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.
Nassau , the Bahamas
52-week low-high: $15.77-$37.00
$611 million market cap
By John Reeves (TMFBane)
I've always fantasized about going on a cruise. My pulse quickens when I consider attending a Las Vegas-style show below decks with dinner companions like Charo and Gopher. The next day, I might recover around the pool with my new friends Loni Anderson and Dr. Adam Bricker. And if I got too much sun, I could steal away to the ship's bar, where Isaac serves up a mean rum swizzle. What's not to like about all of that? Apparently not much, since the $25 billion cruise industry is booming as never before.
But it seems that garish entertainment, sunbathing, and loads of food and alcohol are not enough for Americans, whose appetite for pampering themselves knows no bounds. Nowadays, more and more cruise passengers are treating themselves to onboard spa services, and that's excellent news for Rule Breakers selection Steiner Leisure, which is the only player of consequence in this rapidly growing area.
Steiner has been our top-performing pick for Rule Breakers, having returned 60% since its selection last November. This stock has considerable upside as well. The company has recently renewed its contracts with Carnival
Steiner's numbers indicate a company that is traveling full-steam ahead. It has topped analyst targets for 11 consecutive quarters, and in 2004, it was able to increase revenues by 22% and earnings of its continuing operations by 41%. Even though revenue and earnings are expected to grow at a slower rate in 2005, management is quite optimistic about the company's future growth.
So what would you prefer: a deep massage on the Lido Deck, or a can of brown sugary liquid that's the equivalent of soaking your molars in battery acid? You make the call.
John Reeves does not own any of the companies mentioned in this article.
52-week low-high: $38.30-$53.50
By Rich Smith
OK. First off, I wanna know who let Steiner in this conference at all. I mean, these guys don't belong in Dixie. They're headquartered in the Bahamas, for crying out loud. And if there's one thing we are in the South, it's patriotic. Companies that incorporate in offshore tax havens because they don't like paying their taxes -- well, don't get me started.
On the other hand, I think it's hard to argue that there's a more purely American company than Coca-Cola. Red can. Red state. It's patriotic down to the last drop.
What's more important to investors, however, is that Coke (we're all on a first-name basis with this company) is the original American success story. A company that's been in business since pharmacist John Styth Pemberton first concocted a batch of his sweet elixir in Atlanta in May 1886. Any investor who bought into Coke within 50 years of that date is today a millionaire many times over. Why, if you purchased shares of Coke even as recently as 30 years ago, your investment today would have increased 25 times in size. Over that time period, Coke shares have appreciated at a compound annual interest rate of 11.5% -- a full percentage point ahead of the average S&P 500 stock, and remarkable for a company of this size. Coke has even been an Inside Value pick.
Even if you're one of those investors who thinks of dividends as "plain vanilla profits," try thinking of Vanilla Coke as "Coke, plus some free vanilla." Not only has Coke's stock beaten the market average handily over time but also it pays a market-beating 2.6% dividend as a bonus.
With a recession looming on the horizon, this is one century-old investment that you can bet will weather the storm.
Fool contributor Rich Smith has no position, short or long, in either company mentioned in this article.
Surely there's nothing to worry about when investing in one of America's premier blue chips. I mean, just look at GM
Does Coke face problems in the future? Well, sure. I'd say most companies do -- but few have Coke's century-plus depth of experience in dealing with them.
In short, I've little doubt that Coke will richly reward investors in the future. And with the stock's P/E at a 15-year low, today looks like a great time to buy into this company for the long term. How long, you ask? Always Coca-Cola. -- R.S.
Who won? Go here to cast your vote.
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