Now THIS is a fun ad. Jeremy Phillips is the Chief Technology Officer at the Motley Fool, and he starts off their new ad with a great quote: “I plan to get rich on Wednesday morning — care to join me?”
Well … yeah. Isn’t that why we’re all fretting over our investments, saving precious dollars, and building strong opinions about the balance sheets and business prospects of every company we run across in our daily lives?
OK, so some of us are not entirely obsessed — but yes, most folks who buy stocks are hoping to get rich … and if we’re honest with ourselves, we want to get rich fast. Sometimes with real hope built on great stock selection, patience, portfolio allocation and counterintuitive thinking, sometimes with the same plans that a dart player makes as he steps to the line. So what is Jeremy Phillips talking about?
Usually we hear from folks who pick stocks and edit newsletters, the guys who delve into income statements and make forecasts and stand naked with their portfolio before the world. But Phillips isn’t an investment guy, he runs the Fool’s website and servers and makes sure all that stuff works for their gajillions of readers.
But he says he’s taking an idea that Tom and Dave Gardner have both recommended, and he’s running with it — putting a huge slug of his own money on the line. Here’s how he tells the tale:
“I can’t wait for Wednesday morning.
“Because I’ve just made the most important financial decision of my life. And starting in just 96 hours, I’ll see if I was right…
“If I win my bet, this stock will make a big pile of money for me by the end of 2013.
“If I lose, it’ll remain near its current bargain price. Maybe even under it. And I’ll be out some (but not all) of my $117,238. Meanwhile, I’ll still own stock in a company with a rock solid business model — one that’s poised to dominate a $130 billion market, with no direct competition.
“That’s why I don’t want you to bet against me. I want you to bet with me…
“Place YOUR OWN bet on this stock. At whatever amount you’re comfortable investing. That way YOU can win if and when I do.
“Look, I wouldn’t be putting $117,238 of my own cash on the table if I wasn’t dead serious about this opportunity. That’s a lot of money for me… in fact, it’s FIVE times the investment I have in any of my current stocks!”
I’ve never bought a stock that made the top five list of “most important financial decisions of my life”, so I may be a bit too much of a fuddy duddy to appreciate this — but I do have outsized positions in stocks that I really have strong feelings about, so I can imagine how it feels to buy a stock position that’s far larger than any you’ve bought in the past. Whether or not Phillips is right, it seems he really believes in this stock that he thinks has the opportunity to take over a $130 billion sector.
Will you agree with him? Well, before you make that call you’ll have to know the name of the stock so you can do your own research. So, assuming you don’t want to pony up a couple hundred bucks to subscribe to Rule Breakers to get your answer … what else do we get by way of clues so we can pin the tail on this donkey a bit more free-ishly?
“In a nutshell…
- This company’s revenue is growing more than 2x as fast as Google and Facebook. And more than 3x as fast as Amazon.com and Apple.
- In fact, more than 59,000 of Apple’s own employees use its core product. Many of them every day.
- The Wall Street Journal named this stock the ‘biggest internet IPO since Google.’
- This company has a foothold in over 200 countries, with more than 200 million users.
- But they’re adding two new members per second. That’s right, by the time you finish reading this sentence, they’ll add 10 new people to their system!”
Well, the only reason this was the “biggest internet IPO since Google” was because it happened before Facebook came public … for what it’s worth, the Wall Street Journal and similar sources also called out disasters Zynga and Groupon with similar “Biggest since Google” headlines. And at the time they were the biggest IPOs in the sector since Google … not the best businesses, obviously, nor the biggest technological advancements, but the companies that got the highest valuation from the stock market.
So yes, that’s enough for us to figure out who this company is … but we’ll keep you in suspense for just a moment longer while we excerpt a few more of the clues from the ad about this company’s businesses:
“Business Segment #1: 74 million Americans just like you and me
“People of all ages who are looking for a better job, to meet new business partners, or to find employees who are a perfect fit for their company. The more of them that join, the more that others want to join too, and the more incentive they all have to keep using it, and to pay for premium features. That’s called the ‘network effect’ and it’s been the engine of growth for every business from AT&T in the 1920s to Microsoft in the 1990s to Facebook in the 2010s.
“Business Segment #2: Madison Avenue
“As Google has proven with its great success in recent years, the ‘Mad Men’ era of advertising is over. Today’s Don Drapers use ‘narrow-casting’ opportunities instead of mass media broadcasting to get more bang for their buck. And they also cherry pick their best customers… like this company’s users, who average more than $100,000 a year in income. Advertisers will pay almost anything to get access to folks like that.
