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.
Toronto , Ontario
52-week high-low: $11.82-$34.76
$439 million market cap
By Bill Mann (TMF Otter)
Wow, we're up against the Dodge & Cox International Stock Fund in Round 1. This reminds me of a famous photo of the then-coach of Southern Illinois University back in 1991 (this was before the Salukis were a regular, dangerous fixture in the basketball tournament) holding his head in his hands after finding out that their first-round opponent in the NCAA tournament would be Duke.
"Yay! We're in the tournament! Against a team we couldn't beat if we took the court brandishing bazookas!"
This is a story of diversity and longstanding excellence and outperformance versus a company that has captured lightning in a bottle. I'm on the side of lightning. Cryptologic was my selection for the January issue of Hidden Gems, and it's climbed about 50% in the intervening time. Cryptologic software backs some of the biggest online casinos, including Bally and William Hill. It is a play on the ever-increasing popularity of poker.
Oh, you think poker is a fad, do you? OK, well while things like Tilt and the World Poker Tour shows certainly have the feel of people taking advantage of a spike in popularity, there are some items that differentiate the television show from the game itself. The proof is in the pudding: While there should be no doubt that the growth in poker will inexorably slow, as long as people are making money playing poker, it is going to endure.
Cryptologic offers a software platform for its online casino clients. None of its clients market to U.S.-based consumers, which may explain why these sites don't have the name recognition to Americans that a Party Poker does. But they're big, and profitable. While we talk about poker, which is clearly the biggest growth driver, Cryptologic offers many casino games online, including blackjack, slots, and craps. It offers each casino a custom design, and customers can pay in multiple currencies and be served in any one of a number of languages. The coolest thing is that without the customer knowing, a "table" of poker players can include a mixture of currencies (normalized to the dollar), languages, and even casino skins. This allows Cryptologic to maximize the number of players and combinations of tables at any one time.
It's paid off big time, and the company is both conservatively financed and poised for incredible growth. It grew 43% in the last quarter of 2004, in spite of purposely culling a number of clients that it considered to be lower-quality.
There is a non-zero chance that Cryptologic can misstep and destroy shareholder equity. It is a non-zero number that is much higher than that of Dodge & Cox and its larger-cap diversified portfolios. But Cryptologic, like the game of poker, is an object lesson of waiting 'til the odds are in your favor, and betting big.
Bill Mann owns none of the companies mentioned in this story.
Dodge & Cox International Stock
San Francisco , Calif.
52-week low-high: $23.12-$32.69
$4.2 billion in assets
By Shannon Zimmerman (TMF Zman)
No sense burying the lead: Dodge & Cox International Stock is the best foreign-stock fund on the planet.
Since I first recommended it in the Fool's Champion Funds newsletter service, this puppy has sky-hooked over the competition, delivering a fat and happy gain of nearly 40%. For comparison's sake, that mark blows past the S&P's over the period by more than 30 percentage points; it also slam-dunks the MSCI EAFE, the best benchmark for foreign stock funds such as this one.
Still, while Dodge's recent performance is something to write home about, the focus here is squarely on the long haul. While the fund has been up and running only since 2001, its management team is built of veteran all-stars. Indeed, senior member John Gunn has been with Dodge since back when Richard Nixon was president and the Washington Wizards were known as the Bullets.
Then there's the Dodge pedigree. As anyone who knows anything about mutual funds will tell you, this firm is one of the best, most shareholder-friendly shops in the business, boasting such deservedly popular funds as Dodge & Cox Stock
Those choice picks, however, are currently closed to new investors; the international fund remains open -- at least for the time being.
With more than $4.2 billion, it's not as though the thing is starved for assets. Thus, folks looking for a rock-solid foreign fund -- one that's anchored by such top holdings as GlaxoSmithKline
Cryptologic, on the other hand, makes relatively light work for the likes of Dodge. It's a financially sound but still speculative gambling software company whose near-term prospects look solid but whose longer-term profile brings to mind two words: Rubik's Cube.
Which pick, after all, makes more sense for long-term investors like you and me? The one whose management team boasts an average of 16 years of market-beating expertise or the one based on the current craze for online poker?
As they used to say in the NFL, YOU make the call!
Shannon Zimmerman runs point on Motley Fool Champion Funds , the newsletter that cherry picks the fund industry's best and brightest each and every month. Shannon doesn't own any of the companies mentioned here.
I shall revise a speech that Mike Krzyzewski made before his mighty Duke Blue Devils played the Naval Academy in the NCAA basketball tournament.
"The guys at Dodge & Cox are among the best fund managers in the business. That they've made this list is an accomplishment. There's no one I respect more, and I expect you to do the same. But they're fund guys. I'm a stock guy. I do not lose to fund guys. Not today. Not ever."
Great fund. But with the tailwind that the rapid growth in online gaming in general and online poker in particular give an already well-run Cryptologic, the outcome here should not be in doubt. -- B.M.
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