Archive for February, 2012

NASDAQ: The Ugly Stepchild Index

All the recent media focus has been fixated on whether the Dow Jones Industrial Average index (“The Dow”) will close above the 13,000 level. In the whole scheme of things, this specific value doesn’t mean a whole lot, but it does make for a great topic of conversation at a cocktail party. Today, the Dow is trading at 12,983, a level not achieved in more than three and a half years. Not a bad accomplishment, given the historic financial crisis on our shores and the debacle going on overseas, but I’m still not so convinced a miniscule +0.1% move in the Dow means much. While the Dow and the S&P 500 indexes garner the hearts and minds of journalists and TV reporters, the ugly stepchild index, the NASDAQ, gets about as much respect as Rodney Dangerfield (see also No Respect in the Investment World).

While the S&P 500 hundred has NOT even reached the level from one year ago, the technology-heavy NASDAQ index has hit a 11+ year record high. Yes that’s right; the NASDAQ has not reached these levels since December 2000. Sure, the NASDAQ  receives a lot of snickers since the technology bubble burst in 2000, when the index peaked at over 5,100 and subsequently plummeted to 1,108 (-78%) over the ensuing 31 months. But now the ugly stepchild index is making an extraordinary comeback into maturity. Since September 2002, near the lows, the NASDAQ has outperformed both the Dow and the S&P 500 indexes by more than a whopping 80%+, excluding dividends.

With the NASDAQ (and NASDAQ 100) hitting a new decade-plus high, are we approaching bubble-esque P/E ratios (price-earnings) of the 2000 era? Not even close. According to Birinyi Associates, the NASDAQ 100 index (QQQ) forward P/E ratio is priced at a reasonable 14x level – much lower than the 100x+ ratios we experienced right before the NASDAQ crash of 2000 and close to the P/E of the S&P 500.

With these NASDAQ indexes hitting new highs, does this tell us they are going to go significantly higher? No, not necessarily…just ask buyers of the NASDAQ in the late 1990s how that strategy worked then. Trying to time the market is a fruitless cause, and will always remain so. A few people will be able to do it occasionally, but doing so on a sustained basis is extremely difficult (if not impossible). If you don’t believe me, just ask Alan Greenspan, former Federal Reserve Chairman, who in 1996 said the tech boom had created “irrational exuberance.” When he made this infamous statement in 1996, the NASDAQ was trading around 1,300 – I guess Greenspan was only off by about another 3,800 points before the exuberance exhausted.

While a significantly outperforming index may not give you information on future prices, leadership indexes and sectors can direct you to fertile areas of research. Trends can be easy to identify, but the heavy lifting and sweat lies in the research of determining whether the trends are sustainable. With the significant outperformance of the NASDAQ index over the last decade it should be no surprise that technology has been leading the index brigade.  The NASDAQ composite data is difficult to come by, but with the Technology sector accounting for 65% of the NASDAQ 100 index weighting, it makes sense that this index and sector should not be ignored. Cloud computing, mobility, e-commerce, alternative energy, and nanotechnology are but just a few of the drivers catapulting technology’s prominence in financial markets. Globalization is here to stay and technology is flattening the world so that countries and their populations can participate in the ever-expanding technology revolution.

Investors can continue to myopically focus on the narrow group of 30 Dow stocks and its arbitrary short-term target of 13,000, however those ignoring the leadership of the ugly stepchild index (NASDAQ) should do so at their own peril. Ugliness has a way of turning to beauty when people are not paying attention.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, including SPY, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in QQQ, or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

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February 27, 2012 at 2:15 am Leave a comment

Box Wine, Facebook and PEG Ratios

I’m no wine connoisseur, but I do know I would pay more for a bottle of Dom Pérignon champagne than I would pay for a container of Franzia box wine. In the world of stocks, the quality disparity is massive too. In order to navigate the virtually infinite number of stocks, we need to have an instrument in our toolbox that can assist us in accurately comparing stocks across the quality spectrum. Thank goodness we have the handy PEG ratio (Price/Earnings to Growth) that elegantly marries the price paid for a stock (as measured by the P/E ratio) with the relative quality of the stock (as measured by its future earnings growth rate).

