Posts tagged ‘earnings’

Trade War Bark: Hold Tight or Nasty Bite?

bark

In recent weeks, President Trump has come out viciously barking about potential trade wars, not only with China, but also with other allies, including key trade collaborators in Europe, Canada, and Mexico. What does this all mean? Should you brace for a nasty financial bite in your portfolio, or should you remain calm and hold tight?

Let’s take a closer look. Recent talks of trade wars and tit-for-tat retaliations have produced mixed results for the stock market. For the month, the S&P 500 index advanced +0.5% (+1.7% year-to-date), while the Dow Jones Industrial Average modestly retreated -0.6% (-1.8% YTD). Despite trade war concerns and anxiety over a responsibly cautious Federal Reserve increasing interest rates, the economy remains strong. Not only is unemployment at an impressively low level of 3.8% (tying the lowest rate seen since 1969), but corporate profits are at record levels, thanks to a healthy economy and stimulative tax cuts. Consumers are feeling quite well regarding their financial situation too. For instance, household net worth has surpassed $100 trillion dollars, while debt ratios are declining (see chart below).

house balance

Source:  Scott Grannis

Although trade is presently top-of-mind among many investors, a lot of the fiery rhetoric emanating from Washington should come as no surprise. The president heavily campaigned on the idea of reducing uniform unfair Chinese trade policies and leveling the trade playing field. It took about a year and a half before the president actually pulled out the tariff guns. The first $50 billion tariff salvo has been launched by the Trump administration against China, and an additional $200 billion in tariffs have been threatened. So far, Trump has enacted tariffs on imported steel, aluminum, solar panels, washing machines and other Chinese imports.

It’s important to understand, we are in the very early innings of tariff implementation and trade negotiations. Therefore, the scale and potential impact from tariffs and trade wars should be placed in the proper context relative to our $20 trillion U.S. economy (annual Gross Domestic Product) and the $16 trillion in annual global trade.

Stated differently, even if the president’s proposed $50 billion in Chinese tariffs quadruples in value to $200 billion, the impact on the overall economy will be minimal – less than 1% of the total. Even if you go further and consider our country’s $375 billion trade deficit with China for physical goods (see chart below), significant reductions in the Chinese trade deficit will still not dramatically change the trajectory of economic growth.

china trade

Source: BBC 

The Tax Foundation adds support to the idea that current tariffs should have minimal influence:

“The tariffs enacted so far by the Trump administration would reduce long-run GDP by 0.06 percent ($15 billion) and wages by 0.04 percent and eliminate 48,585 full-time equivalent jobs.”

Of course, if the China trade skirmish explodes into an all-out global trade war into key regions like Europe, Mexico, Canada, and Japan, then all bets are off. Not only would inflationary pressures be a drag on the economy, but consumer and business confidence would dive and they would drastically cut back on spending and negatively pressure the economy.

Most investors, economists, and consumers recognize the significant benefits accrued from free trade in the form of lower-prices and a broadened selection. In the case of China, cheaper Chinese imports allow the American masses to buy bargain toys from Wal-Mart, big-screen televisions from Best Buy, and/or leading-edge iPhones from the Apple Store. Most reasonable people also understand these previously mentioned consumer benefits can be somewhat offset by the costs of intellectual property/trade secret theft and unfair business practices levied on current and future American businesses doing business in China.

Trump Playing Chicken

Right now, Trump is playing a game of chicken with our global trading partners, including our largest partner, China. If his threats of imposing stiffer tariffs and trade restrictions result in new and better bilateral trade agreements (see South Korean trade deal), then his tactics could prove beneficial. However, if the threat and imposition of new tariffs merely leads to retaliatory tariffs, higher prices (i.e., inflation), and no new deals, then this mutually destructive outcome will likely leave our economy worse off.

