In the words of that giant among bears, Winnie the Pooh, "Oh, bother."
I've done this Duel before, folks. I know how it will end.
Barely two months ago, I argued the bear case against java jockey Starbucks
So I'm under no illusions as to how today's duel will work out. Once again, I've got a hot stock in the opposing corner: Amazon.com
Basically, Amazon looks like a shoo-in.
"Eppur si muove"
If I might crib from yet another hero of mine, Galileo Galilei: "And yet, it does move." Although a mere uncanonized scientist, Galileo deserves to be the patron saint of logical arguments lost. Despite having proven conclusively that the earth revolves around the sun, when threatened with being branded a heretic, he recanted, then (apocryphally) recanted his recantation under his breath.
So while I'll save you all the trouble of voting, and concede defeat at the outset, the fact of the matter remains: Amazon.com is way overpriced. You shouldn't buy it. And here's why:
The science of stock picking
My opponent in today's Duel, Rick Munarriz, will tell you all about Amazon.com -- the business. How it dominates the field of e-commerce. How it's beaten off inroads from rival Overstock.com
And he'll be right on every last one of those points. Amazon is a great company, no doubt about it. But the price that Mr. Market asks you to pay to own this great business is just too darn high.
Amazon generated $475 million in free cash flow over the past 12 months (a bit less than it reported as "income" under generally accepted accounting principles). At its current price of $44 and change, that works out to nearly 39 times free cash flow. Yet the company's projected five-year forward growth rate is just 21%, and return on equity cannot be calculated because of accumulated losses. As a general rule, value investors (like yours Fool-y) consider a company to be attractively priced when its price-to-free-cash-flow ratio falls below either its return on equity (ROE) or its projected growth rate -- and preferably both. In Amazon's case, however, it does neither.
For more traditional investors, who prefer to use the old PEG ratio (P/E divided by growth) as their measuring stick, the picture doesn't improve a whole lot. With a 37 P/E and growth projected at, again, 21%, the company scores a 1.8 PEG -- way overpriced.
But couldn't the analysts be wrong?
Indeed they could. Their growth projections have been off in the past. But again, this doesn't help Amazon's case. In three of the past four quarters, analysts have projected Amazon to grow at "X"... and Amazon tripped over the bar each time. On average, Amazon underperformed analyst expectations by a full 13% over the past year. So if anything, Wall Street is being too generous in predicting that Amazon can grow at a 21% rate over the next five years.
There's a reason Amazon has grown in value only 4% over the past year, people. A reason it has underperformed in the S&P for 52 weeks straight. Good as Amazon's business is, the shares are simply overpriced. By all means, buy this great business -- but not now. Wait until its shares have descended from the stratosphere.
Wait! You're not done. This is just a quarter of the Duel! Don't miss the Bull opening argument and the Bull and Bear rebuttals. Even when you're done, you're still not done. You can vote and let us know who you think won this Duel.
Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of, nor is he short, any company named above. If he did (or was), The Motley Fool would require him to tell you so. We're sticklers about things like that.