But a trailing P/E of 96 and a forward P/E of 91? That seems a bit rich, especially when you consider Amazon's net profit is normally about 5% of revenue, thanks to rock-bottom pricing that squeezes competitors and gives Amazon its low-cost appeal. It's great that customers visit Amazon first to compare prices, but there's not a lot of room for error with margins like that -- especially now that Amazon is eating more costs with its Amazon Prime free-shipping deals to preferred customers.
And let's not forget the huge gamble Amazon is making on the Kindle Fire. The company is bleeding cash on the low-cost tablets in an effort to jump into the market dominated by Apple (AAPL, news) and the iPad. Amazon's research, production and subsidies for the tablet will result in a huge step back for fourth-quarter earnings that normally account for about 40% of Amazon's annual profits.
That's fine if the device catches on, but some negative reviews are popping up on tech forums, and Amazon's lack of transparency on Kindle sales figures should make some investors leery. In fact, some analysts say Kindle sales will actually boost iPad sales by familiarizing consumers with the technology and prompting them to eventually upgrade.
And by the way, holiday sales numbers may not be all they're cracked up to be. That doesn't paint a great picture for Amazon in 2012.
4. Office Depot
Office Depot's revenue totaled $15.5 billion in fiscal 2007 and has steadily declined to about $11.5 billion for fiscal 2011. After seven straight quarterly losses in 2008 and 2009, the company managed to break even in 2010 -- but it is forecast to finish fiscal 2011 operating at a loss again. So much for blaming earlier troubles on the recession.
The lack of business spending on office supplies is only part of the story. Rival Staples (SPLS, news) is the No. 2 online retailer in the U.S. by many measures, second only to Amazon and in front of gadget powerhouse Apple. Office Depot just doesn't have the online competitive edge of Staples.
The idea of a big-box office-supply store in general is a tenuous bet these days. It's hard to compete with Wal-Mart Stores (WMT, news) and other discounters on back-to-school supplies and the like, and Office Depot will never have the selection that Internet electronics retailers offer. Sure, the stores also offer business-card printing and other services -- but FedEx (FDX, news) offers the same things at its Kinko's outlets, with a fraction of the square footage and almost as many locations.
What's to like about Office Depot?
Ford Motor (F, news) was in the right place at the right time as General Motors (GM, news) and Chrysler went belly-up. The carmaker gobbled market share, benefitting from government meddling in its competitors. Ford also managed to win both car and truck of the year at the 2010 Detroit Auto Show.
2011 hasn't been as kind. Ford stock is off almost 40%, despite reinstating its dividend to appeal to shareholders and despite the fact that overall vehicle sales are looking to grow by almost 10% this year over 2010.
Why the tumble? Well, irrational exuberance is one reason. Ford peaked at over $18 a share this year, more than double its 2007 stock price, even though revenue was off over 25% from that same period. Returning to profitability was nice, but Ford got there by cuts -- not by growth. What's more, although Ford managed to avoid bankruptcy, thanks to timely debt restructuring just before the financial crisis, its total long-term debt totals more than $100 billion. That's more than Ford's current market capitalization!
One could argue that the worst is over for Ford after a nearly 40% flop so far in 2011. However, it's decelerating in the U.S. and, like most major automakers, is engaged in a massive China gambit. That's all well and good if China keeps booming, but a surprise in Asia could send this automaker reeling.
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