Critics of Trump’s tariff strategy point to the high profile announcement by Harley-Davidson to move manufacturing production from the United States to overseas plants. Harley made the decision because the tariffs are estimated to cost the company up to $100 million to move production overseas. As part of this strategy, Harley has also been forced to consider motorcycle price hikes of $2,200 each. On the other hand, proponents of Trump’s trade and economic policies (i.e., tariffs, reduced regulations, lower taxes) point to the recent announcement by Foxconn, China’s largest private employer. Foxconn works with technology companies like Apple, Amazon, and HP to help manufacture a wide array of products. Due to tax incentives, Foxconn is planning to build a $10 billion plant in Wisconsin that will create 13,00015,000 high-paying jobs. Wherever you stand on the political or economic philosophy spectrum, ultimately Americans will vote for the candidates and policies that benefit their personal wallets/purses. So, if retaliatory measures by foreign countries introduces inflation and slowly grinds trade to a halt, voter backlash will likely result in politicians being voted out of office due to failed trade policies.

eps jul 18

Source: Dr. Ed’s Blog

Time will tell whether the current trade policies and actions implemented by the current administration will lead to higher costs or greater benefits. Talk about China tariffs, NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership), and other reciprocal trade negotiations will persist, but these trading relationships are extremely complex and will take a long time to resolve. While I am explicitly against tariff policies in general, I am not an alarmist or doomsayer, at this point. Currently, the trade war bark is worse than the bite. If the situation worsens, the history of politics proves nothing is permanent. Circumstances and opinions are continually changing, which highlights why politics has a way of improving or changing policies through the power of the vote. While many news stories paint a picture of imminent, critical tariff pain, I believe it is way too early to come to that conclusion. The economy remains strong, corporate profits are at record levels (see chart above), interest rates remain low historically, and consumers overall are feeling better about their financial situation. It is by no means a certainty, but if improved trade agreements can be established with our key trading partners, fears of an undisciplined barking and biting trade dog could turn into a tame smooching puppy that loves trade.

investment-questions-border

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (July 3, 2018). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in AAPL, AMZN, and certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing had no direct position in WMT, HOG, HPQ, 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.

July 5, 2018 at 1:59 pm Leave a comment

EBITDA: Sniffing Out the Truth

Sharp eyed soft nosed cow, with shallow dof

Financial analysts are constantly seeking the Holy Grail when it comes to financial metrics, and to some financial number crunchers, EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest Taxes Depreciation and Amortization – pronounced “eebit-dah”) fits the bill. On the flip side, Warren Buffett’s right hand man Charlie Munger advises investors to replace EBITDA with the words “bullsh*t earnings” every time you encounter this earnings metric. We’ll explore the good, bad, and ugly attributes of this somewhat controversial financial metric.

The Genesis of EBITDA

The origin of the EBITDA measure can be traced back many years, and rose in popularity during the technology boom of the 1990s. “New Economy” companies were producing very little income, so investment bankers became creative in how they defined profits. Under the guise of comparability, a company with debt (Company X) that was paying high interest expenses could not be compared on an operational profit basis with a closely related company that operated with NO debt (Company Z). In other words, two identical companies could be selling the same number of widgets at the same prices and have the same cost structure and operating income, but the company with debt on their balance sheet would have a different (lower) net income. The investment banker and company X’s answer to this apparent conundrum was to simply compare the operating earnings or EBIT (Earnings Before Interest and Taxes) of each company (X and Z), rather than the disparate net incomes.

The Advantages of EBITDA

Although there is no silver bullet metric in financial statement analysis, nevertheless there are numerous benefits to using EBITDA. Here are a few:

  • Operational Comparability:  As implied above, EBITDA allows comparability across a wide swath of companies. Accounting standards provide leniency in the application of financial statements, therefore using EBITDA allows apples-to-apples comparisons and relieves accounting discrepancies on items such as depreciation, tax rates, and financing choice.
  • Cash Flow Proxy:Since the income statement traditionally is the financial statement of choice, EBITDA can be easily derived from this statement and provides a simple proxy for cash generation in the absence of other data.
  • Debt Coverage Ratios:In many lender contracts, certain debt provisions require specific levels of income cushion above the required interest expense payments. Evaluating EBITDA coverage ratios across companies assists analysts in determining which businesses are more likely to default on their debt obligations.

