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.
Level 3 Communications
Broomfield , Colo.
52-week low-high: $1.79-$4.29
$1.4 billion market cap
By Stephen D. Simpson, CFA
So, here we are in Round Two of the tournament.
On one side of the court, we have a company that could potentially facilitate a revolution in communications by offering up the bandwidth to make VoIP, broadband video, and a host of other notions "real" and viable.
On the other side, we have a vendor of chicken wings. How cute.
Now, I'm not going to deny that Buffalo Wild Wings is a popular concept today and that same-store sales are going gangbusters. But does anybody remember Rainforest Cafe (now part of Landry's
Each one of those concepts looked like a world-beater before the world beat it down. That's the trouble with the restaurant trade -- it's an absolutely brutal business, and the shining successes such as Cheesecake Factory
Now, I'm not saying that Level 3 has a path ahead of it strewn with rose petals. The company has a huge amount of debt, and at present there is more fiber supply than demand. But VoIP is little more than a twinkle in investors' eyes right now, and once VoIP rolls out in force, a lot of that excess capacity should get quickly sucked up.
VoIP is only the tip of the iceberg. Who knows what sorts of space-guzzling applications could come on once there is widespread broadband deployment to the home? If ever there were a "build it and they will come" scenario, it's Level 3.
To be perfectly clear, I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with Buffalo Wild Wings (although margins and return on assets are on the low side). Although I don't really care for its restaurants, it's obvious that a lot of people do, and I can't and won't argue with the results it has posted.
What I will say, though, is that if the Level 3 story plays out, the stock will soar and Buffalo Wild Wings' performance will look like a flapping chicken by comparison.
Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned.
Buffalo Wild Wings
52-week low-high: $25.50-$41.70
$338 million market cap
By Tim Beyers (TMF MileHigh)
This time we're paired up with a company that's local to me here in suburban Denver, Level 3 Communications. In taking out WPT Enterprises
In every major metric, Buffalo Wild Wings simply outclasses Level 3. Buffalo Wild Wings is accelerating growth (last year's year-over-year sales growth was 31.6%) and has a full coffer of cash. Ironically, Level 3 is much more like the restaurants that Stephen references. Why? Because it, too, took on loads of debt to expand. But not Buffalo Wild Wings.
Now let's talk growth. After all, the argument is that Level 3 could take off like a rocket if the trend turns its way. Here's the problem: The casual dining trend sweeping the U.S. is already favoring Buffalo Wild Wings. It shows in the results. The beer and wing king's owner earnings run rate, like sales, is accelerating. That's why Motley Fool Hidden Gems chief analyst Tom Gardner is conservatively predicting a triple for Buffalo Wild Wings over the next five years.
Finally, despite the hype, it's important to distinguish between sky-high hopes and real Rule Breaking possibilities that can generate mega returns. Level 3, Fools, is no Rule Breaker. It didn't pioneer broadband, or VoIP, or broadband video. And the average price of its chief asset -- bandwidth -- fell 19% in 2004 and is still dropping. Now, which company looks to you more like the flapping chicken?
Fool contributor Tim Beyers owns shares of Buffalo Wild Wings. You can find out what else is in Tim's portfolio by checking his Fool profile here.
Well, you know, Tim, the fine folks at MarkelInsurance
If. Could. Potentially. How many qualifiers does Level 3 come with anyway? Here's the bottom line, Fools: The fair value of wishful thinking is zero. -- T.B.
Who won? Click here to cast your vote.
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