This Day On The Street
Continue to site
This account is pending registration confirmation. Please click on the link within the confirmation email previously sent you to complete registration.
Need a new registration confirmation email? Click here

Talking to Management, Part 3: The Competition

This column was originally published on RealMoney on April 18, 2007 at 10:42 a.m. ET. It's being republished as a bonus for University readers. For more information about subscribing to RealMoney, please click here .

Editor's note: We're pleased to present David Merkel's five-part series on questions to ask the management of a public company. Each part covers a new set of issues and the reasons to raise them. In Part 1 , Merkel explained the philosophy behind his approach and presented the big subjects he likes to get out of the way first. Part 2 addressed top financial concerns. Now, in Part 3, what you need to find out about the competition.

The Competition

What are you seeing that you think most of your competitors aren't seeing? Or: What resource is valuable to your business that you think your competitors neglect?

This question is an open invitation to a management team to reach into its "brag bag" and pull out a few of its best differential competences for display. The answer had better be an impressive one, and it had better make sense as a critical aspect of the business. Good answers can include changes in products, demand, pricing and resources; they must reflect some critical aspect of business that will make a difference in future profitability.

Consider two examples from the insurance industry, both of which are future in nature:

I posed this question to the CEOs of several Bermuda reinsurers, and the answer was: "We don't think that the profitability of casualty business is as profitable as the reserving of some of our competitors would indicate." That might have been a bit of trash talk; perhaps it was a word to the wise. I favor the latter interpretation.

Then there was a CEO who suggested that many specialty casualty insurers he competed against had underinvested in claims control. That's fine in the bull phase of the cycle, but it can spell trouble in the bear phase, when cash flow might go negative and skilled claims adjusters are hard to find.

If you could switch places with any of your competitors, who would it be and why? Alternatively, if you think you are the best positioned, who is next best, in your opinion?

This question usually won't get an answer in large forums. It's best saved for more intimate gatherings, because to the wider investing public, most companies portray themselves as the best. Also, in diversified corporations, it's useful to ask this question of divisional heads rather than the CEO. They have a closer feel for the competition they face on a day-to-day basis.

When answered, this query can yield new research vistas. Who knows company quality better than an industry insider? The response can bring out the unique reasons a competitor is succeeding -- and, potentially, what this company's current management team is doing to challenge the competitor.
1 of 3

Check Out Our Best Services for Investors

Action Alerts PLUS

Portfolio Manager Jim Cramer and Director of Research Jack Mohr reveal their investment tactics while giving advanced notice before every trade.

Product Features:
  • $2.5+ million portfolio
  • Large-cap and dividend focus
  • Intraday trade alerts from Cramer
Quant Ratings

Access the tool that DOMINATES the Russell 2000 and the S&P 500.

Product Features:
  • Buy, hold, or sell recommendations for over 4,300 stocks
  • Unlimited research reports on your favorite stocks
  • A custom stock screener
Stocks Under $10

David Peltier uncovers low dollar stocks with serious upside potential that are flying under Wall Street's radar.

Product Features:
  • Model portfolio
  • Stocks trading below $10
  • Intraday trade alerts
14-Days Free
Only $9.95
14-Days Free
Dividend Stock Advisor

David Peltier identifies the best of breed dividend stocks that will pay a reliable AND significant income stream.

Product Features:
  • Diversified model portfolio of dividend stocks
  • Updates with exact steps to take - BUY, HOLD, SELL
Trifecta Stocks

Every recommendation goes through 3 layers of intense scrutiny—quantitative, fundamental and technical analysis—to maximize profit potential and minimize risk.

Product Features:
  • Model Portfolio
  • Intra Day Trade alerts
  • Access to Quant Ratings
Real Money

More than 30 investing pros with skin in the game give you actionable insight and investment ideas.

Product Features:
  • Access to Jim Cramer's daily blog
  • Intraday commentary and news
  • Real-time trading forums
Only $49.95
14-Days Free
14-Days Free
GS $161.95 -2.50%
VLO $58.86 -1.60%
AAPL $94.27 0.67%
FB $118.06 -0.43%
GOOG $695.82 -0.34%


Chart of I:DJI
DOW 17,699.58 -191.58 -1.07%
S&P 500 2,057.44 -23.99 -1.15%
NASDAQ 4,757.3970 -60.1970 -1.25%

Free Reports

Top Rated Stocks Top Rated Funds Top Rated ETFs