The Disadvantages of EBITDA

While EBITDA offers some benefits in comparing a broader set of companies across industries, the metric also carries some drawbacks.

  • Overstates Income:  To Charlie Munger’s point about the B.S. factor, EBITDA distorts reality by measuring income before a bunch of expenses. From an equity holder’s standpoint, in most instances, investors are most concerned about the level of income and cash flow available AFTERaccounting for all expenses, including interest expense, depreciation expense, and income tax expense.
  • Neglects Working Capital Requirements: EBITDA may actually be a decent proxy for cash flows for many companies, however this profit measure does not account for the working capital needs of a business. For example, companies reporting high EBITDA figures may actually have dramatically lower cash flows once working capital requirements (i.e., inventories, receivables, payables) are tabulated.
  • Poor for ValuationInvestment bankers push for more generous EBITDA valuation multiples because it serves the bankers’ and clients’ best interests. However, the fact of the matter is that companies with debt or aggressive depreciation schedules do deserve lower valuations compared to debt-free counterparts (assuming all else equal).

Wading through the treacherous waters of accounting metrics can be a dangerous game. Despite some of EBITDA’s comparability benefits, and as much as bankers and analysts would like to use this very forgiving income metric, beware of EBITDA’s shortcomings. Although most analysts are looking for the one-size-fits-all number, the reality of the situation is a variety of methods need to be used to gain a more accurate financial picture of a company. If EBITDA is the only calculation driving your analysis, I urge you to follow Charlie Munger’s advice and plug your nose.

investment-questions-border

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

www.Sidoxia.com

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing had no direct position in 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.

 

September 17, 2016 at 11:44 pm 4 comments

Stocks Winning Olympic Gold

 

medals

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (August 1, 2016). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

The XXXI Olympics in Rio, Brazil begin this week, but stocks in 2016 have already won a gold medal for their stellar performance. The S&P 500 index has already triumphantly sprinted to new, all-time record highs this month. A significant portion of the gains came in July (+3.6%), but if you also account for the positive results achieved in the first six months of 2016, stocks have advanced +6.3% for the year. If you judge the 2%+ annualized dividend yield, the total investment return earns an even higher score, coming closer to +8% for the year-to-date period.

No wonder the U.S. is standing on the top of the economic podium compared to some of the other international financial markets, which have sucked wind during 2016:

  • China Shanghai Index: -15.8%
  • Japan Nikkei Index: -12.9%
  • French Paris CAC Index: -4.3%
  • German Dax Index: -3.8%
  • Europe MSCI Index: -3.5%
  • Hong Kong Heng Sang Index: -0.1%

While there are some other down-and-out financial markets that have rebounded significantly this year (e.g., Brazil +61% & Russia +23%), the performance of the U.S. stock market has been impressive in light of all the fear, uncertainty, and doubt blanketing the media airwaves. Consider the fact that the record-breaking performance of the U.S. stock market in July occurred in the face of these scary headlines:

  • Brexit referendum (British exit from the European Union)
  • Declining oil prices
  • Declining global interest rates
  • More than -$11,000,000,000,000.00 (yes trillions) in negative interest rate bonds
  • Global terrorist attacks
  • Coup attempt in Turkey
  • And oh yeah, a contentious domestic presidential election

With so many competitors struggling, and the investment conditions so challenging, then how has the U.S. prospered with a gold medal performance in this cutthroat environment? For many individuals, the answer can be confusing. However, for Sidoxia’s followers and clients, the strong pillars for a continued bull market have been evident for some time (described again below).

Bull Market Pillars

Surprising to some observers, stocks do not read pessimistic newspaper headlines or listen to gloomy news stories. In the short-run, stock prices can get injured by emotional news-driven traders and speculators, but over the long-run, stocks and financial markets are drawn like a magnet to several all-important metrics. What crucial metrics am I referring to? As I’ve reiterated in the past, the key drivers for future stock price appreciation are corporate profits, interest rates, valuations (i.e., price levels), and sentiment indicators (see also Don’t Be a Fool).

