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Book Review: "Finding the Next Starbucks"

Once it stops belaboring the obvious, this book is rich in tips on identifying growth stocks.

Finding the Next Starbucks is like a triple-shot grande Frappuccino with whipped cream -- which is to say this book is big, rich and packs a jolt of high-test investment advice. Too bad it starts like Folgers.

Now, Folgers is good coffee, but it's standard-issue, and so are the first 200 pages of Michael Moe's book (Penguin Group, $27), which is subtitled How to Identify and Invest in the Hot Stocks of Tomorrow. Moe, founder of ThinkEquity Partners and former director of global growth-stock research at Merrill Lynch, is clear and often droll. But if you've read a lot of investing books, you become sensitive to writing that belabors the obvious.

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Moe cautions not to underestimate the importance of compound earnings growth. We get that. And, he says, the knowledge economy, globalization and the rise of China and India are megatrends. Well, yes. Then right around page 200, there's a ho-hum interview with retired football coach Lou Holtz on leadership, and you start thinking the coffee really has gone cold.

But turn one more page, and things start to percolate. Moe disses the discounted-cash-flow method of valuing companies, saying that "although few people understood it (or perhaps because of that), it caught on in academic circles." Then he describes three of his company's valuation techniques. The techniques are a bit technical, but Moe explains them clearly and most investors should find them useful.

Moe saves the best for last: He gets down and dirty with trends, industries and specific companies. For example, he analyzes the fragmented for-profit education industry and points out the need for learning in the knowledge economy. Innovative companies should clean up as the industry consolidates, says Moe, who provides a list of prime education stocks for consideration.

Underscoring his book's timeliness, Moe also tackles the energy industry. He begins by discussing the degree to which different sources of alternative energy become economical as the price of crude oil rises to various levels. He assesses the pros and cons of hydrogen fuel cells, ethanol and solar power. As he does for education stocks, Moe lists his best bets among alternative-energy companies; he names 19, including a few you've probably never heard of.

Hot stuff.

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