I'm a fan of office humor.
I read Dilbert daily. I watch The Office weekly. I never miss a chance to watch Office Space.
Office supplies? That's another story. Between corporate slowdowns and the emergence of online communication and cloud-computing solutions, it's hard to get excited about retailers pushing file folders, fax cartridges, and high-end computers.
Don't let my workspace pessimism kid you. As I do every week, I don't throw a stock out unless I have three related stocks that I think will actually beat the market.
Who gets tossed out this week? Come on down, Office Depot
About that cover sheet on the TPS report
The stock has shed more than half of its value already this year. It is trading almost 98% below its all-time high three years ago.
I hear you, opportunistic vulture. My only point is that the starting line is irrelevant when it's always a 100% drop down to zero.
Yes, I think Office Depot's days are numbered.
According to Yahoo! Finance, there isn't a single analyst that sees the company returning to profitability in 2009 or 2010, and this long dry spell of fading comps and store closures can be disastrous for a leveraged company when the finish line is so far away.
The company posted a charge-laden loss of $1.5 billion in its latest quarter, with sales taking a 15% dive. Given the deluge of pink slips this year, companies aren't anxious to ramp up spending anytime soon.
Unfortunately for Office Depot, it's not just a matter of waiting for the economy to bounce back. Corporate America has changed. Email and online signatures are freeing up paper and ink consumption. Cloud-computing solutions that do everything from store archival files to perform enterprise software tasks make it less important to upgrade technology products. It's all about simply having a reliable Internet connection.
Office Depot is also starting to take on a Circuit City bent, and not just because the two chains don similar uniform colors.
A shocking story began circling around the blogosphere earlier this month, accusing the chain of writing up employees who aren't attaching a certain percentage of costly warranty plans or service enhancements to hardware purchases. This wouldn't seem to be noteworthy even if true, except that the blogs then accuse Office Depot employees of feeling out potential laptop buyers to see if they're likely to pay up for extra services. If not, the blogs say, the employees falsely tell customers that the item is out of stock, so that they won't get dinged for selling it without the accompanying premium package.
Where's the public denial? Where's the admission and vocal shift in policy? Absent either of these responses, Office Depot's already sluggish store traffic is going to deteriorate. Desperation rarely ends well.
As I do every week, I don't talk down a stock unless I have three alternatives that I believe will outperform the company getting the heave-ho. Let's go over the three fill-ins.
(NASDAQ:SPLS)-- If Office Depot is Circuit City, then Staples is Best Buy (NYSE:BBY). As the category leader, Office Depot in retreat will mean market share gains for Staples. Yes, the pie may shrink for the many reasons that I outlined, but Staples will be able to take a thicker slice in the future. In the meantime, Staples is profitable and in a better position than Office Max (NYSE:OMX)to make the most of any continued deterioration in Office Depot and smaller chains that may go under this year.
(NYSE:CRM)-- Enterprise software used to involve installing new versions across a company's fleet of computers. This was a winner for everyone, except for the company itself. Software makers responded to new operating systems that required beefier PC specs, forcing enterprises to upgrade all around. Cloud computing changes that. As long as salesforce's 55,400 customers -- and counting -- have an online connection, all of the upgrading is done on salesforce's end of its server-stored solutions. No Corporate America recession is evident at salesforce, where its subscriber base has grown by 36% over the past year, with earnings expanding even faster. Cloud-computing heavies like salesforce and NetSuite (NYSE:N)will continue to reshape the workspace, and that's bad news for PC makers and retailers.
(NASDAQ:AMZN)-- Everywhere Office Depot turns, it has to feel the warm breath of Amazon on its neck. It all started in 2002, when Office Depot brokered a deal to sell its wares through Amazon's proven interface. It was a great partnership at the time, but now Amazon is selling a ton of its own office products. With great prices and its prime membership program offering subsidized shipping, Amazon can be a fierce competitor. It doesn't end there, of course. Amazon Web Services is a cloud-computing juggernaut. It's also making major headway in the digital delivery of all media, including software.
So consider yourself warned about Office Depot. If I can borrow from Office Space, don't come to me with your "O face" when the recent rally fizzles and reality kicks in.
Other headlines out of the weekly trash can:
Do you like my substitutions? Would you rather stick it out with Office Depot? Are there other stocks I should look at in future editions of this column? Let me have it in the comments box below.
Best Buy is a Motley Fool Inside Value selection. salesforce.com is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation. Amazon.com, Best Buy, and Staples are Motley Fool Stock Advisor selections. Try any of these Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. The Fool owns shares of Best Buy.
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz wonders why trees aren't rooting for cloud computing. He does not own shares in any of the stocks in this story. Rick 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.