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.
Cambridge , Mass.
52-week low-high: $10.64-$18.47
$1.56 billion market cap
By Tim Beyers (TMFMileHigh)
Let's get this out right up front: AkamaiTechnologies should make the tourney Final Four. Period. This is a company that lived above the rim before the bubble, broke both ankles during the crash, spent years in rehab, and is now back dunking and draining threes. You'd be hard-pressed to find another firm in the field that has demonstrated such resilience.
But this competition isn't about the past, it's about the future. Akamai's looks bright. In the latest quarter alone, the company -- which brings content and applications closer to Web users -- grew sales 27% year over year and 8% sequentially. Gross margins improved to a heady 81%, 10 points higher than last year.
For some it has been tempting to think of Akamai as nothing more than a dot-com survivor that will always be a speculative, Rule Breaking investment. Nothing could be further from the truth. The company dramatically improved its run rate of owner earnings by more than 30% between the first and fourth quarter of 2004. And Akamai should grow owner earnings by at least another 22% in 2005.
Still, it would be easy to write off Akamai. After all, the stock is trading near its 52-week low. But very few teams have ever won a conference tournament and then gone on to the NCAA championship. Take my graduate alma mater Syracuse in 2003. The Orange lost in the semifinals of the Big East tournament only to pull out a big win against Kansas in the NCAA finals. Mark my words, Fools: Akamai is poised for the same run.
Wayne , N.J.
52-week low-high: $8.64-$30.65
$316.4 million market cap
In this opening round matchup, I want to highlight not only what a wonderful company Audible is but also what has happened to the stock in the past few weeks -- driving it into what may be bargain territory.
First, a little about the company. Audible bills itself as the Internet's leading premium spoken audio source. In layman's terms, that means you can download audio books, newspapers, magazines, and other content to your computer or an MP3 player, or burn them onto a CD. While items are available a la carte, many customers pay a monthly subscription fee that allows them to download at least a couple of books per month. Audible is by far the dominant company in this space.
Your first reaction may be, "audio books... so what?" But this method of offering content in a digital format is actually a revolutionary idea that is changing the lives of thousands of people. I should know: I was a customer before I was a shareholder. With the ability to download and hop in the car, Audible has allowed me to actually enjoy -- even look forward to -- my morning and afternoon commutes. Over the past four years, I've been able to finally listen to old classics I never read, stay up to date with the newest releases, and even listen to that morning's Wall Street Journal! I just went back and counted, and I've "read" 90 books over those four years. My ninety-first and current listen, believe it or not, is Tolstoy's classic War and Peace -- all 60 hours of it!
I cannot imagine life without Audible, and the company is adding customers like me at a furious pace -- 41,600 new members last quarter alone, which is a 115% year-over-year gain. I believe this business is a long-term winner, but I see the clock is winding down and I'm out of time to talk about the stock. I'll save that for the next round -- if you graciously vote me through.
Rex Moore owns shares of Audible.
Let's briefly look at the facts. A check of Yahoo! Finance shows Audible trading for 68 times cash flow. That's cheap? Akamai, on the other hand, trades for 38 times current owner earnings. Plus, my conservative estimates peg owner earnings growth at 20% annually over the next three years, which should provide at least a 70% return for shareholders. To paraphrase rapper MC Hammer: You can't touch that. -- T.B.
When you compare earnings multiples to expected growth rates, Audible is by far the better value. What's more, Tom Gardner's (of Motley Fool Hidden Gems fame) rough-cut valuation model indicates that Audible's share price could rise over four times in value over the next five years. Akamai, on the other hand, shows a little more than a double. In my opinion, there's simply not enough potential upside in volatile Akamai to justify an investment. Sorry, Tim, but I don't want to touch that. -- R.M.
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