Stock Predictions for 2006

Five new market calls for the year ahead.

Rick Munarriz
Rick Munarriz
Jan 18, 2006 at 12:00AM

Do prognosticators deserve second chances? Last year, I made five outlandish market predictions. I'm proud to have nailed two of them, and I'm looking good on a third, but I totally blew it on the other two.

I told myself to stop. I even hawked my crystal ball at a local pawnshop. Yet here I am, ready to dish out a new batch of stock-specific calls for 2006. Some of the calls may sound insane. However, I should point out that my two craziest calls last time were the ones that proved to be spot-on.

Let's begin.

1. Shares of Google will fall in 2006
No, I don't think Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) will completely crater in 2006. However, it will face a more competitive landscape as MSN and Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) get serious about growing their paid-search businesses. This doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing, though. Google does what it does better than anyone else, and it will likely continue to do so. However, if visible and viable alternatives drive keyword-based ad prices lower, Google will feel the pinch.

Since going public in the summer of 2004, Google has made a sport out of outsmarting analysts. It's created the ultimate irony in that Wall Street didn't want to buy into Google when it went public at $85, but now that the stock trades five times higher that that, bears are hard to come by. The humbled market mavens have responded with higher price targets, but gravity always seems to be just a disappointing quarter away.

2. XM will regain the lead in new net subscribers over Sirius
One of my five predictions last January was that Sirius Satellite Radio (NASDAQ:SIRI) would overtake XM Satellite Radio (NASDAQ:XMSR) in net quarterly additions by the fourth quarter of 2005. I was right. Now, I'm going to take that one step further by calling for XM to regain the baton during the second and third quarters of 2006 -- I am giving the nod to Sirius for the current quarter.

The fourth quarter will be up for grabs unless XM manages to ink the mega-celebrity kind of deal that made Sirius a legitimate contender when it brought in two media giants: Howard Stern behind the mike, and radio-programming guru Mel Karmazin behind the CEO desk. That leads to my third prediction of the year.

3. Both XM and Sirius will close out 2006 at higher prices
I don't think there are two companies more misunderstood than XM and Sirius. Even though the companies now combine for more than 9 million listeners paying for audio content, most sane analysts will tell you that the companies' valuations are as stratospheric as some of their satellites.

Wall Street sees two companies with iffy balance sheets, gobs of share dilution, and mounting losses, and it can't fathom why XM and Sirius would be willing to pay so much to acquire radio listeners who shell out a mere $12.95 a month. I'm not sure why the Street can't take the logical step of figuring out what these companies will look like in the future. Just as your cable bills creep higher every year, XM and Sirius will likely be charging more in the future. Tack on premium offerings and next-generation receivers that will blow the earnings potential through the roof -- by allowing for everything from digital downloads to immediate responses to sponsored pitches -- and I really believe that in five to 10 years, a lot of the bears will be licking their self-inflicted wounds for missing this obvious play into a promising duopoly.

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XM was recommended to Rule Breakers newsletter service subscribers last year, and I see both stocks appreciating in 2006 as the market begins to pay more attention to the road ahead and less to the rearview mirror.

4. TiVo will bounce back
This is the one incomplete grade in my last batch of predictions, and I'm not willing to settle for gray areas when it comes to Stock Advisor recommendation TiVo (NASDAQ:TIVO). I'm expecting TiVo shares to bounce back dramatically, possibly even into the double digits.

It's been pretty rough for the company since it lost DirecTV as a workhorse subscriber retriever. After that, TiVo shot itself in the foot when it decided to rededicate itself to the margin sludge on the hardware side. The company was also noticeably quiet at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this month in Vegas, when everybody else was hyping digital delivery of video.

I still believe that TiVo -- rich in brand, patents, and daydreams -- will find a way to matter in a form that investors will find attractive. Cool companies never die without a fight.

5. Six Flags will be one of the top stocks of 2006
With shares of Six Flags (NYSE:PKS) trading in the double digits for the first time in nearly four years, the market seems to be willing to give Dan Snyder and ESPN prodigy Mark Shapiro better than a fighting chance to turn the regional amusement-park operator around.

The stock may have tripled since bottoming out last year, but that doesn't mean the value of the company has tripled. This is an important distinction to make. Because the company's balance sheet is packing $2.1 billion in debt, the enterprise value of Six Flags has actually risen by just a little better than 50% to $3.5 billion. That's the beauty of leverage in a turnaround situation: The stock can double here in 2006, growing sixfold in two years, yet the company's enterprise value will have only doubled in that time.

Shapiro has his work cut out for him. Six Flags was able to grow attendance nicely in 2005, but now it's up to the new blood to keep the crowds coming back and giving them compelling reasons to spend more money once they're in.

A full 54% of the company's revenue is derived from admissions. Compare that with regional rival Cedar Fair (NYSE:FUN), which generates just 51% of its top line off admission tickets, and you can see the potential for Six Flags to grow its per-capita income. Can Six Flags get people to buy more souvenirs? Can it get guests to eat more? Can it create entertainment districts and build out adjacent resorts? I think so. With time and the right management team in place, the market may come to think so, too. It has to be careful, though. Improving customer service and marquee ride uptime while upgrading in-park concessions and entertainment is often easier said than done.

Five for the road, a dozen more to go
Don't worry. As I did earlier this month, I will be back next year to own up to my predictions. Hopefully, we'll both learn a little something along the way. However, if you prefer to dig into stock ideas for the year ahead that wear more than just a paragraph or two as a market-moving thesis, you still have time to snag an e-copy of Stocks 2006.

That's our annual premium research publication, this year featuring a dozen great stock ideas poised to deliver market-thumping gains in 2006. I predict that you may want to pick that up, though first I'd better go see whether I can go get that crystal ball back from the pawnshop.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz doesn't mind laying it on the line. His goggles are coated with Teflon. He owns units in Cedar Fair. The Fool has a disclosure policy. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.