Some may have scratched their heads when Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) asked actor Ben Affleck to help him promote legislation raising the minimum wage. Affleck was not so sure why the senator would want him involved either, but offered this analysis: "Maybe the senator saw my movie Gigli and assumed I would soon be working for minimum wage myself."
Hey, at least one side of the beast formerly known as Bennifer has a sense of humor.
In today's Motley Fool Take:
- Google IPO? No Thanks
- Discussion Board of the Day: Google
- P&G's Everyday Profits
- Shameless Plug: TMF Money Advisor
- Tough Love at Winn-Dixie
- Quote of Note
- More on Fool.com Today
Google IPO? No Thanks
By Bill Mann (TMF Otter)
It's happened. Google is going public. You'd think that they spotted Jesus walking across the water near the San Mateo Bridge. Some are saying that a Google IPO will be the trigger that revives Silicon Valley. Others believe that a Google share allotment at IPO is going to be the path to a deeeluxe apartment in the sky.
The mania is charming, in an incredibly self-delusional, frightening sort of way. Yesterday, for the first time ever, I couldn't access the SEC's EDGAR site because so many people were piling in to read Google's S-1. Business websites pulled out their "Microsoft just merged with China" typeset. Dogs and cats sleeping together. Total Chaos.
OK, not really. But I noted people even on Berkshire Hathaway
Keep in mind, though, that none of these companies came public anywhere near market capitalizations of $25 billion. People got wealthy with these companies because they got in on the ground floor, and were lucky enough not to be in wanna-be flame jobs QXL, AltaVista, or Beyond.com. Yahoo!'s opening-day IPO valued it at $1 billion, Amazon and eBay well south of that. Depending on demand for the auction, Google's opening market capitalization could be as high as $25 billion, larger than Costco
Google's likely to be spectacularly successful -- its rate of growth is substantial. But make no mistake about it: This IPO is for the benefit of the insiders, and the mania around it suggests that they're going to make out extremely well. Which they should -- this is the way of capitalism. And my read of things is that Brin, Page, Schmidt, and company have been fairly honorable and idealistic.
I also had to laugh out loud when I read about the hoops Google put up for investment bankers: 24-hour turnaround times for questionnaires, lengthy and onerous non-disclosures, banning them from Google headquarters. It all reminds me of Coming to America: "What kind of music do you like?" "Whatever kind of music you like." That's power.
And it's power that the insiders are trying to keep, over customers, investment bankers, and soon-to-be shareholders. Wouldn't you know it? Google's set up a Dual Class stock structure. The publicly traded Class A stock and management-held Class B stocks have identical economic rights, but the Class B shares get 10 votes for each one that the Class A shares receive.
Guess how every single vote in the history of the company will go? However management wants it to, it's already stuffed the voting boxes. Fellows, if you're going to quote Warren Buffett in your owner's manual (a fine document, by the way), you ought to at least recognize that Buffett considers Berkshire shareholders as partners and gives them the right to buy shares that have the same power as his. If you don't want to have to listen to others, then don't go public.
Google will not be able to control the pricing on the opening day of the IPO. But I really have to wonder whether this really just isn't anything more than cashing in at the peak. Yes, the insiders will be wealthy beyond their wildest dreams, as will many employees. But if Google's business is so insanely great, why in the world would they want to share? Public offerings have always been about companies needing to raise capital for operations or for new capital projects. Google's financial statements reveal no such need.
Being public is both hard and expensive for companies, and for Google, it seems to be utterly unnecessary -- the company generates plenty of cash from what it does, and it's taking on some risk that being public will change its core culture.
But these are all just window dressing. Here's the thing that I would fear as a Google investor: Ask Jeeves'
Google is a phenomenon, an amazing creation, unique in culture and in level of success. But it owns no content whatsoever. As rivals such as Yahoo! that do have access to all their other internal resources catch up, what will the competitive pressure on Google be then? Already Yahoo!'s shopping service simply blows away what is available on Google due to its access to internal content.
None of this is to say that Google is a bad company, or that it's disappearing. That's not a bet I'd make at all. But this mania over its IPO, certain to come out 15-20 times sales and perhaps over 100 times earnings, just has me scratching my head. Great companies can have lousy stocks if you buy them at the wrong price. Given the excitement here, that's almost exactly what this promises to be.
If you are even thinking about trying to get some Google shares in the IPO, read the S-1. You might find, as I did, that this promises to be one of the better spectator sports to come along in some time.