Stated more simply, money goes where it is treated best, and with many bonds and savings accounts earning negative or near 0% interest rates, investors are going elsewhere – for example, stocks. You can see from the chart below, economy/stocks are treated best by rising corporate profits, which are at/near record high levels. With the majority of stocks beating 2nd quarter earnings expectations, this shot of adrenaline has given the stock market an added near-term boost. A stabilizing U.S. dollar, better-than-expected banking results, and firming commodity prices have all contributed to the winning results.

jul 16 gdp

Price Follows Earnings…and Recessions

What history shows us is stock prices follow the direction of earnings, which helps explain why stock prices generally go down during economic recessions. Weaker demand leads to weaker profits, and weaker profits lead to weaker stock prices. Fortunately for U.S. investors, there currently are no definitive signs of imminent recession clouds. Scott Grannis, the editor of Calafia Beach Pundit, sums up the relationship between recessions and the stock market here:

“Recessions typically follow periods of excesses—soaring home prices, rising inflation, widespread optimism—rather than periods dominated by risk aversion such as we have today. Risk aversion can still be found in abundance: just look at the extremely low level of Treasury yields, and the lack of business investment despite strong corporate profits.”

Similar to the Olympics, achieving success in investing can be very challenging, but if you want to win a medal, you must first compete. If you’re not investing, you’re not competing. And if you’re not investing, you have no chance of winning a financial gold medal. Just as in the Olympics, not everyone can win, and there are many ups and downs along the way to victory. Rather than focusing on the cheers and boos of the crowd, implementing a disciplined and diversified investment strategy that accounts for your time horizon, objectives, and risk tolerance is the championship approach that will increase your probability of landing on the Olympic medal podium.

investment-questions-border

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

www.Sidoxia.com

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing had no direct position in 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.

August 1, 2016 at 1:39 pm Leave a comment

The Art of Catching Falling Knives

Knife Falling FreeImages

“In the middle of every difficulty lies an opportunity.”  ~Albert Einstein

It was a painful week for bullish investors in the stock market as evidenced by the -1,018 point drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, equivalent to approximately a -6% decline. The S&P 500 index did not fare any better, and the loss for the tech-heavy NASDAQ index was down closer to -7% for the week.

The media is attributing much of the short-term weakness to a triple Chinese whammy of factors: 1) Currency devaluation of the Yuan; 2) Weaker Chinese manufacturing data registering in at the lowest level in over six years; and 3) A collapsing Chinese stock market.

As the second largest economy on the planet, developments in China should not be ignored, however these dynamics should be put in the proper context. With respect to China’s currency devaluation, Scott Grannis at Calafia Beach Pundit puts the foreign exchange developments in proper perspective. If you consider the devaluation of the Yuan by -4%, this change only reverses a small fraction of the Chinese currency appreciation that has taken place over the last decade (see chart below). Grannis rightfully points out the -25% collapse in the value of the euro relative to the U.S. dollar is much more significant than the minor move in the Yuan.  Moreover, although the move by the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) makes America’s exports to China less cost competitive, this move by Chinese bankers is designed to address exactly what investors are majorly concern about – slowing growth in Asia.

Yuan vs Dollar 2015

Although the weak Chinese manufacturing data is disconcerting, this data is nothing new – the same manufacturing data has been very choppy over the last four years. On the last China issue relating to its stock market, investors should be reminded that despite the massive decline in the Shanghai Composite, the index is still up by more than +50% versus a year ago (see chart below)

Shanghai Composite 8-2015

Fear the Falling Knife?

Given the fresh carnage in the U.S. and foreign markets, is now the time for investors to attempt to catch a falling knife? Catching knives for a living can be a dangerous profession, and many investors – professionals and amateurs alike – have lost financial fingers and blood by attempting to prematurely purchase plummeting securities. Rather than trying to time the market, which is nearly impossible to do consistently, it’s more important to have a disciplined, unemotional investing framework in place.

