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Fool.com: Sell Us a Stock! [Special] January 28, 2002

Last week, we asked you to tell us all about your favorite investment. We borrowed the idea from The Motley Fool Radio Show, which gives callers 30 seconds to "sell" Tom and Dave a stock. (If you want to play "Sell Us a Stock" on the radio show, call toll-free: 866-NPR-FOOL and state your case!)

We had a great response on the Fool Contests discussion board to our request. Wal-Mart(NYSE: WMT) and Krispy Kreme Doughnuts(NYSE: KKD) were among the most popular companies with our contestants, as well as WestJet Airlines, a Canadian carrier. In fact, one of the WestJet entries took first place this week, and the author, altaboy, receives a free Motley Fool cap and T-shirt for his efforts... and more importantly 10 Fool Contest Points, which vaults him to the top of the standings in the race for the $500 grand prize.

It's certainly not too late to win the $500 if you haven't yet started playing. Just take a look at how everything works on the standings page, and be sure to participate in our next contest this Monday.

Here now is a look at the top 10 entries for this week:


First place (10 Contest Points)
In the 500 or so words allotted, altaboy was able to lay out several clear and compelling reasons to consider WestJet as an investment. But don't bother scouring the exchanges for it if you live in the U.S., it's only available on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

One needs look no farther than the Canadian airline industry for my best pick. WestJet Airlines (WJA-T) has seen spectacular growth since its inception only a few years ago. While other airlines in Canada have lost money, WestJet has had 19 straight quarters of profits and its revenues have grown by 50% over the same quarters in 2000. It was modeled after Southwest Airlines(NYSE: LUV) as a no-frills, low-cost carrier with identical planes and "entertaining" flight crews. It is an ideal Fool stock for several reasons:

1. Inept competition. While Air Canada, the country's major carrier, cries out for government assistance and cuts capacity, WestJet expands its routes and moves further into Eastern Canada (its main focus has been Western Canada).

2. Canada 3000, another Canadian airline, recently went bankrupt, opening up more capacity for WestJet.

3. Controlling fuel costs is essential and WestJet has done it beautifully through fuel hedges. Why? The CEO used to be an oil company executive and understands the commodities markets.

4. WestJet may soon expand into the highly profitable Montreal-Toronto corridor, to combine with its service to Ottawa. More traffic = greater revenues.

5. Future potential. WestJet could expand into the U.S., possibly working with Southwest Airlines. Need I say more?

6. Employees are owners... they ALL have stock options. With a financial stake in the company, they have more at stake to make it succeed, unlike their unionized, salary only, brethren at their competitors.

7. Most of all, people love to fly with WestJet, and that is how it will continue to be successful.

If you look at these factors and consider that WestJet was profitable through the third quarter (after Sept. 11), you have to see this airline has incredible potential, just like Southwest Airlines. The Canadian airline industry is quite similar to the American one when Southwest Airlines was in its infancy.

Second place (9 points)
We received many non-stock ideas, including this gem from OperaBob. Our thanks to him for reminding us what an incredible amount of resources lie on the other end of a library card. (We'll even overlook the fact that anything divided by zero is not infinity, but undefined!)

What's my best investment? Come on guys! Ask something hard. "A library card!"

At the age of 43 I had to go on long-term disability. I had gone three years without working and living on savings. My wife only worked part time. When my insurance was finally settled we had just enough for a healthy down payment on a home. Before that I had never given financial well being a thought.

After transferring my retirement accounts to a stockbroker on a friend's suggestion, I read the statement: Never invest in anything you don't fully understand. That is exactly what I had just done.

With time on my hands I dove into the public library and read everything I could on personal finance: insurance, budgeting, home ownership, mutual funds, etc.

What are my returns?

1. We only borrowed $40,000 on our mortgage but paid it off in 3 1/2 years saving $18,000 in interest charges.

2. We have zero debt.

3. After reading everything I could about them, I discovered mutual funds were not for me and am actively DRIPing and writing about DRIPs for magazines.

4. I learned the ins and outs of the financial world and can put any salesperson/charlatan on the defensive by asking questions that instantly tell them they are dealing with a Fool.

5. I learned about resources, like the Fool, that help me make informed and intelligent choices.

6. I learned enough that, though technically on a pension that is just above the poverty level and starting with a bank account near zero after the down payment, eight years later my wife and I are in a position to consider buying a revenue producing property.

A library card costs nothing, nada, zero: Zero divided into any gain is Infinity!

Third place (8 points)
Third place goes to levchuk2 for pointing out all the positives in Capital One, as well as how forthright the company is when reporting financials to its stockholders.

My favorite stock is Capital One(NYSE: COF). Basically, the company is a bank. It borrows money from capital markets and lends to consumers in the form of a credit card. In addition, Capital One (CO) tries to sell various products and services to its customer base of 40+ million.

At the heart of CO is data mining software (developed in-house) combined with huge databases. Add to that the company's entrepreneurial culture and you will get what CO officials call "information-based strategy." The strategy involves scientific (!!) testing of everything: people, strategies, products, and markets. All said, the company conducted 140,000 tests in the past five years. You name it and the odds are that CO tested it and already knows how profitable it is.

I will try to concentrate on a few areas that, in my opinion, separate this company from the rest.

Reporting
The main characteristic of many great companies is timely, consistent, and above-average reporting to its shareholders. CO excels in this area. For the past few years the company reported its earnings in the first 20 days after the quarter's end. The format of the reports has not changed since 1997(!!) and is superior to that of its competitors. Just an example: CO's Q4 release was 11 pages. Its main competitor, MBNA, released its Q4 report on five pages. Unlike CO, very few companies ever include a complete income statement and balance sheet in the press release. Also, CO is the only company I know of that reports the number of its customers.

Creation of long-term shareholder value
The company's two highest-ranking officers do not get paid cash. None, zero, zip. They are compensated with stock options. I cannot imagine a better way to align management's interest with that of the shareholder's. Probably because of having shareholders' interest at heart, the company never issued pro-forma reports (think Amazon), or merged (think JDS Uniphase), or adjusted earnings (think Coca-Cola Enterprises), or had one-time write-offs (think Cisco). And what a long-term value creator this company is! In 1994, CO completed its IPO at a price of $5.33. Today its shares trade at $52.00. That is a compounded annual growth rate of 38% annually over seven years. I am hard pressed to name any other company with such performance.

Business model
CO has access to personal and financial information for all of its customers. The company is in the business of selling value-adding products to its customer base. Today those products are credit cards, car loans, and savings products. Tomorrow, CO could be selling funeral services, gym memberships, and anything else that is of interest to the consumer and is profitable. By virtue of being able to manipulate consumer data, the company is transforming itself into a distribution channel. One can draw a parallel with Human Genome Sciences(Nasdaq: HGSI). That company is creating an engine that will spin out blockbuster drugs that will sell themselves. Just like HGS, Capital One is transforming itself into an engine that can identify and meet customer needs profitably. This business model is infinitely expandable and can be replicated in a new geographic area.

An observer could be talking about the various types of credit cards that CO offers (over 4000), or the company's outstanding brand building strategy, or its deposit collecting capabilities. I am, on the other hand, fascinated by the culture, combined with the business model, that makes all this possible.


Here are the rest of our top 10:

 4. Bob Evans, by jack24k
 5. Charles River Laboratories, by path40a
 6. Berkshire Hathaway, by shawnr33
 7. WestJet Airlines, by phoolishandy
 8. Education IRA, by BroadwayDan
 9. Your House, by ffour
10. Wal-Mart, by enzey

Thanks for playing, and be sure to tune in Monday for a brand new contest!


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