TheStreet.com held its Net Stock Summit last Friday in its lower Manhattan offices. This is the sixth and final installment of the edited transcript of the Summit, which TSC has been publishing throughout the week. (Click for Part 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.) In this segment the panelists detail their stock picks and take questions. An archived audio version of the Summit is available here.
We're gonna go through the stock picks now everybody submitted beforehand. I'll identify each person to have them talk briefly about their pick and then take a couple questions from the people around the table maybe to spark a little more defense rather than just outright promotion.
So let's start with
. Ryan's pick is a company that one of our readers emailed in and said, "I'm really not sure what the heck they do, but their stock seems to do well," and that's
. Could you tell us a little bit about that company, or more accurately, just a little bit about why that's your pick?
Well, CMGI is basically a publicly traded venture capital fund. I mean, that's really the best way to describe it. Why do we like it? It's been a holding of ours for a while and one of our top holdings for a while. You know, people ask me if I had to own one Net stock, what would it be? And that would be it because you're getting exposure into -- you know, the problem is even with
or one of the other larger Internet companies, the risk isn't the quarter-by-quarter risk.
The risk is really: What happens if a technology comes along that co-opts that market? And that's a big risk, and that could mean that business disappears, whether it's
or something else down the road that we're not seeing. So that's the risk that I worry about. With CMGI, in essence, you're buying into really 30 different companies, encompassing a variety of different businesses, a variety of different technologies. I feel very comfortable.
Another thing is I think it's very misunderstood by the Street, again, because, you know, most of the companies are privately held. They're really almost impossible to value. So you have to take a more holistic view in looking at these companies, trying to see maybe public counterparts or market sizes and where this company could go. And with CMGI, because they have a pretty vast network, in essence they can help bring a company along, introduce this new company to customers right off the bat, get them to that scale to where they can be competitive. So, you know, we just think it's very undervalued. Today I think about a $5 billion market cap, maybe about $1 billion, $1 1/2 billion with
, now Yahoo! and
stock. And then the balance is about a half a dozen wholly owned companies, maybe another 25 companies where they have partial positions in.
And your fund is long?
We are long.
What is the risk? Sounds like a great story. What's the risk?
Well, I think people perceive the risk as because they really are a venture capital firm in a lot of ways. It's liquidity risk. And obviously, if there's not a robust IPO market or if these other companies aren't growing -- for instance, last year Amazon bought
, which was a CMGI investment, and
, which was a CMGI investment. These weren't necessarily liquidity events as the result of an IPO, but, rather, of an acquisition. But, you know,
, which is an IPO coming up, CMGI has, I think, maybe a 5% to 10% position in that. That should be a pretty anticipated deal that's coming in the next few months.
So, I think people look at the liquidity risk as being one. And then, it really is a proxy for the Internet's growth. So it's a favorite for short-sellers also.
And it sells at a premium to the net asset value of the public companies in it?
Oh, big premiums.
Yes. Well, I mean,
right now is selling at a discount, between about a 40% or 50% discount to the net asset value of just its public holdings. And traditionally, there was a
discount to the net asset value of the
shares that they held -- and I would just add perhaps that is one of the other risks of the story, is that traditionally holding companies have sold at a discount.
Well, I think it's trading at a premium to where again, the Lycos and the GeoCities was trading at, but it's still at a vast discount to the value of the private companies. And again, mainly because generally for the sell-side analysts who cover CMGI, they tend to be, again, even more overly conservative rather than stick their neck out in terms of trying to ascertain what's fair value as to those individual companies.
And then also, I think the track record has something to do with it, and the fact of the matter is that they've been very prudent and very helpful in guiding the companies along and have shown us phenomenal returns on investment over the last few years. So I think that has something to do with it as well. But I personally, in looking at each of the individual companies, I think it's a real big discount.
. Does it help the companies that they're part of this thing?
Oh, absolutely, yeah. What they can do is they can buy a company, maybe come in in the initial round. And you want CMGI as a partner 'cause they'll maybe bring in a GeoCities, a Lycos or some of the other companies as customers for you to build your scale that's necessary in order to be competitive. So they definitely play on that. And they really don't invest in a company unless they feel that they have a shot at becoming a leader in the market.