Hall of Fame investor Peter Lynch sarcastically highlighted the difficulty in timing the market, “I can’t recall ever once having seen the name of a market timer on Forbes‘ annual list of the richest people in the world. If it were truly possible to predict corrections, you’d think somebody would have made billions by doing it.”

Readers of my blog, Investing Caffeine understand I am a bottom-up investor when it comes to individual security selection with the help of our proprietary S.H.G.R. model, but those individual investment decisions are made within Sidoxia’s broader, four-pronged macro framework (see also Don’t be a Fool, Follow the Stool). As a reminder, driving our global views are the following four factors: a) Profits; b) Interest rates; c) Sentiment; and Valuations. Currently, two of the four indicators are flashing green (Interest rates and Sentiment), and the other two are neutral (Profits and Valuations).

  • Profits (Neutral): Profits are at record highs, but a strong dollar, weak energy sector, and sluggish growth internationally have slowed the trajectory of earnings.
  • Valuation (Neutral): At an overall P/E of about 18x’s profits for the S&P 500, current valuations are near historical averages. For CAPE investors who have missed the tripling in stock prices, you can reference prior discussions (see CAPE Smells Like BS). I could make the case that stocks are very attractive with a 6% earnings yield (inverse P/E ratio) compared to a 2% 10—Year Treasury bond, but I’ll take off my rose-colored glasses.
  • Interest Rates (Positive): Rates are at unambiguously low levels, which, all else equal, is a clear-cut positive for all cash generating asset classes, including stocks. With an unmistakably “dovish” Federal Reserve in place, whether the 0.25% interest rate hike comes next month, or next year will have little bearing on the current shape of the yield curve. Chairman Yellen has made it clear the trajectory of rate increases will be very gradual, so it will take a major shift in economic trends to move this factor into Neutral or Negative territory.
  • Sentiment (Positive): Following the investment herd can be very dangerous for your financial health. We saw that in spades during the late-1990s in the technology industry and also during the mid-2000s in the housing sector. As Warren Buffett says, it is best to “buy fear and sell greed” – last week we saw a lot of fear.

In addition to the immense outflows out of stock funds (see also Great Rotation) , panic was clearly evident in the market last week as shown by the Volatility Index (VIX), a.k.a., the “Fear Gauge.” In general, volatility over the last five years has been on a declining trend, however every 6-12 months, some macro concern inevitably rears its ugly head and volatility spikes higher. With the VIX exploding higher by an amazing +118% last week to a level of 28.03, it is proof positive how quickly sentiment can change in the stock market.

Not much in the investing world works exactly like science, but buying stocks during previous fear spikes, when the VIX level exceeds 20, has been a very lucrative strategy. As you can see from the chart below, there have been numerous occasions over the last five years when the over-20 level has been breached, which has coincided with temporary stock declines in the range of -8%  to -22%. However, had you held onto stocks, without adding to them, you would have earned an +84% return (excluding dividends) in the S&P 500 index. Absent the 2011 period, when investors were simultaneously digesting a debt downgrade, deep European recession, and domestic political fireworks surrounding a debt ceiling, these periods of elevated volatility have been relatively short-lived.

Whether this will be the absolute best time to buy stocks is tough to say. Stocks are falling like knives, and in many instances prices have been sliced by more than -10%, -20%, or -30%. It’s time to compile your shopping list, because valuations in many areas are becoming more compelling and eventually gravity will run its full course. That’s when your strategy needs to shift from avoiding the falling knives to finding the bouncing tennis balls…excuse me while I grab my tennis racket.

Investment Questions Border

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs) including emerging market/Chinese ETFs, but at the time of publishing, SCM had no direct position in 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.