“Business Segment #3: The global ‘war’ for high-tech talent
“Better employees with better skills and better fit mean more profit. But some of the top talent is ‘hidden’… in other countries, in employees who aren’t actively job-searching but would jump at a compelling offer, or in traditional résumés that emphasize college old-boy networks instead of actual money-making skills.
“The Economist calls it ‘the battle for brainpower.’ McKinsey Consulting calls it “the global war for talent.” But whatever you call it, it’s what will separate great businesses from bankrupt ones in the decades to come, and our Rule Breaker stock is the best ‘pure play’ out there for investing in it.”
So who is it? Yes, the Thinkolator confirms that the stock Jeremy Phillips is betting big on is LinkedIn (LNKD), the professional-focused social networking service that’s also building a recruiting “matchmaking” business on the backs of their 200 million or so members.
You’ve probably heard LinkedIn talked up before — as the social networking company with a business model, a contrast to Facebook’s “gather a billion people then we’ll figure out how to turn that into a business” strategy. There’s a lot of money in employment advertising, as we found when Craigslist, CareerBuilder and Monster.com started to sound the death knell for newspaper help wanted ads several years ago.
Is it enough money to make LinkedIn a great business? Well, I’m sure Jeremy Phillips and the Gardner brothers know LinkedIn far better than I do — the ad says that Dave Gardner has recommended the stock twice, and that Tom Gardner personally has it as his largest stock position, and it’s true that in the past when Dave (Mr. Growth) and Tom (Mr. Value) have agreed on a stock, it has often done very, very well.
Me? I don’t like LinkedIn. That’s just a personal response to the product — I have used it a bit, I find it to be of little value and it seems to me to be full of the bland interview chatter and irritating impersonal connection-making that you see in any networking cocktail party. I also don’t like the cocktail parties, despite my fondness for cocktails.
But that has nothing to do with whether LinkedIn is a good investment, it just means I’ve never gotten around to using it very much and I’ve not felt compelled to really examine it as an investment.
LinkedIn does report this week (though according to Yahoo Finance it’s actually on Thursday, not Wednesday morning as the teaser suggests), and it is growing like gangbusters — but it’s also really, really, really expensive by almost any valuation metric you can come up with. That’s a positive criteria for the Rule Breakers service, they like to pick stocks that the conventional media thinks are overvalued, because most great market-changing growth stocks have been called “too expensive” by the financial media at some point… and philosophically I can understand that, but it still makes it really, really hard for me to buy stocks that carry a forward PE of 100.
If they can keep up this earnings growth, they may well be able to grow into that kind of valuation — they’ve just about doubled earnings in almost every quarter they’ve reported as a public company (they went public in the Spring of 2011), and the stock has more than doubled since the IPO (the IPO priced at $45 but the stock doubled on that first day, it has since been volatile traded down to about $60, but not for long, and is now above $120).
The basic business (I don’t use it, remember) is to help people make professional connections — sharing resumes and networking tips instead of going on Facebook to share pictures of cute cats and drunk teenagers. And it apparently works quite well, they can indeed sell to three different distinct groups: Advertisers who want to reach well-paid professionals, job-seekers who want upgraded memberships to help with resume building and connection-making, and recruiting officers who want to find qualified employees. So there is a great business case to be made for the company, and a reasonable projection that they could become an even bigger player in the HR and recruiting business … I just have no idea whether it can or will grow big enough, fast enough, to justify the current valuation. For that, you’ll have to make your own call.
If recruiting is indeed a $130 billion business, which sounds like a reasonable estimate (you can get different estimates from different folks in the personnel business, but it is a big sector), and you think that LNKD can become a real linchpin of the business, then there’s certainly enough money out there for them to become far larger — it’s a $13 billion business right now (that’s the market capitalization), with less than a billion dollars in annual revenue, so there is a big potential runway.
The free summary of Morningstar’s take on this stock sums up my initial reaction to the company pretty well:
“In the market for social networking, no company currently monetizes its user base better than LinkedIn. With an attractive business model and a user base that may never leave, this wide-moat firm is one of the few social Internet companies to truly hold a defensible position, in our view. We hope the market’s unbridled optimism subsides and the stock becomes cheap enough for us to recommend.”
So that’s how I’m feeling after my few minutes of checking out LNKD — great business, too expensive even after reliably doubling their earnings nearly every quarter. How about you? What do you think about LNKD or about the LinkedIn services? Ready to ride this to the next great internet fortune, or will it end up disappointing those who bought in with unbridled optimism? Let us know with a comment below