It's time to take out the trash again. Every week, I bring up a stock that I think is ripe for a fall. After I roll it out to the curb, I come back with three other stocks that I think will beat the market. That's a fair trade, right?
This time, I'm going to play devil's advocate. My target may be one of my favorite companies, but it's not necessarily one of my favorite stocks. Who gets tossed out this week? Come on down, Google
Searching for something
I'm skeptical heading into tonight's quarterly earnings call, after highlighting several of the reasons for concern on Monday.
- Advertising is softening all over.
- Google is bumping against the market-share ceiling.
- Global markets are weak.
- Analysts have been talking down profit expectations.
- Google has missed Wall Street guesstimates in half of the past six quarters.
However, my bearish argument covers more than just what might happen tonight. After all, Apple
Even so, Google investors will surely ask what the company will do for an encore, and that's where things get dicey. Google has been dismantling several projects, lately. I have no problem with extinguishing initiatives that aren't bearing fruit, but with online advertising still making up the lion's share of Google's business, this company's crying out for diversification. What happens to Google the day that folks stop clicking on ads?
Even if that day's unlikely to come, can you name any of the company's successes beyond its AdWords and AdSense strongholds? I'm talking organic victories, so let's not bring up the hard-to-monetize YouTube.
Google has been waving the cloud-computing flag, but Google Docs is still no match for Microsoft's
The upside for Google investors, naturally, is that the stock is attractively trading at half of last year's high, and with a mind-bogglingly low earnings multiple in the mid-teens. Still, as long as analysts keep hosing down expectations, and Google keeps missing even those lower bars, the company will need to master more than one trade.
And now, the good news
As I have 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.
I know that Baidu has skeletons in the closet. However, "the Google of China" remains a concentrated bet in a market with practically unlimited upside. The stock has fallen even farther than Google from its all-time highs, but it seems to have found a bottom lately. Analyst estimates for 2009 actually rose over the past week, which certainly can't be said about Google.
The lofty valuation isn't ideal, but salesforce.com is the real champion of the cloud-computing revolution. Its enterprise software solutions fuel the company's rapid growth, even as its lower-cost solutions to conventional applications win over more and more companies. I tapped it as the best tech stock to own for 2009 last month, and I still feel that way. Analysts see salesforce.com's earnings soaring 65% this year, after roughly doubling in 2008. That kind of growth certainly earns the shares' market premium.
The 2008 version of me must be turning in his archived grave. How dare I replace Google with Yahoo!? But I really like the company's new CEO, and placing an outsider in the top spot will likely give the company the much-needed impetus to regain its past (and future) glory. Either CEO Carol Bartz succeeds, or the company gets handed to Microsoft at a fair price. That translates loosely into a stock with limited downside, but plenty of potential.
Other headlines from the weekly compost heap:
Do you like my substitutions? Would you rather stick it out with the tossed company? Are there other stocks I should look at in future editions of this column? Let me have it in the comment box below.
Microsoft is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. Google and Baidu are Motley Fool Rule Breakers picks. Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz is still a huge Google fan, but he may want to sit the next few quarters out. 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's disclosure policy recycles whenever possible.