A Tale of Two Companies Rising From Near Ashes

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- It's a tale of two companies. Both are off to a blistering start for 2013, both are the subject of takeover talk to one extent or another; both have seen better days, are a shadow of their former selves and are attempting to turn the corner, but will likely never again be what they once were.

Both were considered growth names earlier in their history. I've long been a consumer of both of these company's products. That's where the similarities end. One is a larger, high profile name that has gotten quite a bit of attention from the value investing crowd in the past year or so, as the growth crowd moved on. The other is a small cap, with a well-known brand name, and a checkered past, that has somewhat quietly put itself back into investor's minds.

These are the type of stories that are making 2013 interesting, at least for me; the companies I refer to are Dell ( DELL)and Krispy Kreme ( KKD).

Cash-rich Dell, which ended last quarter with $11.3 billion or $6.50 per share in cash, but also $9 billion in debt, is up 26% year to date, and the subject of buyout rumors. The latest story is that Silver Lake Partners is finalizing a bid to take Dell private; a deal that is expected to include Dell founder Michael Dell. While it's unclear what shares might fetch in a deal, just two months ago, Dell was trading near a four-year low, and is up 45% since.

It's been quite a fall from grace for Dell shares though, which were trading in the $17 range just one year ago, in the low $40's in 2005, and low $50's in 2000. Technology changed, competition in the PC space became fierce, and the company suffered the consequences. Longer term shareholders can't be happy with a deal that is anywhere close to the current price ($12.82), but those who swooped in in recent months, have done well...so far.  Chart data by YCharts

Krispy Kreme shares are up 27% year to date, and have nearly doubled since August, as skeptical investors -- that may have been burned by the company's fall from grace in its early days as a publicly traded company -- are showing renewed interest.

Krispy Kreme, a former "cult" stock, expanded too quickly in the early 2000s, and nearly went under as a result of poor accounting practices, and bad management.

After closing stores, and retrenching over the years, the company has focused on growing again, primarily through franchising in international markets.

The doughnut maker currently has about 240 U.S. locations, and 500 international. It also has plans to grow to 400 US locations, and 900 international by 2017. This is not the same company it was 10 years ago.

It will open its' first store in India later this week, and has plans for a total of 80 in that country.

As of the latest fiscal year-end, there were 87 stores in Saudi Arabia, 71 in Mexico, 34 in Japan, and 56 in South Korea, 48 in the UK and the list of international locations continues  Chart data by YCharts

The recent run-up in share price may be due to some takeover speculation, although there's been nothing concrete. However, the company's adoption of a "tax asset protection plan," otherwise known as a "poison pill" early this week, lends some credence to the that speculation. The plan "discourages" new investors from taking more than a 4.99% stake in the company, and its stated intention is to preserve the value of the company's operating loss carry forwards, which for federal alone, amount to $240 million. Existing 4.99% or greater shareholders are exempt from the poison pill at current ownership levels, but not if they increase their stakes.

As a Krispy Kreme shareholder, I'm not a fan of this poison pill, or for that matter, poison pills in general.

It's a tale of two companies; one that wants to be sold and another that apparently does not. This should make for some interesting story lines for 2013.

Now, as I type this on my Dell, I could really go for a Krispy Kreme...or two.

At the time of publication the author is long KKD.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

Jonathan Heller, CFA, is president of KEJ Financial Advisors, his fee-only financial planning company. Jon spent 17 years at Bloomberg Financial Markets in various roles, from 1989 until 2005. He ran Bloomberg's Equity Fundamental Research Department from 1994 until 1998, when he assumed responsibility for Bloomberg's Equity Data Research Department. In 2001, he joined Bloomberg's Publishing group as senior markets editor and writer for Bloomberg Personal Finance Magazine, and an associate editor and contributor for Bloomberg Markets Magazine. In 2005, he joined SEI Investments as director of investment communications within SEI's Investment Management Unit.

Jon is also the founder of the Cheap Stocks Web site, a site dedicated to deep-value investing. He has an undergraduate degree from Grove City College and an MBA from Rider University, where he has also served on the adjunct faculty; he is also a CFA charter holder.