The following article is part of The Motley Fool's "Stock Madness 2005," a contest based loosely on the annual NCAA College Basketball Tournament, a.k.a. March Madness. From March 17 to April 4, our writers and analysts will engage in head-to-head competition with each other, advocating and arguing on behalf of 64 stocks we've selected as among the most interesting to Foolish investors. You, dear readers, are the fans and referees -- you'll read these exciting duels and then vote for the stock you think is the better investment... and should therefore move on to the next round of play. The company that survives six "games" will be our tournament champion, and its writer our most valuable "coach."
But, please, make no mistake -- "Stock Madness 2005" is a GAME!
Our writers are doing this for fun. They are enjoying the spirit of competition and the art of debate. They are delighting in the search for positives in the companies they've drawn... and negatives in the companies they're pitted against. They are NOT necessarily recommending these stocks as the ones they believe in above all others. As ever, YOU must decide whether the stocks we're writing about -- winners and losers -- are deserving of your investment dollars.
Buffalo Wild Wings
Minneapolis , Minn.
52-week low-high: $25.50-$41.70
$333 million market cap
By Tim Beyers (TMF MileHigh)
Ah, BuffaloWild Wings. Just the thought of wings, beer, and that sweet barbecue sauce makes my mouth water. The stock does, too. And I'm not alone: Motley Fool Hidden Gems chief analyst Tom Gardner ranked the restaurant as his top pick right now. Far be it from me to quibble. Tom has walloped the market by more than 30% with his selections.
But let's get into some of the details, shall we? Buffalo Wild Wings grew sales 32% year over year in the recently reported fourth quarter. That number is even more impressive when you consider how same-store sales, or comps, aided the effort. There was a 7.6% increase in comps at company-owned stores, while franchised stores gained an also healthy 3.7%
There are now more than 300 Buffalo Wild Wings stores nationwide, but the company has yet to penetrate several major markets, including California and Massachusetts. In all, more than 700 new stores are planned. Such expansion won't happen overnight, but with $49 million in the bank and an annual run rate of roughly $12 million in owner earnings, the company should have the resources to fund much of its growth organically.
Analysts agree. They're expecting annual earnings gains of at least 25% from Buffalo Wild Wings through 2010. Management, too, seems to believe this is possible, and it has proven to be highly conservative. For example, in guidance coming into the fourth quarter, it predicted per-pound chicken wing prices at $1.40. The reality? $1.30.
Like a team that works the floor till it gets an open shot, this is a group that manages to exceed shareholder expectations. That's why I'm an investor and why Buffalo Wild Wings deserves your vote.
Royce Premier Fund
New York , N.Y.
Net assets: $2.9 billion
At the end of a grueling tournament, when just one team is left holding the coveted championship trophy, three qualities typically paved the way: depth, experience, and talent.
What could be deeper than a mutual fund? The Royce Premier Fund has assembled a lineup of solid companies that bring all the important skills to the game -- ample free cash flows, solid balance sheets, and astute management teams. As co-manager Whitney George said, "If Warren Buffett bought small caps, these would probably be the types of stocks he'd be interested in."
Each player on the Royce Premier team is expected to make a meaningful contribution, and with a relatively concentrated portfolio that includes just 60 names, even the smallest bench player is in a position to do so. In fact, the top 10 holdings soak up only about 25% of the fund's assets. Most companies have made the most of their playing time; all but two stocks made money for shareholders in 2003 as the fund lit up the scoreboard with a 39% total return.
The small-cap specialists at Royce have been managing money for more than 30 years and have learned a thing or two about how to cull excellent investment ideas from among the market's tiniest firms. The Royce Premier Fund, though, generally treads lightly around unpredictable micro caps and focuses on more established companies that are nearing graduation to the mid-cap arena. The coaches at Royce have proved their versatility in both up and down markets and have steered the premier fund to winning seasons in all but one year of the team's 14-year history.
Without talent, the first two traits can carry a team only so far. Fortunately, the fund has trounced the Standard & Poor's 500 by more than 16 annualized percentage points over the past five years -- with less volatility. It has also outpaced its own benchmark, the Russell 2000, over the last three, five, and 10 years. It has ridden this winning streak while keeping an eye on key fundamentals such as portfolio turnover, tax efficiency, and the pick-and-roll. In short, the Royce Premier Fund is the pride of the small-cap blend conference and often finds a home near the top of the league standings, but this Motley Fool Champion Funds pick is one Cinderella team that is equally comfortable playing against the big boys.
Fool contributor Nathan Slaughter owns none of the companies mentioned.
The Royce Premier Fund is a slow, steady, proven winner. Still, slow is slow, and Royce just can't run with Buffalo Wild Wings. For example, the average three-year earnings growth for stocks held in Royce Premier Fund is less than 7%. Buffalo Wild Wings expects 25% growth annually through 2010. Sure, the fund might land you a double in five years. But Tom is expecting a triple for the beer and wings king over the same period. 'Nuff said. -- T.B.
Who can argue with a frosty pitcher of beer and a platter of spicy hot wings? Not me. If there was a Buffalo Wild Wings in my town, I would probably have settled on a favorite wing flavor long ago. Still, I'm not exactly ready to put my money where my mouth is on this one.
Let's see, we've got a small-cap growth company with a great management team, a healthy balance sheet, and solid growth prospects -- funny, it looks just like the rest of the companies that Royce has handpicked. Personally, though, I'd rather take my chances with a few dozen great companies than pin all my hopes on one -- particularly when that one is still posting negative owner earnings and trading at a trailing price-to-earnings (46) that would make a good halftime point total. -- N.S.
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