One newsworthy item that came up this week was they just funded $100,000 into a company called
and hired away a former, I think, president of
to head that company. And they're gonna take
on pretty hard within the next year. And I think they have a decent shot. And with $100 million in invested capital, given that broadcast.com, I think, started with -- I think they had less than $70 million in invested capital, they have a shot. And that's just one of 30 investments they have.
Do you think that the deal -- they have a big position in Lycos. Lycos agreed to cap out. What's your feeling on the Lycos deal? And does that say that there's an endgame that's before you bought or before CMGI might've bought?
Well, actually I'm glad you brought it up because I know you wanted to talk about it earlier. We were big Lycos holders, and unfortunately, after the deal, we sold our position. And I'm not so sure CMGI was thrilled, even from the get-go. You know, given the fact they only have, I think, between 20% and 25% ownership, there's not a whole lot they can do about it at this point. It used to be a majority-owned position, and I think at the end of the day they just went with what Lycos wanted to do.
I thought it was a terrible deal, and I think the strategy going forward -- this vertical integration -- really doesn't make a lot of sense. I don't think you'll see an
or a Yahoo! starting to buy up fulfillment capabilities. It's just not their expertise. I think they're gonna stick with just providing the consumers with the best merchants possible and just making a piece off the transactions. But to actually get into that low-margin, slow-growth business doesn't really make a lot of sense.
All right. Thanks, Ryan. We're gonna bop over to Andy Kessler here, who's from
, who's picked
"I think that the real place that investors should be looking is in this infrastructure market. Everything that is in place to support the Internet today has to be ripped out right now and replaced over the next 18 months. And then in 18 months, it has to be ripped out and replaced again." -- Andy Kessler
Let me just start with an observation that all of the companies that were mentioned today, whether it's Yahoo! or Amazon or Beyond I'm going to talk about, have a huge requirement for better infrastructure in their back office, and that includes the ISPs and the telcos that provide Internet access. And I think that this was billed as the Internet stock, an attempt to be thought of as the service company of the Yahoo!, Amazons. And so my pick is Beyond, which is a great company I love, and I'll go into it in a second.
But I think that the real place that investors should be looking is in this infrastructure market. Everything that is in place to support the Internet today has to be ripped out right now and replaced over the next 18 months. And then in 18 months, it has to be ripped out and replaced again. That -- you know, companies that have set up Web sites to handle hundreds of thousands and millions of users, you've gotta throw it out and set up something that can handle tens of millions of users.
And so there's companies like
is a company that does security.
does silicon for
with optics. I mean, there's a whole bunch of less sexy names on the infrastructure side, but I think that's the place to be going forward.
Having said that, there's a great Internet service company called Beyond, which is, in simplified terms -- Hollywood always likes to simplify things, saying, 'Oh, well, this movie is
on a train,' or something like that. So this is -- Beyond is the
of software, and that's actually truer than it sounds. The history is a company that was founded by Bill McKiernan, who was the president of
, who sort of almost inadvertently discovered this business model of, you give away or buy something when you can go build a corporate sales structure around it. And he spun out and he created a company called
, and inside was a company called
that went along and was a retailer of software.
But what made them different, unlike books or tapes or coffee machines, is that software can be delivered on the Net. In fact, it should be delivered on the Net. And what they found is a large percentage -- I don't have the numbers off the top of my head; I wish I'd brought it -- of the business that they do is actually downloads. And, of course, when you do download, there are no costs to goods. It's a much higher margin of business for them. It's a much higher business for the software company that is actually selling the software.
So they started along and they reinvented themselves last summer. They brought in the guy that was the VP of marketing, Mark Breier, from Amazon, who came in and said, 'OK, I mean, I know how to do this' and all those things, and started spending money to build an affiliate channel and to build a branch. And so far, the results have been quite good.