Famed investor Peter Lynch (see Inside the Brain of an Investing Genius) understood the PEG concept all too well as he used this tool religiously in valuing and analyzing different companies. Given that Lynch earned a +29% annual return from 1977-1990, I’ll take his word for it that the PEG ratio is a useful tool. As highlighted by Lynch (and others), the key factor in using the PEG ratio is to identify companies that trade with a PEG ratio of less than 1. All else equal, the lower the ratio, the better potential for future price appreciation. Facebook Vs. Eastman Kodak

To illustrate the concept of how a PEG ratio can be used to compare stocks with two completely different profiles, let’s start by answering a few questions. Would a rational investor pay the same price (i.e., Price-Earnings [P/E] ratio) for a company with skyrocketing profits as they would for a company going into bankruptcy? Look no further than the lofty expected P/E multiple to be afforded to the shares of the widely anticipated Facebook (FB) initial public offering (IPO). That same rational investor is unlikely to pay the same P/E multiple for a money losing company like Eastman Kodak Co. (EKDKQ.PK) that faces product obsolescence. The contrasting values for these two companies are stark. Some pundits are projecting that Facebook shares could fetch upwards of a 100x P/E ratio, while not too long ago, Kodak was trading at a P/E ratio of 4x. Plenty of low priced stocks have outperformed expensive ones, but remember, just because a “value” stock may have a lower absolute P/E ratio in the recent past, does not mean it will be a better investment than a “growth” stock sporting a higher P/E ratio (see Fallacy of High P/Es).

Price, Earnings, and Dividends

As I’ve written in the past, a key determinant of future stock prices is future earnings growth (see It’s the Earnings Stupid). The higher the P/E multiple, the more important future earnings growth becomes. The lower the future growth, the more important valuation and dividends become.

We can look at various money-making scenarios that incorporate these factors. If my goal were to double my money in 5 years (i.e., earn a 100% return), there are numerous ways to skin the profit-making cat. Here are four examples:

1) Buy a non-dividend paying stock of a company that achieves earnings growth of 15%/year and maintains its current P/E ratio over time.

2) Buy a stock of a company that has a 5% dividend and achieves earnings growth of 11%/year and maintains its current P/E ratio over time.

3) Buy a value stock with a 5% dividend that achieves earnings growth of 5%/year and increase its P/E ratio by 10% each year.

4) Buy a non-dividend paying growth stock that achieves earnings growth of 20%/year and decreases its P/E ratio by about 5% each year.

I think you get the idea, but as you can see, in addition to earnings growth, dividends and valuation do play a significant role in how an investor can earn excess returns.

Lynch’s Adjusted PEG

Peter Lynch added a slight twist to the traditional PEG analysis by accounting for the role of dividends in the denominator of the PEG equation:

PEG (adjusted by Lynch) = PE Ratio/(Earnings Growth Rate + Dividend Yield)

This “adjusted PEG” ratio makes intuitive sense under various perspectives. For starters, if two different companies both had a PEG ratio of 0.8, but one of the two stocks paid a 3% dividend, Lynch’s adjusted PEG would register in at a more attractive level of 0.6 for the dividend paying stock.

Looked at under a different lens, let’s suppose there are two lemonade stands that IPO their stocks at the same time, and both companies use the exact same business model. Moreover, let us assume the following:

• Lemonade stand #1 has a P/E of 14x and growth rate of 15%.

• Lemonade stand #2 has a P/E of 12x and growth rate of 8%, but it also pays a dividend of 3%.

Given this information, which one of the two lemonade stands would you invest in? Many investors see the lower P/E of Lemonade stand #2, coupled with a nice dividend, as the more attractive opportunity of the two. But as we can see from Lynch’s “adjusted PEG” ratio, Lemonade stand #1 actually has the lower, more attractive value (.9 or 14/15 vs 1.1 or 12/(8+3)).

This analysis may be delving into the weeds a bit, but this framework is critical nonetheless. Valuation and earnings projections should be essential components of any investment decision, and with record low interest rates, dividend yields are playing a much more important role in the investment selection process. Regardless of your purchase decision thought process, whether deciding between Dom Perignon and box wine, or Facebook and Kodak shares, having the PEG ratio at your disposal should help you make wise and lucrative decisions.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in FB, EKDKQ.PK, or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

February 18, 2012 at 9:39 pm 8 comments

Cramer Pulls Apple from Romney Tree

Republican Presidential primary candidate Mitt Romney has taken a lot of heat for his lack of conviction on various issues, whether they be on immigration, universal healthcare, or abortion. Jim Cramer, former hedge fund manager and host of TV show Mad Money, has also been known to do a bit of his own John Kerry-esque waffling. One of Cramer’s most recent high profile flip-flops is highflying Apple Inc. (AAPL). If Mitt Romney had his own stock show in his free time like Jim Cramer, there’s a high probability that Romney and Cramer could both agree that they were “for Apple, before they were against it, and now for it again.”

