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. 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.
Atlanta , Ga.
52-week low-high: $67.51-$89.11
$83.5 billion market cap
By Nathan Slaughter
Who out there is better than UPS when it comes to delivering in crunch time?
Size has its advantages, whether you're fighting for a rebound on a crowded basketball court or shipping internationally. And no one on the planet is bigger than UPS, which last year delivered more than 14 million packages worldwide -- every single day. Its distribution reaches 200 countries, all of which are brought a little closer together by the company's fleet of 88,000 vehicles and 575 planes. Building that type of transportation network from scratch is difficult, to say the least, and that's what makes UPS the classic example of a wide-moat company.
To be sure, FedEx is a worthy opponent, with an edge in overnight deliveries. UPS has been willing to sacrifice profits in that segment, though, and by playing hardball, it has gained steadily. Over the past decade, UPS has seen its overnight volume growth climb 7.6% annually, while FedEx has essentially gone nowhere.
More often than not, though, items delivered to consumers' front doors are dropped off by that familiar brown truck, and on the ground, no one can match UPS. You can see it in the company's pricing power -- revenues per ground package have been rising by around 3% annually. Not only does UPS deliver far more packages daily, but its revenue per package is also substantially higher.
Yes, FedEx has the lead in business-to-business express deliveries, but UPS dominates the larger, and more profitable, business-to-consumer segment. That advantage has allowed it to enjoy operating margins topping 13% -- about two-thirds higher than the 7.5% at FedEx. Let's not forget, too, that all those planes have left FedEx more leveraged, to say nothing of the mounting fuel costs to keep them in the air.
UPS enters the tournament with stronger cash flows, a cleaner balance sheet, a higher dividend, and a more developed international network -- to go along with record revenues and record (3.6 billion) deliveries. In the end, I'd rather go with the team that gets the easy points by taking its time in the paint than one that has to rely on quick shots through the air.
Fool contributor Nathan Slaughter is still waiting for Larry Bird to make a triumphant comeback. He owns none of the companies mentioned.
Memphis , Tenn.
52-week low-high: $67.39-$101.87
$29.4 billion market cap
By Alyce Lomax (TMF Lomax)
Why is FedEx a winner? There are all kinds of reasons. For some of us, it may be the joy that FedEx often delivers to our front door, but look at it this way: Some people look to this leader in package delivery for indications of how the overall economy is doing. And if that's not a good indicator of its strength, I don't know what is.
How can one argue that this stock doesn't pack some serious greatness? Some may fondly think of UPS as "Big Brown," but the folks behind that drab, old-school uniform don't quite compare with the leadership of Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick FedEx. For Pete's sake, the U.S. Postal Service -- one of FedEx's competitors -- is also a customer.
Poor UPS hasn't really had it together lately. Case in point: Back in January, Fool contributor Rich Smith pointed out the that UPS gave a rather confusing message to investors while FedEx gave a straightforward reiteration of its previous guidance, along with the sunny outlook of a strong holiday season of deliveries.
FedEx recently announced a direct connection to Asia and has enhanced its online capabilities. Recent news out of UPS involved its plan to lay off 1,400 people as it closes one of its hubs.
It doesn't hurt that FedEx just reported swell earnings last Thursday -- with net income up a whopping 53% for the third quarter. Revenue climbed 21%. Its average load of packages increased 10% over the same period last year. International package volume increased 11%.
There are also plenty of signs that FedEx is stealing customers from UPS. You can see it in UPS's recent weak quarter compared with FedEx's upbeat one.
Need any more be said? Brown is out. FedEx is best.
Alyce Lomax does not own shares of FedEx.
So FedEx has a new direct connection to Asia and posted an 11% increase in international volume. UPS's export volume out of Asia jumped 34%; from China, it soared 125%. Sure, FedEx released some pretty solid quarterly numbers yesterday. Why though, did the stock drop so sharply? Could it be that surging oil prices are expected to cut deeply into next quarter's bottom line. Any defense-minded fan knows that it's not about reacting to where the ball is now, but where it's headed. -- N.S.
With all respect to Nathan, FedEx is known for its conservative guidance -- and lack of nasty surprises for investors -- even though the market might have gotten a little nervous for the moment. Meanwhile, as far as those rising fuel and energy prices go, what's good for the goose is good for the gander: UPS will experience similar challenges. -- A.L.
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