Our survey of the Winter Olympics powerhouses continues. Next up, Sweden.
So far in our survey of the Winter Olympic contestants (or rather, their companies), we covered host country Italy and then shifted northwards to leading medal-winner Norway and its neighbor to the east, Finland.
Who have we missed? The country situated between Norway and Finland, of course: Sweden.
Sweden's not doing so hot in the medal race when it comes to quantity, but you can't beat it for quality. Both of the two medals that Sweden has won to date are golds. Likewise, its two entrants in the international investment arena bear gold-plated name tags: Volvo and Ericsson.
And with those two companies in mind, it's once again time to .
Get to know a country
Sweden offers U.S. investors several chances to invest in its economy, but so far, only two of its companies have issued American Depositary Receipts of a level high enough to qualify for a listing on U.S. stock exchanges (several others trade on the Pink Sheets). Both Volvo and Ericsson have Level II ADRs, which means that although the underlying shares were not issued specifically for the purpose of raising capital on the U.S. markets, their disclosures do suffice for NYSE listing.
Without further ado, let's take a look at Sweden's contenders.
(Level II ADR) 1 ADR = 1 Common Share
I know what you're thinking. Why is Volvo
The answer is yes and no. Yes, Ford did buy Volvo's consumer car-making arm, known as Volvo Car Corporation, in 1999. But the company Ford bought it from is still in business as a separate entity. That's the one we're looking at today: Volvo AB.
What remains of Volvo AB, sans the car division, is basically aimed at satisfying the needs of commercial-vehicle users. Volvo AB manufactures trucks, buses, construction equipment, and engines for marine, aviation, and industrial use. It cooperates with U.S.-based ArvinMeritor
Volvo AB's shares currently sell for just less than 11 times trailing earnings -- about the same as what competitor and Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation Paccar's
But with Volvo AB's long-term growth projected at just 2% compared with Paccar's 13%, Paccar looks like the better value from a growth perspective. On the other hand, Volvo AB helps to compensate its owners for lower growth expectations by paying a nicer dividend: 3.6% versus Paccar's 1.4%.
(Level II ADR) 1 ADR = 10 Common Shares
Sweden's other gold-medal candidate is nearly as well known as the ubiquitous Volvo brand. Like neighbor Nokia
Unfortunately, Ericsson has a few other similarities to Nokia. Ericsson's shares trade for 18 times earnings. But with analysts projecting just 10% annual earnings growth over the next five years, Ericsson looks to be selling for a premium unjustified by its profits.
Foolish investors would also be well advised to view Ericsson's earnings with skepticism. Judging from the firm's balance sheet, they may not be all they're cracked up to be. After reviewing the company's 2005 earnings results, I noticed that the company grew its sales by 15% year over year, but its accounts receivable increased 27% and its inventories rose 37%. When a company's growth in A/R and inventories outpaces its revenues, that can often indicate a lack of "earnings quality" -- in other words, the company may be stuffing its sales channels and producing more goods than it can sell. In that regard, it's worth pointing out that Nokia saw similar trends last year -- 17% sales growth, a 22% rise in A/R, and a 28% increase in inventories.
To wrap up, Ericsson offers its owners a 0.9% dividend yield. In comparison, Nokia's market-beating 2.5% looks better than ever.
Both of Sweden's entrants in our own Foolish version of the Winter Olympics show that just because a company bears a gold-plated name doesn't necessarily mean it's a gold-standard investment. Successful companies like Volvo and Ericsson often trade at a premium. Sometimes justifiably so, sometimes not.
For a selection of domestic and international companies that we think deserve the premiums their shares command -- or even better, that offer you great quality at a bargain price -- consider taking a trial subscription to Motley Fool Stock Advisor. Since starting the newsletter in April 2002, Tom and David Gardner have found dozens of great companies at great prices, helping their portfolio beat the S&P 500 by nearly a 3-to-1 margin over the past three years.
You can see their own personal gold medal candidates just by taking a free trial of the service. And if you decide you don't like it, you can withdraw any time -- no questions asked. You have our word on it.
Fool contributor Rich Smith owns shares of Nokia but of no other company named above.