Some might think that picking on Jim Cramer is like clubbing a defenseless seal; wrestling a first grader; or stealing candy from a baby. Suffice it to say, I am not the first person to point out the dangers, inconsistencies, and irresponsible behavior associated with Jim Cramer’s recommendations. Here are some of the highest profile critiques of Jim Cramer in recent years past:

I. Daily Show Destruction


Daily Show Skewering PART II                   Daily Show Skewering PART III

II. The Barron’s Bashing

This 2007 Barron’s article not only dissected all of Jim Cramer’s picks over a multi-year period and outlined how much money was lost relative to the major stock market indices, but also a subsequent Barron’s article highlighted research showing a strategy that could yield 25% per month by betting against Cramer’s picks.

III. New York Times  Expose

Last year, this article highlighted the good, bad, and ugly, but the sentiment noted by famed Yale University endowment fund manager David Swensen echoes the sentiment of many investment professionals:

“Cramer induces his viewers to do things that are bad for them. He’s smart enough to know what he’s doing. ‘Mad Money’ delivers a very dangerous message — that individual investors can beat the market with momentum-driven, high-octane trading strategies. There are individuals who do beat the market, but their number is vanishingly small. Cramer is a master manipulator. He has absolutely no accountability. This is serious business; people’s retirements are at stake.”

Spoiled Apple Turns Sweet Again

Apple stock has historically been a favorite of Jim Cramer. Because why? Well, like many short-term traders, it’s a stock that has been going up! A few short months ago, however, Apple’s stock stopped going up, and was actually going down. Jim Cramer’s long love affair with Apple was on the rocks – this is what he had to say about Apple on November 9th (AAPL price – $395.28):

“Times Have Changed for Apple. I’m hearing about weak tablet sales, about iPhone 4S sales not up to snuff, along with worries about holiday sales for iPods.” In the past Jim would brush these worries aside, but in the past, the visionary Steve Jobs was still breathing. “These days though, every nuance, every little bit of worry about Apple, as we heard today from a brokerage firm talking about lighter tablet sales seaps into my ears, and I actually listen, and I agonize over it – I don’t want to…But I can’t dismiss these minute Apple data points as irrelevant any more. These days it would just be too glib…Apple is no longer a given. We are not going to re-recommend endlessly right here. We are waiting. I think actually better prices are coming. No reason to pull the trigger [buy]. No reason until then [lower prices].”

 

Oh my, what a difference 90 days makes! Has Steve Jobs been resurrected from the dead? Last I checked, the answer is no. Anxiety of whether new CEO Tim Cook was about to drive Apple off a cliff to obsolescence, like Research in Motion Ltd. (RIMM), has apparently been put on hold. Previous deep-rooted concerns about iPad and iPhone 4S sales from Jim Cramer’s in-depth analysis turned out to be completely off base. As a matter of fact, two months after Cramer went on his anti-Apple rant, the company reported blowout quarterly results of record proportions. Not only did earnings results explode +116% from a year ago (+37% higher than Wall Street forecasts), but iPad unit sales grew by +111% (15.4 million iPads) and iPhone unit sales grew +128% (37.0 million iPhones). To make matters worse, during Cramer’s temporary Apple break-up, he told his followers to buy Google Inc. (GOOG) instead of Apple. Oops…since that short time ago, Apple has only outperformed Google by a massive +28% or so.

Well, no reason to fret now because any worries about a dead Steve jobs, collapsing iPad/iPhone sales, and a RIMM-like train wreck have been quickly forgotten by Cramer over the last few months. Apple gloom has turned to champagne cheers. Here’s what Jim has to say now:

“This stock (Apple) has gripped the imagination like no other I’ve seen in my career. A stock going to $500 in a straight line.”

 

When Wall Street analysts recently weren’t bullish enough for Cramer (despite 50 “Buy” ratings, 3 “Hold” ratings, 2 “Sell” ratings), he had this to say:

“I want to grab them by the throat and say, ‘Will you give me a break?’ Apple sells at 10 times earnings; the average stock sells at 15 times earnings; Apple is a lot better than the average stock. Don’t you understand this stock is galloping to where it has to go, simply to catch up with the rest of the market? Don’t you see that happening? Don’t you understand that apple has to go higher?!

