Archive for August, 2020

Apple at $2Trillion

Monday, August 31st, 2020

Both Tesla and Apple split their stock today, and both are up big as people are panic buying the now lower priced shares.  Apple, at $2Trillion in market cap, is bigger than the combined economies of Canada + Russia + Spain…cogitate on that for a moment.

Apple Price

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The graph above shows the stock price for Apple over the last 5-years.  It has gone vertical in 2020, and added another 3.5% today on the split (a mere piker compared to TSLA which added 12.5% today).

The valuation for Apple has gone equally crazy:

Apple PE

This is a graph of its P/E Ratio.  At the end of 2018, it was 13X but today is 38X.  You would imagine that its earnings have skyrocketed higher and that encourage investors to push the stock price up.  Not so much:

2015:  $71Billion Net Income

2016:  $60Billion Net Income

2017:  $61Billion Net Income

2018:  $70Billion Net Income

2019:  $63Billion Net Income

TTM:  $67Billion Net Income

This looks to me like they are roughly capped in earnings at or below $70Billion per year.  How can that justify a stock price that is up 150% and a valuation that has tripled in 18 months?  No idea.

As the largest company in the country (and larger than many countries) Apple benefits from being a part of virtually every mutual fund and exchange traded fund on the market.  As long as the overall market goes up, the value of those funds and ETF’s go up, making people buyers.  Every buy of those funds and ETF’s pushes the stock price up – but what investors are not likely ready for is when the turn comes.

As fast as the price and valuation have increased, you will see it go down in a similar manner.   TSLA will be an even bigger blood bath for the people that bought in the past 5 months – and you may not even know you bought it since you have a 401k with mutual funds that might be buyers just to keep their performance numbers competitive with the indices.

The entire investment world is all in on the stock market moving higher.  They have bought into the idea that the Federal Reserve will keep the liquidity flowing which will support the stock market.  I just don’t believe that is true – there is a point where buying TSLA at a 1,500 P/E or even AAPL at a 38 P/E (or higher) doesn’t make sense.  To get a feel for what the 38 P/E means is that it takes 38 years for the company to earn its stock price.

If you were starting a company and invested $100,000, a 38 P/E means you earn $2,631 per year, or a 2.6% return.  (1) would you be willing to 38 years to earn back your investment? (2) would you be happy with a 2.6% return for 38 years just to break even?  If not, why would you buy stock in a company with the same valuation?

You can argue that TSLA will, in the future, have growing earnings as its product and industry mature and they will over time grow into a more normalized valuation level – I have trouble believing it, but it is certainly possible.  However, Apple is a mature company that hasn’t grown its net income in five years – you logically do not expect it to see its earnings skyrocket in coming years as TSLA could.

I have been in the wealth management industry since 1982 in one form or another.  One rule is certain to come true:  if you over-pay for a stock, it always ends up as a bad idea.  You can look smart in the short-term, but if you don’t sell and lock in your short-term gain, you will watch it disappear in due course as the market euphoria fades and reality sets in.  The smart money is applying this analogy to the stock market in general.  I know that I am.


Let’s Call It Prudent But Profitable

Wednesday, August 26th, 2020

2020-08-26 a

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The NASDAQ and the S&P 500 have hit all time highs in price this week.  The Dow Jones Industrial Average also moved up but is still below previous highs.  Unfortunately, this is not your typical broad market advance that signals a healthy investment climate, growing corporate earnings, and strong economic backdrop for families and small business.

The situation we see now has a small handful of high tech companies powering ever higher while the rest of the market is relatively flat to down.  Facebook, Apple, Tesla, Microsoft, Amazon, Alphabet (aka Google), and Netflix – better known as FAT MAAN – continue to move higher in price and valuation.  These stocks have become the go-to one decision stocks for lazy portfolio managers – much like Kodak, Polaroid, General Electric, and others during the 1970’s (many of which are no longer around today).

Additionally, there are the COVID stocks that benefited from the changes to our society that were brought about by people forced to stay at home and work from home.  Zoom, DocuSign, Roku, Clorox, Sherwin Williams, Winnebago, and many more, have seen their revenues spike higher as work and play has changed for all of us.  Some of these will continue to power higher as the societal changes will persist – others of these companies will fall back to earth as they simply pulled their earnings from future years forward to 2020.

Can we just let the good times roll and watch the index move higher on the backs of this fairly narrow list of companies?  Historically, the answer is a resounding no.  Take a look at these two breath indicators for the NASDAQ Index in the lower panels compared to the strong price trend in the upper panel in the graph above.  This is a warning sign that we need to be careful to protect the hard fought gains we have earned after the COVID crash in the indices earlier this year.

But is looking at breadth of the NASDAQ enough?  No, that is only one warning sign, but it is in the strongest of the major indices.  Below is a graph of the S&P 500 compared to its 200 day simple moving average.