August 22, 2015 at 7:40 pm Leave a comment

Sector Weightings: Another Financial Toolbox Gizmo

Tools

The ever-elusive $64,000 question of “Where does the stock market go from here?” is as popular a question today as it was a century ago. All you have to do is turn on CNBC to find an endless number of analysts, strategists, journalists, economists, and other talking heads guessing on the direction of stock prices. So many people are looking to make a quick buck or get a hot tip, but unfortunately investing is like dieting…it takes hard work and there are no simple solutions. As much as the pundits would like to make this investment game sound like a scientific certainty, in reality there is a lot of subjective art, experience, and luck that goes into successful investment outcomes. Consistent followers of Investing Caffeine understand there are a number of tools I use to guide me on the direction and level of stock prices, and three of my toolbox gizmos include the following:

  • Earnings (Stock prices positively correlated)
  • Interest Rates (Stock prices inversely correlated)
  • Sentiment (Stock prices inversely correlated)

While these and other devices (see SHGR Holy Grail) are great for guesstimating the direction of longer-term stock prices, sector weightings are also great tools for identifying both overheated and unloved segments of the market. Take an extreme example, such as the S&P 500 Technology historical sector weighting in the year 2000. As you can see from the Bespoke Investment charts, the Technology sector went from about a 5% weighting of the overall market in the early 1990s to around 36% at the 2000 peak before dropping back down to 15% after the Tech Bubble burst. If you fast forward to the 2008-2009 Financial Crisis, we saw a similar “bubblicious” phenomenon rupture in the Financial sector. During 1980 the Financial segment accounted for approximately 5% of the total S&P 500 Index market capitalization in 1980 and skyrocketed to a peak of 23% in 2007, thanks in large part to a three decade bull-run in declining interest rates coupled with financial regulators asleep at the oversight switch.

Sector Weightings 1

Source: Bespoke Investment

Source: Bespoke Investment

While some segment weightings are currently above and below historical averages, the chart shows there is a tendency for mean reversion to occur over time. As I’ve written in the past, while I believe the broader market can be objectively be interpreted as reasonably priced in light of record earnings, record low interest rates, and a broader skeptical investing public ( see Markets Soar and Investors Snore), I’m still finding expensive, frothy sub-sectors in areas like money losing biotech and social media companies. The reverse can be said if you examined the 2000 period – the overall stock market was overpriced at its 3/24/00 peak (P/E ratio of about ~31x), but within the S&P 500 stocks there were bargains of a lifetime if you looked outside the Tech sector. Consider many of the unloved “Old Economy” stocks that got left behind in the 1990s. Had you invested in these forgotten stocks at the peak of the 2000 market (March 24, 2000), you would have earned an equal-weighted average return of +430% (and significantly higher than that if you included dividends):

Caterpillar Inc (CAT):                        +416%

Deere & Co (DE):                                  +367%

FedEx Corp (FDX):                             +341%

Ingersoll-Rand Co (IR):                    +260%

Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT):       +811%

Three M Company (MMM):            +254%

Schlumberger Ltd (SLB):                 +158%

Union Pacific Corp (UNP):           +1,114%

Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM):               +148%

                                                  Average +430%

That +430% compares to a much more modest +36% return for the S&P 500 over the same period. What this data underscores are the perils of pure index investing and highlights the room for active investment managers like Sidoxia Capital Management to generate alpha.

There are many ways of analyzing “Where does the stock market go from here?,” but whatever methods you use, the power of examining sector weightings and mean reversion gizmos should be readily accessible in your investment toolbox.

Investment Questions Border

 

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own FDX; non-discretionary positions in DE, LMT, MMM, SLB, XOM, and a range of positions in certain exchange traded fund positions, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in CAT, IR, UNP, 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.

November 8, 2014 at 3:34 pm 1 comment

Hunting for Tennis Balls and Dead Cats

Tennis Cat Pic

When it comes to gravity, people understand what goes up, must come down. But the reverse is not always true for stocks. What goes down, does not necessarily need to come back up. Since the 2008-09 financial crisis there have been a large group of multi-billion dollar behemoth stocks that have defied gravity, but over the last few months, many of these highfliers have come back to earth. Despite the pause in some of these major technology, consumer, and internet stocks, the overall stock market appears relatively calm. In fact, the Dow Jones Industrials index is currently sitting at all-time record highs and the S&P 500 index is hovering around -1% from its peak. But below the surface, there is a large undercurrent resulting in an enormous rotation out of pricier momentum and growth stocks into more defensive and yield-heavy sectors of the market, like utilities and real estate.

