3/13/2013 6:22 PM ET|
Cramer likes Best Buy, but is it a bad buy?
The retailer might be the last man standing in the consumer electronics space, but that doesn't make it a good investment.
Tuesday morning on CNBC's "Squawk on the Street," Jim Cramer referred to himself as "hopelessly old" while making a bull case for Best Buy (BBY).
From a short-term perspective, there's no question I have been wrong about BBY. The stock has popped roughly 65% over the last three months.
That said, I take a bigger picture view of what Best Buy's up against; from that vantage point, the company is in as bad of shape as ever.
Cramer says he likes the "last man standing" in the space. Other than scattered local shops, Best Buy is the only ubiquitous pure-play consumer electronics chain.
For the self-labeled "hopelessly old" Cramer, Best Buy delivers.
Jim bought a new television for his Dad -- presumably so Pops can watch the Philadelphia Flyers in style -- and just couldn't make sense of the marriage between Smart TV, cable box, Netflix (NFLX) and other bells and whistles. I presume Best Buy's Geek Squad came out and made it rain. Very nice. There's no doubting Best Buy's ability to help customers in their homes -- for a fee -- or in-store. Value exists in that offering.
It's refreshing to see Cramer seek help in all sorts of ways. I should have him talk to my mother who still can't seem to set the VCR clock after the power goes out. Or maybe he could hook her up with TheStreet's sister/brother team of Ross and Nicole Urken, who gave Jim a tutorial on using emoticons so he could be a cooler Dad.
As I have said before, I am allowed to disagree with Cramer. In fact, my contract with TheStreet states that I can be downright insubordinate. I can't tell you how many times I have hidden the keys to his Rolls Royce when I'm in New York City.
In all seriousness, Jim knows I love him. And fear him. And really love him. And fear him.
However, with that in mind, I can't buy the bull case -- outside of anything but a relatively short-term trade -- for owning Best Buy on the basis that it's the de facto choice for tech retail and it operates what amounts to the consumer electronic version of Meals on Wheels.
Is this Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly's vision? Is this what makes him a turnaround specialist?
We built it and managed to stick around so people will come. And we'll focus the business on super-serving people who might not be the most tech savvy in the world. (And, as somebody who uses technology to interact with Cramer on a daily basis, I think he sells himself short in that regard).
While I understand and appreciate the demographic makeup of the U.S., I just can't imagine building a technology-based business around customers who can't seem to connect some wires and press a few buttons (and, again, I think most people are capable, but, if they have the means, leave the elbow grease to the Geek Squad). And then Best Buy's other attraction is price -- we'll sell you stuff for what the online guys sell you stuff for.
This is the product of the decade-long butt-whipping Amazon.com (AMZN), Target (TGT), Walmart (WMT) and others administered to Best Buy? To stress customer service and price. Isn't that what Macy's (M) and Sears (SHLD) have been doing since the mid-to-late 1800s? This is the transformation Joly is bringing to big box retail?
Somebody has been hanging out with Ron Johnson (see TheStreet). Joly and Johnson: Masters of the culture of obviousness.
While this hollow resurgence might lift the stock price -- great trade if you made/are making it -- it's a toxic recipe for Best Buy as well as the brick and mortar space's long-term sustainability.
Best Buy is doing nothing to prevent itself from getting its butt whipped once or a dozen more times before the decade expires. It's not positioning itself to innovate and avoid getting out-innovated; rather it's hanging on for survival with a set of unimaginative, reactionary moves it should have made when Jeff Bezos was busy visioning in the mid-1990s.
Go long at your own risk. But don't think for a second you're making an investment; you're making a trade in a stock floated by a company setting up to make the same types of mistakes twice.
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