for users to expect to pay less for more simplicity, or for a company to sell at thinner margins despite the wider selection.
Where is tomorrow heading? More convenient? Absolutely. From faster connections to interface enhancements it's a safe bet that e-commerce is going to get even easier. That drive to the mall? Sorry. Traffic trends don't look all that promising, and finding a parking space isn't going to get any easier. But what about online prices? There are fewer alternatives now and no one is subsidizing the cost bleeders. The day when cybershoppers will expect to pay retail prices, if not a slight premium, is looming closer than you think. It's what will save the Amazon and stampede it into the black.
Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX), Cornerback. Isn't there a Starbucks on every corner by now? No. I'm just teasing. They've still missed a few. But, on the same bent as Amazon one day being able to command a premium for its convenience, here is a company that was able to charge a king's ransom for bean water and the lines aren't getting any shorter. The company has gone on to successfully invade your fridge and freezer, too. Celebrating its 30th anniversary now with more than 4500 locations worldwide, it has java-fueled speedy expansion without ever losing sight of store-level quality. While it might seem like all the best real estate has already been Starbucksed, the numbers tell otherwise. After all, McDonald's (NYSE: MCD) is up to 28,000 global burger eateries in its first 45 years.
Amgen (Nasdaq: AMGN), Right Guard. As the leader in the biopharmaceuticals space, Amgen has done more than pave the way for what is now about 300 different publicly traded biotech companies. With its one-two punch of Epogen and Neupogen, it validated the genre. As the father of a three-year-old who has had to battle cancer, twice, I know Neupogen all too well. Like so many out there, when you have your face pressed up against the glass, the odd names of some of these drugs become as familiar as they are necessary. Put bluntly, Amgen guards. Amgen protects. While patent cycles come down hard on the drug companies, forcing the rich pipelines or bust mentality, the quality companies won't be denied their rightful profits in keeping neo-Darwinists at bay.
Human Genome Sciences (Nasdaq: HGSI) and Celera (NYSE: CRA), Tackles. Is there anything more uplifting than the promise of genomics? The fact that we even have DNA topologists toiling away at our immune system's Holy Grail is amazing. Granted, the payoff here is much further away than the power of the story. Still, once you build the skeleton key what door can't be potentially unlocked? What can't be tackled?
eBay (Nasdsaq: EBAY), Wide Receiver. Pez dispensers. Trading cards. CDs. Who would have thought that so many people would be addicted to trading things so small? The leading online auctioneer has become society's catch-all. It has become the grown up's Napster -- the one killer site that sells the Internet, one "Buy it Now" click at a time. Stickier than double-sided duct tape, a profitable dot-com when being a profitable dot-com wasn't cool, you can't blame the hooked. With more than five million items on the block right now, odds are that eBay is there to serve as the high margin, low overhead intermediary of something you might very well be interested in.
Affymetrix (Nasdaq: AFFX), Punter. Nothing conveys failure like a punting situation. It was an opportunity missed. The offense failed. It is time to turn the ball over and get defensive. As the lone Rule Breaker short, it's been our belief that the gene chip maker's limited client base and small potential market will drive the stock lower. Being short isn't for the slow-footed. Punts get blocked. It's all a part of the game.
And who do we have left to pencil in at quarterback? Who will be the one calling the shots and audiblizing at the line if things don't look just right? Who will be the one directing the gains down the field but with enough perseverance to get back up when thrown for a loss? Who? You know who. Get that helmet on, kid. The team is counting on you and your leadership!
Rick Aristotle Munarriz has been a Miami Dolphins season ticket holder since 1987. He thinks the team's offensive line problems are significant enough to prevent the Fins from repeating as AFC East division champions despite a much-improved passing game. Still, he figures they're good for a 10-6 record and a wild card spot in the playoffs. The one Rule Breaker he does own is Amazon. Rick's stock holdings can be viewed online, as can the Fool's disclosure policy.