To expose this concealed trend I have highlighted a group of 20 stocks below, valued at close to half a trillion dollars. Over the last 12 months, this selective group of technology, consumer, and internet stocks have lost over -$200,000,000,000 from their peak values. Here’s a look at the highlighted stocks:

Tennis Ball Dead Cat FINAL 5-14

With respect to all the punished stocks, the dilemma for investors amidst this depreciating price carnage is how to profitably hunt for the bouncing tennis balls while avoiding the dead cat bounces. By hunting bouncing tennis balls, I am referring to the identification of those companies that have crashed from indiscriminate selling, even though the companies’ positive business fundamentals remain fully intact. The so-called dead cats reflect those overpriced companies that lack the earnings power or trajectory to support a rebounding stock price. Like a cat falling from a high-rise building, there may exist a possibility of a small rebound, but for many severely broken momentum stocks, minor bounces are often short-lived.

For long-term investors, much of the recent rotation is healthy. Some of the froth I’ve been writing about in the biotech, internet, and technology has been mitigated. As a result, in many instances, outrageous or rich stock valuations have now become fairly priced or attractive.

Profiting from Collapses

Many investors do not realize that some of the greatest stocks of all-time have suffered multiple -50% drops before subsequently doubling, tripling, quadrupling or better. History provides many rebounding tennis ball examples, but let’s take a brief look at the Apple Inc. (AAPL) chart from 1980 – 2005 to drive home the point:

Apple 1980 - 2005

As you can see, there were at least five occasions when the stock got chopped in half (or worse) over the selected timeframe and another five occasions when the stock doubled (or better), including a +935% explosion in the 1997–2000 period, and a +503% advance from 2002–2005 when shares reached $45. The numbers get kookier when you consider Apple’s share price eventually reached $700 and closed early last week above $600.

These feast and famine patterns can be discovered for virtually all of the greatest all-time stocks. The massive volatility explains why it’s so difficult to stick with theses long-term winners. A more recent example of a tennis ball bounce would be Facebook Inc (FB). The -58% % plummet from its $42 IPO peak has been well-documented, and despite the more recent -21% pullback, the stock is still up +223% from its $18 lows.

On the flip side, an example of a dead cat bounce would include Cisco Systems Inc (CSCO). After the bursting of the 2000 technology bubble, Cisco has never fully recovered from its $82 peak value. There have been many fits and starts, including some periods of 50% declines and 100% gains, but due to excessive valuations in the late 1990s and changing competitive trends, Cisco still sits at $23 today (see chart below).

Slide1

It is important to remember that just because a stock goes down -50% in value doesn’t mean that it’s going to double or triple in value in the future. Price momentum can drive a stock in the short run, but in the long run, the important variables to track closely are cash flows and earnings (see It’s the Earnings, Stupid) . The level and direction of these factors ultimately correlate best with the ultimate fair value of stock prices. Therefore, if you are fishing in the growth or momentum stock pond, make sure to do your homework after a stock price collapses. It’s imperative that you carefully hunt down rebounding tennis balls and avoid the dead cat bounces.

 

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold long positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), AMZN, long NFLX bond, short NFLX stock, short LULU, and long CSCO (in a non-discretionary account), but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in TWTR, GRPN, YELP, ATHN, AVP, P, LNKD, BBY, ZNGA, WDAY, WFM, N, SSYS, JDSU, COH, CRM, FB 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.

May 11, 2014 at 12:23 am 1 comment

The EPS House of Cards: Tricks of the Trade

House of cards and money

 

As we enter the quarterly ritual of the tsunami of earnings reports, investors will be combing through the financial reports. Due to the flood of information, and increasingly shorter and shorter investment time horizons, much of investors’ focus will center on a few quarterly report metrics – primarily earnings per share (EPS), revenues, and forecasts/guidance (if provided).

Many lessons have been learned from the financial crisis over the last few years, and one of the major ones is to do your homework thoroughly. Relying on a AAA ratings from Moody’s (MCO) and S&P (when ratings should have been more appropriately graded D or F) or blindly following a “Buy” rating from a conflicted investment banking firm just does not make sense.