So from 30,000 feet to -- this is a company that can solve the last-mile problem. You know what I mean by the last mile? It's not the cable companies or your phone line. What I mean by the last mile is the
dude that shows up at your house or the
guy with the brown socks. I mean, that is the least profitable side of the business. FedEx hates coming to your house. They don't make money when they come to your house. And here with Beyond they can have the bulk pricing flexibility and the service capabilities to do downloading. And their growth has been quite spectacular. But, they've really only started spending large dollars on brand name and the like last August. And I think you're gonna see, too, in '99 a great growth spurt for Beyond.
And you're long?
Does anybody have any questions about beyond.com?
I'd be curious to get your reaction here. I think one of the big fears that investors have is that this seems like a very logical business for an Amazon to go into. And given the story that one of the biggest investments is gathering a customer base and then you can leverage that customer base over a wider and wider group of product offerings, it seems like software is the business they might want to go into. And given what happened to
, which were making a huge amount of noise about a very promising area, and as soon as Amazon flicked the switch, the stock tanked and actually the fundamentals tanked along with them, is that something that concerns you?
Competition has to be a fear of any company -- but, you know, there is a value to a first-mover status, and so perhaps they have that. They are purely focused on software, unlike a
or others that -- it's an adjunct to what they do. And I think selling software and the inherent customer service that has to be built around that is different from selling books.
If you're always selling packaged software, I don't think there's that much difference than picking a box of
off the shelf or picking Tom Wolfe's novel off the shelf. But when you're talking about downloading and you're talking about a technology wrapper and infrastructure that has to be built, I don't think it's gonna be that easy for Amazon. Now I think they can try. There's also been talk that a great way of getting their VP of marketing back -- right? -- is to buy them. But we don't own anything for buyout capabilities or buyout potential. We own it for the global prospect.
Andy, what about the free-money companies, like
, for example? I mean, they all seem to want to sell things in the computer business. You know, buy.com, for example, is sort of a bold calculation into that.
Yeah. Right. I think buy.com is going to muck up a lot of businesses, whether...
Buy buy.com. Yeah.
Yeah. But for now -- and we'll see where they go -- all these companies, as far as I can tell, are predominantly in the boxes off the shelf. And so here's a company that has a lead, is spending the money branding themselves as the leader and, I think, can fend off, you know, when a number-two player shows up, that may cause some market share issues, but when the number three through 10 players show up, it's usually too late.
One thing that's still a problem in downloading -- I don't know, how long does it take for someone to download, you know, at home some piece of software?
Well, if you try to download
, it's gonna take you -- on a 28.8 modem, it'll take you between now and... But if you're downloading
, it's not much more than five or 10 minutes. Now having said that -- I think they also found, number one, they have a very big corporate business so they have a deal with the
Department of Defense
, they got a deal with
and someone else, too, to be the corporate site. And what they also found is that while they may have consumer customers, that a lot of the downloads take place at work, where there's, you know, T-1 lines or OC-3 lines and, you know, in the blink of the eye, you can get Office 2000 for your desktop. So it's an issue, but the good news is broadband is not a problem in companies, it's a problem at home.
Do they need to start providing more than just being an intermediate, being a distributor as -- I mean, if you look at traditionally why intermediaries get paid, it's because they're taking on the risk of inventory. And when you have up- or downloads, there is no inventory and we're talking about friction with capital here, friction with transactions. There has to be a reason why a software developer uses an intermediary vs. just downloading it from their own site.
You know, it's a good point, but there is still channel conflict. So if you're
, you've gotta be careful of having a button on your Web site where you can buy something. Now some of these guys do, and they do it at, you know, suggested retail price. I don't know anyone that's actually spent suggested retail price for a piece of software. So, to them, Beyond looks like a retailer in the channel. In fact, there are a lot of companies that actually did set up commerce on their own Web sites and just weren't terribly successful -- customer service issues and a lot of things -- and they put a lot of that business to Beyond. So Beyond has actually closed a bunch of deals to be the pointer from the corporate Web site. When you say, 'I want to buy this,' it will send you...
Boy, I'm just surprised to hear you, Mr. Skeptic, too, basically talking about a company that is so vulnerable. You know, software retailing itself is vulnerable, but even downloading whatever they have -- how proprietary is the software, their procedure?