What does Bill Mann know? He only likes cement and reinsurance companies anyway. Of the companies mentioned in this story, Bill owns shares in Berkshire Hathaway and Costco.
Discussion Board of the Day: Google
Got a take on the Google IPO? Excited to join in the cattle call? Got a take on the registration filing? We're waiting to hear from you. Come give us the good word on the Google discussion board ( free trial required).
P&G's Everyday Profits
By Nathan Slaughter
Sometimes, while scrambling to find the next big investment idea, we can stumble over the ones that already surround us. Anyone whose morning routine involves an invigorating shower with Pantene shampoo, brushing their teeth with Crest, and enjoying a piping mug of Folgers coffee, has, perhaps unwittingly, used three products sold by Procter & Gamble
Fiscal third-quarter numbers released this morning resemble an instant replay of the second quarter. That's a good thing. Three months ago, sales and net income were up 20% and 22%, respectively, with a weak dollar contributing 4% to top-line growth.
Third-quarter revenues jumped 22% (the fastest pace in over a decade) to $13 billion, with currency fluctuations responsible for 5%. Earnings rose 20% to $1.09 a share, thanks in part to a 150-basis-point increase in gross margins to 50.9% and restructuring-related charges. The quarter's results were highlighted by volume growth across all regions and 19 of the top 20 brands.
Procter & Gamble operates five principal business segments: fabric and home care, baby care, health care, snacks and beverages, and beauty products. For the quarter, there was broad-based volume growth in most established brands.
Sales of Crest Whitestrips and heartburn medicine Prilosec OTC were particularly strong. Sales growth ranged from a subdued 6% in snacks and beverages to a more robust 48% in the beauty-care division, the latter due in part to last year's acquisition of Wella, a German hair-care company.
P&G's total operating cash flow grew 23% to $2.98 billion. With capital expenditures at only 4% of sales, the company has already generated free cash flow in excess of $5.6 billion so far this fiscal year.
Procter & Gamble earns fully half of its sales in international markets and should not expect to be aided by favorable currency fluctuations indefinitely. Furthermore, margin expansion may be peaking. Any pricing pressure exerted from retailers such as Wal-Mart
These concerns notwithstanding, Procter & Gamble is clearly on target. Organic sales growth, which excludes the impact of acquisitions, divestitures, and foreign currency, is handily outpacing management's stated near-term goal of 4% to 6%. With management calling for sales growth in the high-teens next quarter, fiscal year projections of $4.60 per share are within reach. At only 23 times forward earnings, Procter & Gamble should please investors as well as consumers.
Fool contributor Nathan Slaughter prefers Crest to Colgate, though he owns none of the companies mentioned.
Shameless Plug: TMF Money Advisor
Every once in a while, we all need a little help from our friends. That gets to heart of what it is to be Foolish, and is a big reason why The Motley Fool exists in the first place. But sometimes a community doesn't quite do it, and we need a little one-on-one. That's where TMF Money Advisor comes in. Take an advisor for a spin for free. It can't hurt, and it sure can help.
Tough Love at Winn-Dixie
By Seth Jayson
Ailing supermarket chain Winn-Dixie's
Let me qualify that. It might be good news for shareholders, but it isn't likely to make any of the 10,000 at-risk workers feel so warm and fuzzy inside.
Still, drastic times call for drastic measures, and Winn-Dixie is still walking through the valley of the shadow of death. Last quarter, there was little good news, as a decline in revenues and a big slip in gross margins, plus growing selling, general, and administrative expenses, combined to help the company lose $80 million. Since last spring, shares have shed nearly half their value and are currently trading at close to $8 a stub.
So today's announced closings represent the beginning of a survival plan, but the future is still unclear. There was, after all, another small bit of Winn-Dixie news today: a little something called a third-quarter earnings report. At first glance, it's not any prettier than the previous quarter's.
Sales? Down 5.5% year over year. Gross margins? Down 1.2% year over year. Earnings? A big goose egg, while last year they were $0.36 per share.
On the other hand, we're talking about a firm that's only mostly dead. It makes sense to look for any inkling of life, and there are a few. Gross margins actually improved a bit when compared with the second quarter's abysmal showing. The company also managed an important reduction in interest payments.
The balance sheets show $81 million in cash and $300 million in debt, but also indicate improvements in handling of accounts receivable and inventories. As a result, the bleeding seems to have stopped. Sure, there's still the danger of competition from other grocers and universal retailer Wal-Mart
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Quote of Note
"Happiness is a positive cash flow." -- Fred Adler
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For a list of all our stories from today, see our Today's Headlines page.