 

If these whipsaw stock recommendation reversals are not fast enough for you, no need to worry. Apparently flip-flopping on the overall market only takes 24 hours. Last week, Cramer could hardly control his excitement during his show’s opening, given another up-day in the market. To bolster his bullish case, Cramer proceeded to chastise Wall Street analysts for being so negative. With one rotation of the Earth, the following day, Cramer turned negative and nervous once again as the Dow Jones Industrials index fell 0.69%. Who knows what Cramer’s ever-changing mood will be next, but I can give you a hint – if you look at the daily direction of the Dow, your mood guessing batting average will be higher than Ty Cobb’s career average.

Selective Consumption at the Investment Supermarket

Despite all the criticisms, one should not shed a tear for this multi-mega-millionaire, Harvard grad, and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. alum (GS). Mad Money is highly entertaining for short-term traders, and in upward trending momentum markets, Cramer followers might do OK. Unfortunately, the lucrative, straight-upward market that Cramer made his fortunes in during the 1990s hasn’t been in existence over the last 12 years. For the untrained, investing masses who are looking to preserve and grow their retirement nest eggs, the schizophrenic recommendations that Jim Cramer provides can prove extremely damaging. We have seen this destructive dynamic especially at key inflection points in the market, whether it was at the 2000 peak of the market when his 10-stock “Winners of the New World” portfolio that collapsed by over -90%, or in late 2008/early 2009, near the market bottom, when Cramer told all investors to sell stocks unless you can wait five years.

Jim Cramer is not an evil person and he his very entertaining and sharp individual. I fully admit that I occasionally watch Mad Money for a chuckle and to also gain perspective of the speculative sentiment in the market. Although I would like to see better programming on the network, CNBC is not to be fully blamed. CNBC is like a supermarket that sells both healthy and unhealthy goods. While long-time Investing Caffeine readers know, I have been known to take numerous cavalier economists and strategists to task, many of my investing philosophies and strategies have been built off of long-time, successful investors that CNBC has interviewed or profiled. CNCB guests whom I have written about include, Warren Buffett, Ron Baron, Bill Gross, Ken Heebner, Wilbur Ross, Joel Greenblatt, Laszlo Birinyi, Jimmy Rogers, and others.

While Jim Cramer can be consumed in small doses by professionals and short-term traders, average investors should tread lightly. Investors will be better served by reading the labels of television commentators’ advice, and instead listen to those advisors or managers that have a time horizon consistent with your long-term financial goals.

Jim Cramer has been picked apart by many, but his screaming “Booyahs!,” singing “hallelujah” choirs, and flying bulls, make for compelling television. Although Jim Cramer and I are on the same page as Apple currently (I’ve owned for a long time), I have yet to come to a definitive decision on the 2012 presidential elections. If Cramer changes his view on Apple again in the coming days and weeks, I hope he invites his friend Mitt Romney on as a guest. That way I can kill two birds with one stone, and if one flip-flopper is entertaining to watch, having two should certainly be twice as amusing.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, AAPL, and GOOG but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in RIMM, GS, or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

February 12, 2012 at 5:53 pm 2 comments

Markets Race Out of 2012 Gate

Article includes excerpts from Sidoxia Capital Management’s 2/1/2012 newsletter. Subscribe on right side of page.

Equity markets largely remained caged in during 2011, but U.S. stocks came racing out of the gate at the beginning of 2012. The S&P 500 index rose +4.4% in January; the Dow Jones Industrials climbed +3.4%; and the NASDAQ index sprinted out to a +8.0% return. Broader concerns have not disappeared over a European financial meltdown, high U.S. unemployment, and large unsustainable debts and deficits, but several key factors are providing firmer footing for financial race horses in 2012:

•  Record Corporate Profits: 2012 S&P operating profits were recently forecasted to reach a record level of $106, or +9% versus a year ago. Accelerating GDP (Gross Domestic Product Growth) to +2.8% in the fourth quarter also provided a tailwind to corporations.

•   Mountains of Cash: Companies are sitting on record levels of cash. In late 2011, U.S. non-financial corporations were sitting on $1.73 trillion in cash, which was +50% higher as a percentage of assets relative to 2007 when the credit crunch began in earnest.

•  Employment Trends Improving: It’s difficult to fall off the floor, but since the unemployment rate peaked at 10.2% in October 2009, the rate has slowly improved to 8.5% today. Data junkies need not fret – we have fresh new employment numbers to look at this Friday.

•   Consumer Optimism on Rise: The University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment index showed optimism improved in January to the highest level in almost a year, increasing to 75.0 from 69.9 in December.