Their download was just changed. They went from, you know, what was a 10- or a 20-click to a two-click or three-click transaction to download. Look, every business on the planet is vulnerable in some form or another. What investors are paying up for in the Internet space is not only the growth, but the brand, if you will, that goes with it. But unlike selling hard goods, where your margins are stuck and perhaps dropping when someone undercuts you, here is a business that actually makes sense to do on the Web, because you can deliver the product on the Web. And not only is that good for beyond.com, it's good for the customers as well. That and, actually, online trading, is one of the few win-win businesses that you can find.
All right, let's go on to
on beyond.com. Nick,
Check Point Software Technology
Is an infrastructure company...
...trading at a very reasonable P/E. People know the bear case. So the bear case has always been, 'Well,
gonna get them because Sun says they used to do about 20% of the business with Sun as a reseller.' Well, Sun isn't in the reselling-other-people's-software business anymore, they sell their own. They have the Check Point firewall -- they make firewall software, by the way, which is more than you think it is, particularly since their firewall manages firewalls, and it manages the security process. At first, the bear case was the Sun distribution deal. Well, they still have those same customers, they just don't buy it through Sun anymore. The next was Cisco's gonna kill them. When was the last time you heard Cisco talk about security? They lost, they bagged, game over -- gone. Most of their peers are struggling.
I mean, there's no one of them that sells within, you know, a quarter of what Check Point does, so they've achieved those victories. And if you want to -- well, usually, you can look at the numbers and see if it's a differentiated product. Try 48% operating money. Now that always gives me the willies. I mean, that puts them with
, by the way, right at the top of the heap in terms of rapidly growing software companies with very differentiated products.
Here's what people don't understand about it: Why do you buy a firewall? We all think of it as being to avoid intruder detection from the outside. And I think most people now are conversant to the idea that you have to protect against internal intruders as well. You use firewalls for that. What they're really for is not having to buy leased lines, and this is why business is actually gonna accelerate in this market.
The reason you get firewall is so you can run your wide-area network over other people's pipes and just buy a local few-month connection for a couple of thousand. Get overseas connections. Remember, the Internet doesn't know about distance. So here's part of the technology underpinning of the Internet that's being exploited, so from that point of view, it's one of the best positioned companies. I mean, there are certainly others bandied, mentioned about. You look at the reason traffic's going in that direction. It's because of companies like
and a few others that have set a big market share. On this arbitrage, you pay a local call, maybe very expensive high-speed one, but that's still much cheaper than having -- you know, exploiting a shared mesh network.
A virtual private network.
Yes. Well, VPNs, yeah. That's exactly why. Why would you own your network? It was always a thankless, expensive task, and it didn't work that well. Well, this other one works very well, and the reason you do that is because you can secure the traffic and then use the shared cloud of the public network to move traffic around.
Any questions on that one?
Yeah. I just want to know, 'cause I want to know on everything, what makes you....?
Well, the ticker ends in F. The correlation there is they often don't spend it on -- in Check Point 'cause their growth's gonna struggle to even get to 8% or 9% R&D. It always gives me the willies when a company this size sees profits. It's like, you know, I've seen too many particularly Israeli-founded companies, as this one is. Many, many of them thought they were cash machines, so they got too greedy too young. I don't think that's a problem. They're spending the money as fast as they can. So that's one issue.
They also have, like, this congenital conference call disorder where they cannot have a conference call without a big event in it.
We own Check Point as well and share a lot of the same thoughts that you were mentioning here. The thing that keeps us up at night, we're not concerned right now, but as with any software vendor who's a leader in a space, there is a risk at some point in time that it's just, OK, their day has come and gone. And our view, I think that the risk is -- it's not now. It's probably two, three, maybe five years out that they're a one-trick pony, like an
. And at some point they're going to have to intensify. But I think what you're saying is...
You know, this thing has to grow at a very rapid rate for a while to really be that great of an investment, considering the risk you take in all technology. The space each time appears to be getting wider -- broader, rather, than they are now.
Brian, why don't we just go right there from this into
You can tell us a little bit about why you guys are back in that stock.
