I (Nathan) think I can safely speak for both of us in saying that we're a bit sad to see this series come to an end. Stephen and I chat regularly about various companies, and this has been a great opportunity to put some of those discussions into print. It has been a tremendously worthwhile endeavor to go through all of the companies in the Dow, and with any luck, we'll get to do something similar again.
That said, I want to save as many words as possible for the wrap-up at the end, so let's dig in. If you missed the first five segments of this series (no way, right?), you'll find links to them at the bottom.
SS: In my book, the secret to happiness with a stock like the combined SBC/AT&T is having reasonable expectations and buying at the right price. This Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation isn't a growth company, and it's not going to become one. In fact, I imagine that the company will continue to see new entrants and rivals chip away at most of its main business lines. Still, estimates are going up, margins are improving, and the company pays an attractive 5.1% dividend. If you still believe in the notion of "buy and hold forever," this might be one of the few stocks that could make the grade.
NP: The new SBC-AT&T combination is generally the kind of business I'm attracted to, because of its substantial free cash flow and low relative valuation. Still, I'm not interested in this business, because the long-term growth opportunity simply isn't great. That said, there could be some investment opportunities in the interim as costs are wrung out of the combined business. In addition, the market may periodically overestimate the rate at which AT&T's voice businesses are declining, causing the stock to dip to bargain levels. However, that's a tough investment to make, and it requires vigilance.
SS: Much to my own surprise, I've come away from United Tech's past two quarters somewhat impressed with the company and its valuation. Yes, it's a conglomerate. And yes, it competes with some major contenders like General Electric
NP: United Technologies is one of the few Dow components sitting at a 52-week high, and it's not overvalued. That's quite a feat for a company that has had a very good run over the past 10 years. However, the stock is pretty fully valued here, and a good deal of the profit growth comes from cost-cutting. Admittedly, United Technologies has good businesses, but like any other investment, I'd prefer to get it at a discount. Over the company's fantastic 10-year run, there have been some great opportunities to buy at better prices. I'd wait for those prices.
SS: For me, it's a bit hard to distinguish Verizon from SBC/AT&T, and I can't say I'm convinced that they both should be Dow stocks. But that's another piece. Unlike its rival, Verizon has seen its gross and operating margins shrinking slightly of late, although Verizon's return on invested capital is superior. My biggest concern with Verizon is its customer service. I'm a customer, and at times, I'm tempted to simply cancel service and handle my local calls with a bullhorn on my roof. (Yes, my neighbors love me.)
Speaking more seriously, it's hard to build a sustainable business if your customers are antagonized. Verizon is sure to face more competition in the future from cable companies and a host of other entrants in phone and data services. Still, the company pays a nice 5.1% dividend and looks pretty cheap. I can tentatively say it might be a buy here.
NP: I can see that I'm going to come off as very negative today, but all of the competitive threats that apply to SBC/AT&T also apply to Verizon. It's very tough for me to be positive on one and negative on the other, so I recommend staying away from Verizon as well. That said, I do like the 5.1% dividend yield, and I think the company's wireless business is top-notch.
SS: Can you really dislike a company yet still like its stock? That's the question for me with Wal-Mart. I boycott its stores, yet I find the stock to be pretty compelling today. The good news/bad news here is that Wal-Mart effectively is U.S. retail -- for now, as goes the consumer, so goes Wal-Mart.
Not only does this company generate an impressive return on capital, but it also has substantial overseas growth potential. With the stock in a post-Thanksgiving slide that seems destined to take it into the mid-$40s or lower, investors might want to consider holding their noses and diving in with one of the best-run retailers around.
NP: I know I'm in the minority here, but I like this company. I like that it offers everyday goods at generally the lowest price you'll find. More companies should have such goals -- and achieve them. I think there's a lot to like about the company's shares, too. They're reasonably priced, there's still opportunity for growth in the U.S. and overseas, and there's a real good opportunity for long-term increases in the company's dividend payout. At today's prices, it's hard for me to see an investor not beating the market by buying Wal-Mart at prices in the $45-$47 range.
SS: I'm probably as un-Disney as you can get. I hate "cute," amusement parks make me nauseous (the lines and prices, not the rides), and I think the company's ESPN channel has devolved into wall-to-wall cliched jabbering from its "personalities." What's more, a lot of this company's businesses make me nervous -- filmmaking is a flighty and risky enterprise, amusement parks can be economically sensitive, and network TV is viciously competitive.
Still, we're talking about a company with a beloved and enduring signature brand and some pretty valuable wide-moat assets. My cash-flow valuation model suggests that the stock is more or less fairly valued, and I'm inclined to agree. It's a fine stock to hang on to, but I'd be interested in buying only when we go through the next inevitable go-around of "Will Disney survive?" magazine covers.
NP: I'm a lot more positive on Disney now that Michael Eisner has at long last stepped aside. I'm not sure that CEO Robert Iger is going to save the day, but he does deserve a shot, and he's certainly getting it. At around $25, the shares are slightly undervalued, and this is one tremendous brand. That said, the entertainment industry is under fire and entering a period where it will need to embrace new ways of doing business. My sincere hope is that Disney continues to think progressively and do more deals like its pact with Apple
Foolish final thoughts
With today's final write-up, Wal-Mart clearly joins Motley FoolInside Value picks 3M and Microsoft as one of the more attractive opportunities in the Dow. You can also include United Technologies as one that we're both mildly interested in at its current price. Intriguing values aren't that abnormal in the Dow. In fact, a slightly overvalued company like Boeing is the exception, not the rule.
This brings our review of the Dow to an end for now. But we're not entirely done. We're both very interested in seeing how the various components perform from here, and which companies might be a value six or 12 months from now. We'll be keeping our eyes open. In the meantime, you can check out the first five portions of this Foolish series below:
- Diving Into the Dow: The First Five
- Diving Into the Dow: The Second Five
- Diving Into the Dow: The Third Five
- Diving Into the Dow: The Fourth Five
- Diving Into the Dow: The Fifth Five
Nathan Parmelee owns shares in Microsoft, and Fool contributor Stephen Simpson owns shares in 3M. Neither has any financial interest in any of the other stocks mentioned. The Fool has a disclosure policy .