I may not be the biggest fan of the Olympics, but I'm all about the weird -- and I've always thought the biathlon was one of the weirdest Olympic events ever. Its roots lie in primitive cultures (substituting archery for firearms), and its dual discipline was useful in both hunting and winter warfare.
Now that the 2006 Winter Olympics are on the brain, I realized that the biathlon can be compared to investing. Although both skiing and shooting are built for speed, one is ultimately for traversing long distances, and the other is a high-speed blast skyward.
The conventional wisdom says that most stocks are either consistent, long-haul investments that make solid progress, or high-octane, high-growth names with a lot of bang for the buck. But every once in a while, you find a stock that's a little bit of both -- a Wall Street biathelete. David and Tom Gardner certainly did. This remarkable company is called Blue Nile
Skiing for the long haul
Tom Gardner looks for small-cap companies for his Motley Fool Hidden Gems service, and he considered Blue Nile especially well-positioned for the long haul. At the time, Blue Nile had a modest market cap of $550 million, making it a perfectly logical contender for Hidden Gems. Diamonds may be full of flash and glitter, but for Tom, the real sparkle was found deep in the company's financials.
Among the attractions that caught Tom's eye was what he described as a pristine balance sheet, with plenty of cash and no debt. Tom discovered that working capital management at Blue Nile was excellent; the company provides double-digit returns on assets, capital, and equity. Tom also observed that the company, only five years old and one year public, was already buying back shares.
Lots of things about Blue Nile make it a remarkably Foolish investment, including its healthy insider ownership. According to Blue Nile's recent proxy statement, founder and CEO Mark Vadon owns about 10% of the company's shares. CFO Diane Irvine and COO Robert Paquin collectively own nearly 5%. Fools like to see that kind of ownership from a company's top brass; it proves that management has a vested interest in the company's success.
Tom also found it compelling that Blue Nile was providing a service that went for the jugular of high-end diamond purveyors like Tiffany's. He observed that Blue Nile spurned ostentatious showrooms and their costly trappings for an efficient, inexpensive online presentation. Meanwhile, Blue Nile had discovered that its customers were especially loyal, with repeat purchases further boosting sales.
Given all these factors in the company's favor, Tom recognized that there was a revolution at hand.
Off like a shot
To be fair, though, before Tom recommended Blue Nile, David had chosen the stock for his Motley Fool Rule Breakers service -- a service that ferrets out high-growth investments that flout conventional wisdom and take off with a bang. His major impetus for that recommendation was Blue Nile's willingness to break all the rules by providing a service that few people considered viable. Until Blue Nile, no one thought that men would trust the Internet enough to make big-ticket jewelry purchases, in particular engagement rings, sight unseen.
Blue Nile, of course, was a pioneer in the effort. (Leading competitors like Amazon.com
Despite no shortage of competitors, Blue Nile's bet on uniting high-end diamonds and the Internet was hardly unwise. Blue Nile has increasingly benefited from consumers' increased willingness to buy pricey goods over the Internet, as well as the continued migration of Internet users to broadband connections and faster machines. Such advances make online luxury purchases not only possible, but also nearly second nature.
If there's any single reason why Blue Nile has been able to provide double-digit increases in earnings and sales, it's that the company understood an inherent truth: There are plenty of men who feel perfectly comfortable shopping on the Internet, and they enjoy the opportunity to reduce the stress that comes hand-in-hand with purchasing something as important as an engagement ring. Blue Nile doesn't just remove the middleman from the transaction; it cuts out the stress, too.
On top of all this, Blue Nile very quickly and intelligently built an Internet brand that people came to know and trust. Nice work, indeed.
Given the strong elements that led each brother to recommend this stock, I can only imagine that it will just get better from here. Blue Nile is the kind of stock to which investors can make a commitment.
There are many kinds of investors, from small-cap value miners like Tom to high-growth trend spotters like David. One way isn't necessarily better than another, and at times, two investing philosophies very well may intersect, just as they do here. A good investment is a good investment, and a solid company is a solid company.
I should mention that in its last quarterly report, Blue Nile admitted that its growth would likely slow in the coming year, because of the increasingly "frothy" expense of Internet advertising through sites like Google
However, Foolish investors can appreciate that Blue Nile is preserving its profitability by refusing to throw too much money into what it views as an overheated Internet advertising market. Given the company's successful history outlined above, it's not surprising that many investors are still bullish on Blue Nile for the long term. (It recently won the medal for Best Small Cap in one of our Winter Olympics-inspired Foolish competitions.)
As modern-day investors with different ideas of survival -- not to mention good living -- we're all hoping to hunt down long-term investment gains, and fire back at those who believe that we can't be financially independent. Ski? Shoot? Both? It's up to you, Fool.
If you're looking for small caps for the long haul, then Motley Fool Hidden Gems might be worth a look. For high growers, consider David Gardner's Motley Fool Rule Breakers service. And for a little bit of each, Motley Fool Stock Advisor offers great ideas from both strategies. Why not try a 30-day free trial to one of the services and see which approach is best for you?
Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. Costco and Amazon are Motley Fool Stock Advisor selections. The Fool has a disclosure policy.