Well, we like to talk about this in stages 'cause it seems like CNet has already been through a few lives. We've owned it since inception. It's an example, getting back to the subject we covered before, of a new media company coming into a space where old media dominates and providing a service doing the same thing with a much better model. They basically started out as a tech site for consumers, providing things that a
would provide, a
magazine would provide without all the costs associated with printing and the like.
That, to us, is a pretty darn good story. There was a nice niche, a very solid management team there with experience in investment banking, great connections in the media world with one of the former founders of
and great connections in the technology world as well. You might not know that they developed a lot of the technology that makes up
right now, a successful IPO. So we saw them with strength across many important areas for this kind of company: media, investment banking, technology. And then it grew from that.
As they added onto their anchor site, which is CNET.com, they added news.com, which is -- you don't use that, I don't know why you don't. It's a great site. I have my browser home page defaulted to that. Great source of news, both financial and technology news, an area that provides targeted advertising for people buying ads. We like that.
After that, they entered some e-commerce space, and they just keep adding layers to their story, getting us more and more excited. Now there's one layer they added where we actually started trimming our position and saying we're not so sure now. They polluted the story. It was a nice, clean story when they started Snap!. It was their secret investment at one point that they were going to increase spending on and delay the date of profitability for the company. In our minds, we didn't know why they wanted to take on AOL, Yahoo!. And, at the time, Microsoft Network was strong -- and we didn't see that they had any core competence there.
As it turns out, it's been a great thing for the company as they sold a good portion of it to
and gained a tremendous partner, a tremendous man in the corner for them. And if you are a content, a destination site on the Web, I think it pays to have a big media partner in a place outside of the Web. I mean, we all know the Web is big now, but only 25% of American households are on the Web. A lot of American households, obviously, watch TV. And getting their ads on NBC definitely helps, just as
getting theirs on CBS helps and so forth. But it's just the fact that they keep layering on more and more opportunities, and the e-commerce opportunity I believe is wide open for them, providing a shopping comparison site, going out and auctioning off premier spots on that site to resellers, who are paying per qualified lead -- they're paying bounties to CNet.
So those transactions -- that's a model where they're not taking any inventory on. They're just getting, not really a cut of the deal, but they're getting a cut of the whole profit. It's a story that we think keeps getting better and better.
We'll take one quick question on CNet.
Are you concerned about the level of valuation in here?
Well, I don't think it's in the ridiculous realm yet. Really, it's under $2 billion market cap for a company that's selling at triple-digit revenues next year. I don't think we're in the ridiculous realm. And this is one of those companies where the operating model is one where the margins aren't great right now, but so much of the costs are fixed in nature. The variable cost of adding another viewer of news.com is zero. We think once you pass a certain critical match, your margins start to open up on you. We think 20 times forward revenue is not out of the question for a company like that.
OK. We'll have to see what we can do to change your home page default -- just something, I guess, more for us to do. Let's go right to Henry. Henry, I believe your pick is Yahoo!. So why don't you throw that open? That's uncontroversial here.
Well, just to open it up again, I think that the approach we're recommending in this whole space is to build a basket, and this is one of the core holdings. And we still think the stock has a long way to go from here. I'll just run through a few things.
Just to touch on what the company is right now. This is a company that is about a $200 million company growing at flat-line 200% a year. They are -- actually -- well, more than that, $300 million company -- flatlined at 200% a year. They're settled in at that growth right on the top line. They have a 36% operating margin. They had an unbelievably high return on invested capital. And we think these things are sustainable long term. So the company is worth a lot more than a conservative PD would tell you. Now whether you get in the argument that the evaluation is incredibly out of hand is another argument. We'll come back to that in just a second.
But just to talk about Yahoo!'s fundamental opportunity, in 1998 we had about $2 billion in advertising revenue online. Yahoo! had about $200 million of it in '98, so they had 10% market share. If you look at the U.S. as a whole and you look at media spending and direct marketing spending -- and these companies are really drawing on both -- you have about a $200 billion revenue pie that companies are spending to get people to buy stuff from them in a variety of ways. When you think about the fact that people are watching less television, they're reading less, they're spending more time online and you throw in broadband, the better technology for one-to-one targeting, and think about how much of that big pie ultimately could move online, I think it's conceivable you get 10% to 20% of that $200 billion online. If you take a 10% figure, we have a $20 billion market opportunity here. If Yahoo! were to maintain its share, and that's arguable, obviously, they would be a $2 billion company on the top line.
