Italy remains a hot spot for the world's attention, but here in the United States, we seem not to care, with more than 500 companies within 6% of a new 52-week high. For optimists, these rallies may seem like a dream come true. For skeptics like me, they're opportunities to see whether companies trading near 52-weeks highs have actually earned their current valuations.
Keep in mind that some companies deserve their current valuations. Home improvement outlet Home Depot (NYS: HD) , and to a lesser extent Lowe's (NYS: LOW) , are benefitting from homeowners' inability to sell their homes. This sector is raking in the profit as consumers opt to remodel rather than move.
Still, other companies might deserve a kick in the pants. Here's a look at three companies that could be worth selling.
When in doubt, discount
It's pretty hard to argue againstJos. A Bank's (NAS: JOSB) performance over the past decade. Gross margins have stayed consistent around 60% and the company has grown revenue by a multiple of four. Still, I find it difficult to support buying into the stock at these levels, especially considering how it operates its business.
Jos. A Bank relies on steep discounts in order to move merchandise. This can return huge profits when the economy is looking up, but could also bite the company's margins hard if consumer spending habits change. With consumer sentiment figures near 30-month lows, I'm not exactly optimistic about retail spending prospects in the U.S.
Also of worry is the company's valuation relative to the past decade. It may not seem unreasonable that Jos. A Bank is trading at 17 times operating cash flow or 14 times forward earnings, but considering that these are both way above the company's five-year average of 10.3 times cash flow and 12 times earnings, I feel it's cause for concern.
Conflict of interest
In a real case of he said/she said, Group 1 Automotive (NYS: GPI) , the nation's fourth-largest auto dealership, in late October forecast that U.S. auto sales may top 13.5 million units in 2012. This figure is in stark contrast to Ford's (NYS: F) prediction that a slowdown in auto sales may not allow the U.S. auto industry to hit its low-end production target of 13 million vehicles this year. Also, as Fool John Rosevear noted last month, General Motors (NYS: GM) may have a tough time hitting its sales expectations.
Another concern I have with Group 1 relates to its high levels of debt. It's not uncommon for auto-related companies to carry large amounts of debt to finance their business, but at 137% debt-to-equity and considering investors' unwillingness to take on risk recently, Group 1 Automotive could be a stock to run away from at these levels.
Being inexpensive on a per-share basis doesn't necessarily make a stock a buy.
Take Wendy's (NYS: WEN) as a prime example of a company near a 52-week high that I wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole. The company has been profitable in only five of the past 10 years and has ceded market share to many of its closest peers. In its latest quarterly report, the company noted that higher commodity costs are going to result in a 100-basis-point reduction in restaurant margin in 2011 -- higher than its initial forecast of 50-100 basis points. Given the company's spotty growth history, even at a mere 1.06 times book value, I'm not tempted one bit. Leave this stock on the menu.
Discounts, debt, and a real lack of growth are three things that will usually land a stock on my list of possible sells.
What's your take on these three companies? Are they sells or belles? Share your thoughts in the comments section below and consider adding Jos. A Bank, Group 1 Automotive, and Wendy's to your free and personalized watchlist in order to keep up on the latest news with each company.
At the time thisarticle was published Fool contributorSean Williamshas no material interest in any companies mentioned in this article. He has a closet full of suits, but lacks enough casual clothes to last him even two weeks. You can follow him on CAPS under the screen nameTMFUltraLong, track every pick he makes under the screen nameTrackUltraLong, and check him out on Twitter, where he goes by the handle@TMFUltraLong.The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of Home Depot, Lowe's, General Motors, and Ford, as well as writing covered calls on Lowe's. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policythat never needs to be sold short.
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