Are Priceline and Equinix Worth Every Penny?


Some investors think fishing at the shallow end of the stock pond among penny stocks is where they'll land the biggest returns. While a move of just a few pennies might net you a whopper, it's more likely to have you falling hook, line, and sinker into the weeds of fraud and manipulation.

Instead, try casting your line to the other end of the price spectrum, among stocks that trade north of $100 a share. These three-digit stocks (and sometimes they trade for four, five, or six digits) can oftentimes have you telling a whale of a tale of multibagger returns.

But regardless of how much it costs, it always comes down to whether the business is well run. We'll check in with the smart set at Motley Fool CAPS to see which high-priced honeys they think are selling something fishy, and which ones they believe ought to be mounted over the mantel.

Highfalutin honeys
When online travel agent (NAS: PCLN) killed off William Shatner's Negotiator character, it was done to instead focus on its traditional booking services as opposed to the more well-known name-your-own-price business. In the U.S., Priceline's opaque business was dominant, but elsewhere in the world it operated like a regular OTA and it wanted to build up that service here, too, challenging the likes of Expedia (NAS: EXPE) , Orbitz Worldwide (NYS: OWW) , and Travelocity.

For the most part, that's working out well as its business sees increased domestic sales, but the service is primarily designed to help international travelers find accommodations in the U.S. According to the market researchers at Amadeus Total Demand, between North America and Europe remains the busiest interregional flow, with over 60 million passengers in 2011. While that probably helps explain the growth of here in the U.S., it's more an ancillary benefit and not a core function.

Europe's financial woes may unsettle travel, though, and that could cause Priceline some worries. It was the world's biggest seller of hotel rooms in 2011, selling 142 million room nights. Its international business represented more than three-quarters of its gross bookings and 88% of its operating profits. Its shares have pulled back 17% from the highs they hit this past spring, but at around $640 a stub, I'm not sure they don't still represent a worthwhile entry point.

If things unravel overseas even more, the stock might take a hit, but as the last recession showed, Priceline was able to make some tasty lemonade from the economic lemons that were handed out. Over the last five years the OTA enjoyed a 31% compound growth rate in revenues and an astounding 80% annual increase in net profits. It shows that when the going gets tough, travelers get Priceline.

I've already rated Priceline to outperform the market indexes on CAPS, but let me know in the comments section below or on Priceline CAPS page whether you agree the stock is ready to take flight.

What's the big idea?
According to the market analysts at IDC, "big data" is where the big news will be in the coming years.

What is big data? Well, it's the biggest trend in computing today, and technology and services catering to it will grow from a $3 billion industry in 2010 to almost $17 billion by 2015, or a 40% compounded annual growth rate. With the world awash in data -- IBM (NYS: IBM) says we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every single day -- helping businesses get a handle on the information flowing into their operations is one of the cornerstones of its future growth plays.

Which uniquely positions Equinix (NAS: EQIX) to profit from the convergence of information that forces business to come to terms with how best to store, manage, and analyze every bit of it, extracting maximum value as cheaply as possible.

Equinix currently operates more than 100 network-neutral data centers, but is expanding globally, investing for tomorrow's coming demand. Its client list is like reading the Who's Who of the Fortune 50: Microsoft, AT&T, IBM, and more.

Investor's Business Daily recently discussed the company considering converting to a real estate investment trust, noting the stock has jumped 40% since management first broached the idea in February. But the stock was on the rise already -- it's up almost 70% in 2012 -- due to soaring revenues and profits.

I rated Equinix to outperform on CAPS, and I'm mildly surprised by its low, one-star rating that members have assigned it. Likely they feel, as ishamj does, that its debt-laden balance sheet will hold it back, but like the recent $750 million credit facility it took out, it's using that money for expansion purposes. Debt can be evil, but sometimes it's necessary to grow the business, and I think the trend for big data is big enough to justify it.

Use the comments box below to express your views on its debt situation, and let me know whether you feel big data is just another bubble that will soon burst.

A sky-high opportunity
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Fool contributor Rich Duprey holds no position in any company mentioned. Click here to see his holdings and a short bio. The Motley Fool owns shares of International Business Machines,, and Microsoft.Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of and Microsoft. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a synthetic long position in International Business Machines and a bull call spread position in Microsoft. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

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