They already have a 36% operating margin. They're gaining leverage on the operating line at about 7 points a quarter, and that will obviously start to flatten soon, I think -- and it is starting to flatten, but it's conceivable this company has a 50% operating margin, I think. If so, it's throwing off almost $1 billion in net income. And once you get to those magnitudes where, I think, a $25 billion, $30 billion valuation, maybe higher, for the company, it's conceivable that the valuation is justifiable, and that's just in the U.S. advertising and direct marketing spending market.
It's not talking about commerce, it doesn't take into account the fact that this is a global business and this is a business that right now, with their profitability, is funding the losses in 17 international properties. They're the only one of these businesses -- and it's very different from AOL -- that owns their international operations outright. And they're all losing money and they're funding the losses in that operating margin. So as they turn profitable, I think they're gonna have a heck of a lot of leverage left.
"Yahoo!'s management team has demonstrated that they can roll with the market and stay on top. And again, it's the management team that, I think, wants more out of this than money. They have made fortunes that will last hundreds of years and I think that they really feel like they are building history here." -- Henry Blodget
So just to cut it very short, people talk about lock-ins. I'm less concerned about customer lock-in than I have been. Yahoo!'s really developing the service. Once you customize it, once you put your calendar on there, if you decide to do that, your email -- people tend to be very loyal to those sites. They tend to come back. This is, as we've seen over the last two years, a market that's evolving incredibly quickly. It's changing. We don't know what it'll look like in two years, but Yahoo!'s management team has demonstrated that they can roll with the market and stay on top. And again, it's the management team that, I think, wants more out of this than money. They have made fortunes that will last hundreds of years and I think that they really feel like they are building history here. So that's the management team we want to be behind.
And we can live with the valuation, given the upside, and until the fundamentals start to slow down, I don't think the fact that the stock's expensive will bring it down. I don't think the market is gonna wake up someday and say, 'Oh, my God, these stocks are expensive,' and they're gonna get cut by 75%. I think that what will slow it down is the number of new users on the Web, a slowdown in advertising spending, fundamental events that take place. So we don't think that'll happen anytime soon. We still like Yahoo!.
OK. Thank you, Henry. Jim Cramer's gonna take one minute to explain why he likes AOL and that'll wrap it up. One minute on this...
...a blue-chip Internet stock.
I've been writing on the site that I sold on the fold line, that stock, because I felt that we were seeing some tough sledding. I think the tough sledding's gonna continue and it's gonna be very choppy, of which I don't want to have a lot of names on. I do want to own AOL because I want to own the blue-chips through this. And the simple reason why it's the blue-chip, to me, is that it has the congeniality of Rikers and the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Department and tried to shut everybody down. And when the smoke cleared, every attorney general went after them. It had more new users, not fewer. So if it went through that, I don't think it's gonna lose anybody. I've had my address for AOL since the beginning. I still can't shake it because it's just stuck with me.
So I just say it's the one that I will own through this morass and the morass is 38 companies that are coming public in the next five weeks.
That's a good point. Supply is heavy. Nick, we got a couple of seconds if you want to have a final comment.
Just on AOL, did you see the
road show recently? They had two really interesting data points to the point of view of an AOL investor, one of which is their network costs only 7 bucks a month, so AOL may actually get a margin extension off of network costs. And the other was that Prodigy still has over 200,000 subscribers to their original proprietary service. How long is it gonna take for people to really shift from AOL, which is, like, kind of service of today if there's still a quarter of a million plugging along in good ol' Prodigy?
They're doing more with the medium than anyone else.
Oh, I shut it off myself 'cause of the scam and the solicitations and so on and, you know, being actually technical. But there's no denying that they are the blue-chips.
All right. Well, I want to thank everybody for being here. It was a great couple hours. I especially want to thank those who had a chance to listen in. And we'll have a transcript of this broadcast beginning of next week, and we'll have another summit soon. So thanks, everybody, and have a good evening.