The broad stock market has a natural “highway” represented by an area of plus or minus 10% away from the 200 day simple moving average.  The graph above is just a snapshot representing the past year, but you can see three instances of the market moving outside of the 10% boundaries, two of which reversed course and moved in the other direction.  You can see to the far right, that we have once again moved above that 10% boundary on the upside which tells me that we need to book some of our hard-won profits to protect them from a coming downward move in the market.

Does this sound too simple?  Well, let’s look at a longer period of time:

2020-08-26 c

This is a 20 year view of the same highway.  Is it perfect? Of course not, but it is another risk management tool that I keep to tell me when to be aggressive and when to be conservative.  This tool is telling me to be conservative.

So that’s it?  Uh, no.  Here is another tool I use, a set of graphs that combine breadth, momentum, and sentiment indicators so I get a comprehensive, big picture feel for the market at a glance.2020-08-26 b

These are showing me that along with the breadth in the NASDAQ, the broad market breadth represented by all of the stocks traded on the New York Stock Exchange are weakening as well.  Momentum and sentiment are softening as well.

What about sentiment?  While the internal stats for this market weaken, investors continue to get more bullish.  The weekly Investors Intelligence Advisors Survey has 60% of advisors bullish and just 16.2% bearish.  This is the highest extreme since January 2018, which marked the start of a correction short.  These stats are contrarian – sort of like when you watch videos of sail boats and everyone gets on one side, you want to be on the other side as that is the one that isn’t heading underwater.

Maybe you have heard the old investment saying “the trend is your friend” which means that if you are aggressive when the stock market goes up, you will make money and if you are conservative when the stock market goes down, you will not lose money.  A pretty smart plan.  So what is the trend?  most definitely up.  Check out the two graphs below, of the NASDAQ Index and the New York Stock Exchange:

2020-08-26 e 2020-08-26 d

I use these two graphs because I can easily glance at them and see the brightly colored trend lines – in both case they are moving up.  It is a much clearer trend with the NASDAQ as all of the trend lines are in order from shortest to longest moving higher.  In the NYSE, some of longer term trend lines are still working on joining the trend.  But there is no denying that the trend is up, however if you are having trouble seeing this, jut check out the top panel of the first graph above and the colored lines of the NASDAQ trend are pretty clear.


Anything else?  Well, remember the statement above about the Dow Jones Industrial Average not yet back to previous highs?  Guess what – they have decided to change the components of the index to better represent today’s industries.  So, they are dumping Exxon, Raytheon, and Pfizer from the index and adding, Amgen, and Honeywell.  They are bringing the weighting of the technology sector in the index up, swapping a drug stock for a biotech stock (albeit one of the most conservative drug-like ones), and swapping a narrowly focused industrial for a broadly focused industrial.

We have been long-time owners of in our growth-oriented portfolios.  We bought it initially in 2013 for $38 per share and have added consistently over the years for clients at they came onboard.  Today, with the announcement of its addition to the DJIA, it was up 25% so we sold it at $271.  Check out the chart below:

2020-08-26 f

You can see today’s big jump in the price of the stock as I have circled it.  Has this been a good investment for our clients?  Up 875% since the first purchase?  Absolutely!  Is it a good company to keep owning?  That is a more difficult question – trading at a negative P/E of -1512x (based on previous crash-quarter numbers – current P/E is positive 61x), maybe it’s time for them to think about making some money since they are now part of the formerly stodgy DJIA.  Just saying.

The NASDAQ is filled with companies that trade on their future prospects, not their current performance.  FAT MAAN is different; many of these companies are making actual money (except Tesla, of course).  But their valuations are the issue – not exactly at negative P/E’s but at P/E’s that rival those from the 1999/2000 Dot Com Crash era.

Tesla: 1038x     Amazon: 127x     Netflix: 84x     Microsoft: 37x     Apple: 36x     Alphabet (Google): 35x     Facebook: 33x

Taking all of this together, it is time to make a strategy call in client portfolios:  we had been adding equity exposure since the crash earlier this year and it has served our clients well.  On average, our growth portfolio clients performance is 800 basis points better than the indices year to date.  That is real money folks – but it is nothing if we don’t utilize proper risk management when the market tells us that it is nearing a turning point.   So now is the time to get conservative, on an incremental basis, to protect profits and raise cash to have on hand for the next downward move in the market.  There is no way to know exactly when the market will turn down – the chart points to the 3525 area or 40 S&P points (roughly 1%) above current levels but we are certainly within the margin of error for that area.

The timing is right because we are making the change while the trend is still moving higher and we will implement the change slowly so that we continue to ride the trend as far as possible within reasonable risk management activities.  Let’s call it Prudent But Profitable.

OK, for those of you that prefer the original and not the 80’s remake…it’s pre-video but still a good listen