Save your puckering. LeapFrog Enterprises
The troubled maker of electronic kid toys is in a deep funk, even if its low share price may be dangerously appealing to pond-bottom scrubbers.
Last night's fourth-quarter report offered up a few encouraging signs. Despite essentially flat net sales of $181.3 million, the company's deficit narrowed to $0.51 a share -- or an even better $0.36 a share, once you back out a non-cash charge related to a writedown of its FLY pentop computer franchise.
Gross profit margins and inventory levels improved during the period, and the company expects to grow sales and margins in 2008 as it ekes out a nominal loss for the year. So why am I not jumping for joy like a Calaveras Country frog?
I guess it's because I see the marks more than the twains.
LeapFrog remains a profitless toymaker. New rollouts like its ClickStart toy line or the new Tag reading system platform haven't been enough to offset the natural dips in its original LeapPad and Leapster franchises.
More importantly, why do I want to tie up my money in a company that's still at least a year away from profitability, when there are so many other toymakers getting it right?
Here are a few of the plaything companies more deserving of my investing dollar.
There aren't too many gray clouds around JAKKS. OK, so maybe its license for World Wrestling Entertainment
It's also doing quite well with its Hannah Montana license and in-house products like its EyeClops Bionic Eye. EyeClops was one of the biggest online sellers over the holidays, with kids enamored by the $50 toy that magnifies objects through television sets.
Kristin Graham singled out JAKKS as her Stock of the Week last week, and it's easy to see why. The company has blown past Wall Street's profit targets in five of the past six quarters, leaving humbled analysts with little choice but to raise their bottom-line estimates. JAKKS is now trading at less than 10 times forward earnings. With plenty of time to fill the eventual WWE void, it's hard not to like JAKKS' chances.
If you prefer your toymakers a little bigger, Hasbro is a screaming bargain at just 12 times earnings. Hasbro may not be growing as quickly as JAKKS, but it has a great stable of all-weather brands like Playskool kid toys, Nerf soft sports, and classic Parker Brothers board games.
Hasbro -- a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation -- also has emerged unscathed from the series of ego-deflating toy recalls that have plagued rival giant Mattel. That's important, especially if the clean Hasbro brand is gaining the trust of Mattel-shocked shoppers.
A better turnaround story than LeapFrog is RC2. Sure, the small toymaker has been hit with recalls for some of its Chinese-made toys last year. The maker of early learning toys and popular Thomas the Tank Engine railway systems is rising above it, even if investors have been slow to forgive the company.
During last month's quarterly report, RC2 guided investors to expect a profit per share from continuing operations between $2 and $2.20 before any potential recall charges. That finds RC2 also trading at less than 10 times forward earnings.
Maybe Nintendo doesn't fit the conventional definition of a toymaker, but it's hard to deny that the company behind the leading next-generation video game console (Wii) and handheld (Nintendo DS) is anything other than a toymaker.
Its competitors may have snazzier systems with better spec sheets, but Nintendo has captured the hearts and frenetic fingers of a more diversified audience than the Xbox 360 or PS3.
More importantly for Nintendo shareholders, the company owns many of its biggest sellers. It's doing more than just skimming software royalties when hit Zelda and Super Mario games come out. It's wolfing down the whole enchilada, with the ability to keep the games from popping up on rival platforms. Along with genre-widening games like Brain Age, Nintendogs, and now Wii Fit, Nintendo is making gamers out of players who never responded to an otherwise youth-powered niche.
So there you have it. Even with LeapFrog's price this low, I'd rather have my money riding on companies like JAKKS, Hasbro, RC2, and Nintendo. I see the profits. I can visualize the catalysts.
No icky frogs, just princely sums.
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz relished the way his youngest son took to his LeapPad before outgrowing it. However, he does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.