Last week, the generally conservative The Wall Street Journal reported on the results of a survey jointly conducted by British consulting company WPP Group (OTC BB: WPPGF) and market researcher Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates. The survey asked potential voters a series of questions along the lines of, "If John Kerry were a carmaker, what carmaker would he be?" and "If George Bush sold coffee, what coffee chain would he be?"
The results are intriguing. In at least two out of the five categories cited in the Journal's story, Sen. Kerry (D-Mass.) was described as possessing the attributes of "rule-breaking" companies such as those favored by the elder brother Gardner, the kinds of companies he picks every month for subscribers to The Motley Fool's market-beating Stock Advisor newsletter. President Bush, on the other hand, reminded voters of solid, reliable companies that trod the straight and narrow path to corporate profit, breaking nary a rule along the way.
And now, the results: In the auto industry, it comes as no surprise that Texan truck country native Bush was grouped with the maker of the world's best-selling pickup -- Ford
Yet, fun as it is to mix and match companies to the candidates' personalities, what Fools really want to know is, "Which company is going to win -- not in November, but in the long run?" While past performance (in Vietnam, Alabama, or elsewhere) may be no guarantee of future success, it's at least suggestive of which companies have shown themselves to possess the ability to succeed. Take IBM, for example. Over the past four years, the stock has been essentially dead money, whereas Dell and Apple have both doubled in value. Investors apparently expect similar performance in the future, pricing IBM at an enterprise value-to-free cash flow (EV/FCF) ratio of just 13, while valuing Dell at 24 and Apple at 23.
On the other hand, when Fools factor in anticipated growth rates, IBM may actually be the best value of the three companies, with an EV/FCF/growth ratio of 1.3 vs. Dell's 1.4 and Apple's 1.5. Just as there is a candidate right for every voter, so there is a company at a price, and a valuation, suited to every investor's level of risk.
Fool contributor Rich Smith has no ownership interest in any of the companies mentioned in this article. He intends to vote in November but won't say for whom.