FINANCIAL SECTOR COLLAPSE

Given the severity of the losses, investors need to be more demanding and comprehensive in their earnings analysis. In many instances the reported earnings numbers resemble a deceptive house of cards on a weak foundation, merely overlooked by distracted investors. Case in point is the Financial sector, which before the financial collapse saw distorted multi-year growth, propelled by phantom earnings due to artificial asset inflation and excessive leverage. One need look no further than the weighting of Financial stocks, which ballooned from 5% of the total S&P 500 Index market capitalization in 1980 to a peak of 23% in 2007. Once the credit and real estate bubble burst, the sector subsequently imploded to around 9% of the index value around the March 2009 lows. Let’s be honest, and ask ourselves how much faith can we put in the Financial sector earnings figures that moved from +$22.79 in 2007 to a loss of -$21.24 in 2008? Since that time regulation and reform has put the sector on a more solid footing.  Luckily, the opacity and black box nature of many of these Financials largely kept me out of the 2009 sector implosion.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

But the Financial sector is not the only fuzzy areas of accounting manipulation. Thanks to our friends at the FASB (Financial Accounting Standards Board), company management teams have discretion in how they apply different GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles) rules. Saj Karsan, a contributing writer at Morningstar.com, also writes about the “Fallacy of Earnings Per Share.”

“EPS can fluctuate wildly from year to year. Writedowns, abnormal business conditions, asset sale gains/losses and other unusual factors find their way into EPS quite often. Investors are urged to average EPS over a business cycle, as stressed in Security Analysis Chapter 37, in order to get a true picture of a company’s earnings power.”

 

These gray areas of interpretation can lead to a range of distorted EPS outcomes. Here are a few ways companies can manipulate their EPS:

Distorted Expenses: If a $10 million manufacturing plant is expected to last 10 years, then the depreciation expense should be $1 million per year. If for some reason the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) suddenly decided the building would last 40 years rather than 10 years, then the expense would only be $250,000 per year. Voila, an instant $750,000 annual gain was created out of thin air due to management’s change in estimates.

Magical Revenues: Some companies have been known to do what’s called “stuffing the channel.” Or in other words, companies sometimes will ship product to a distributor or customer even if there is no immediate demand for that product. This practice can potentially increase the revenue of the reporting company, while providing the customer with more inventory on-hand. The major problem with the strategy is cash collection, which can be pushed way off in the future or become uncollectible.

Accounting Shifts: Under certain circumstances, specific expenses can be converted to an asset on the balance sheet, leading to inflated EPS numbers. A common example of this phenomenon occurs in the software industry, where software engineering expenses on the income statement get converted to capitalized software assets on the balance sheet. Again, like other schemes, this practice delays the negative expense effects on reported earnings.

Artificial Income: Not only did many of the trouble banks make imprudent loans to borrowers that were unlikely to repay, but the loans were made based on assumptions that asset prices would go up indefinitely and credit costs would remain freakishly low. Based on the overly optimistic repayment and loss assumptions, banks recognized massive amounts of gains which propelled even more imprudent loans. Needless to say, investors are now more tightly questioning these assumptions. That said, recent relaxation of mark-to-market accounting makes it even more difficult to estimate the true values of assets on the bank’s balance sheets.

Like dieting, there are no easy solutions. Tearing through the financial statements is tough work and requires a lot of diligence. My process of identifying winning stocks is heavily cash flow based (see my article on cash flow investing) analysis, which although lumpier and more volatile than basic EPS analysis, provides a deeper understanding of a company’s value-creating capabilities and true cash generation powers.

As earnings season kicks into full gear, do yourself a favor and not only take a more critical” eye towards company earnings, but follow the cash to a firmer conviction in your stock picks. Otherwise, those shaky EPS numbers may lead to a tumbling house of cards.

Read Saj Karsan’s Full Article

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management has no direct position in MCO or MHP at the time this article was originally posted. 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.

April 18, 2014 at 1:02 pm 5 comments

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