Analysts aren't supposed to agree. It would be boring (and creepy) if they did. There always has to be a contrarian -- and there always is. After all, the market's a seesaw, and each side has plenty of willing riders. However, it's not often that you find vehement opposition between analysts over a simple point that may seem to be a foregone conclusion.
Let's illustrate what I'm talking about by looking at Bankrate
So here's the $64,000 question: Will the subprime meltdown help or hurt Bankrate?
Before you answer, let me single out where two analysts are standing.
In one corner
RBC Capital's Jordan Rohan is worried.
"Channel checks increase our level of concern about 2008, as the mortgage meltdown continues to pressure RATE's advertisers," Rohan notes.
That makes sense. What's happening now is not all that different from what we saw during the dot-com bubble, when otherwise healthy companies such as Time Warner's
Bankrate's business, naturally, depends on free-spending advertisers, and those budgets have little choice but to dry up if creditors are getting stingy.
So, are you convinced that Bankrate will tumble?
Well, not so fast.
In the other corner
Last week, Victor Anthony at Bear Stearns stepped up with an upgrade for Bankrate.
"The market has lumped Bankrate in with the housing and mortgage financing companies, who have seen their fundamentals deteriorate, rather than with the group of Internet stocks, who are benefiting from the secular shift of ad dollars to the Internet," he writes.
Ah, but of course. Lenders may not be up for throwing money at old-school media, at which ad tracking and accountability are iffy at best. Web-based campaigns, in contrast, offer both flexibility and instant performance feedback. Launching a paid-search effort through the likes of Yahoo! or Google
The value proposition gets even better with Bankrate. You don't get a better target audience. If you're pushing high-interest CDs, why waste your time in a leafy news rag when you know that no one would be querying Bankrate.com for local CD rates, unless they were in the market to open one?
Reality bears that perspective out. Spanish-language radio broadcaster Entravision
On the other hand, Bankrate came through like a champ during those same three months. Revenue grew by 28% this past quarter; its faster-growing segment was the sale of hyperlinks to financial institutions that want to stand out on the popular Bankrate listings.
This doesn't mean cyberspace is the elixir to the subprime-mortgage fiasco. After all, specialists including Popular's
Interesting times over interest
Rohan isn't convinced. His channel checks show that sponsor activity at Bankrate has deteriorated over the past 60 days. As fate would have it, that's the point where Bankrate's market-thumping quarter ended.
However, it's hard to fathom that the Bear Stearns analyst didn't step up with last week's upgrade without doing similar channel checks. You don't have to pick a side of the seesaw, but by all means, do watch the seesaw over the next few weeks.
The only thing for certain is that one of these two analysts is going to be doing a victory dance at the end of the quarter that wraps up this month. The other will be wiping egg off his face.
I'm going to side with the bullish Anthony on this one -- and not just because Bankrate is a Rule Breakers newsletter pick. It's just that Anthony raises an interesting theory on how the subprime fiasco will be Bankrate's friend.
See, as adjustable rates reset -- even with the government stepping in to keep things orderly and potentially freeze rates -- frustrated homeowners are going to shop around for attractive fixed-rate instruments. They'll want to see what's available, especially in a market where the Federal Reserve keeps easing rates.
Where will they turn to find those ever-changing rates to save their hides? That's right. Bankrate.
You can bank on this Foolishness:
Bankrate has been recommended to Motley Fool Rule Breakers newsletter-service subscribers. Yahoo! and Time Warner have made the cut for Motley Fool Stock Advisor readers. Popular is an Income Investor selection. So many stock ideas, so little time? What are you talking about? You get a free 30-day trial subscription to any of the newsletters you want to check out.
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has been known to chase yields on the Bankrate.com site from time to time. He does not own shares in any of the companies 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, and it's a brick house.