•   Federal Reserve to the Rescue: Federal Reserve Chairman, Ben Bernanke, and the Fed recently announced the extension of their 0% interest rate policy, designed to assist economic expansion, through the end of 2014. In addition, Bernanke did not rule out further stimulative asset purchases (a.k.a., QE3 or quantitative easing) if necessary. If executed as planned, this dovish stance will extend for an unprecedented six year period (2008 -2014).

Europe on the Comeback Trail?

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Europe is by no means out of the woods and tracking the day to day volatility of the happenings overseas can be a difficult chore. One fairly easy way to track the European progress (or lack thereof) is by following the interest rate trends in the PIIGS countries (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Spain). Quite simply, higher interest rates generally mean more uncertainty and risk, while lower interest rates mean more confidence and certainty. The bad news is that Greece is still in the midst of a very complex restructuring of its debt, which means Greek interest rates have been exploding upwards and investors are bracing for significant losses on their sovereign debt investments. Portugal is not in as bad shape as Greece, but the trends have been moving in a negative direction. The good news, as you can see from the chart above (Calafia Beach Pundit), is that interest rates in Ireland, Italy and Spain have been constructively moving lower thanks to austerity measures, European Central Bank (ECB) actions, and coordination of eurozone policies to create more unity and fiscal accountability.

Political Horse Race

Source: Real Clear Politics via The Financial Times

The other horse race going on now is the battle for the Republican presidential nomination between former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich. Some increased feistiness mixed with a little Super-Pac TV smear campaigns helped whip Romney’s horse to a decisive victory in Florida – Gingrich ended up losing by a whopping 14%. Unlike traditional horse races, we don’t know how long this Republican primary race will last, but chances are this thing should be wrapped up by “Super Tuesday” on March 6th when there will be 10 simultaneous primaries and caucuses. Romney may be the lead horse now, but we are likely to see a few more horses drop out before all is said and done.

Flies in the Ointment

As indicated previously, although 2012 has gotten off to a strong start, there are still some flies in the ointment:

•   European Crisis Not Over: Many European countries are at or near recessionary levels. The U.S. may be insulated from some of the weakness, but is not completely immune from the European financial crisis. Weaker fourth quarter revenue growth was suffered by companies like Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM), Citigroup Inc. (C), JP Morgan Chase & Co (JPM), Microsoft Corp (MSFT), and IBM, in part because of European exposure.

•   Slowing Profit Growth: Although at record levels, profit growth is slowing and peak profit margins are starting to feel the pressure. Only so much cost-cutting can be done before growth initiatives, such as hiring, must be implemented to boost profits.

•   Election Uncertainty: As mentioned earlier, 2012 is a presidential election year, and policy uncertainty and political gridlock have the potential of further spooking investors. Much of these issues is not new news to the financial markets. Rather than reading stale, old headlines of the multi-year financial crisis, determining what happens next and ascertaining how much uncertainty is already factored into current asset prices is a much more constructive exercise.

Stocks on Sale for a Discount

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

A lot of the previous concerns (flies) mentioned is not new news to investors and many of these worries are already factored into the cheap equity prices we are witnessing. If everything was all roses, stocks would not be selling for a significant discount to the long-term averages.

A key ratio measuring the priceyness of the stock market is the Price/Earnings (P/E) ratio. History has taught us the best long-term returns have been earned when purchases were made at lower P/E ratio levels. As you can see from the 60-year chart above (Calafia Beach Pundit), stocks can become cheaper (resulting in lower P/Es) for many years, similar to the challenging period experienced through the early 1980s and somewhat analogous to the lower P/E ratios we are presently witnessing (estimated 2012 P/E of approximately 12.4). However, the major difference between then and now is that the Federal Funds interest rate was about 20% back in the early-’80s, while the same rate is closer to 0% currently. Simple math and logic tell us that stocks and other asset-based earnings streams deserve higher prices in periods of low interest rates like today.

We are only one month through the 2012 financial market race, so it much too early to declare a Triple Crown victory, but we are off to a nice start. As I’ve said before, investing has arguably never been as difficult as it is today, but investing has also never been as important. Inflation, whether you are talking about food, energy, healthcare, leisure, or educational costs continue to grind higher. Burying your head in the sand or stuffing your money in low yielding assets may work for a wealthy few and feel good in the short-run, but for much of the masses the destructive inflation-eroding characteristics of purported “safe investments” will likely do more damage than good in the long-run. A low-cost diversified global portfolio of thoroughbred investments that balances income and growth with your risk tolerance and time horizon is a better way to maneuver yourself to the investment winner’s circle.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in XOM, MSFT, JPM, IBM, or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

February 3, 2012 at 2:25 pm 4 comments


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