Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Timeframe is Everything

It was 11:31 on October 20th and I was blown away. Yesterday we were down over 200 points in the DOW and the Bears jump out of every corner they've been hiding in and tell us that the world is going to burn to the ground.

The same news stories get trotted out over & over in an attempt to level the banks to the ground. TV analysts, uninformed news casters, and nay-sayers blast negative press via every avenue they can think of to get the market to fall off a cliff.

At the end of Oct. 19th, the DOW finished down 166 or so. The day looked rough, but the market closed up 60 points above its lows with earnings from the likes of Wells Fargo, Westerm Digital, CREE, and others due out after the bell or the next morning.

All that really matters in the price of a stock (eventually) is the earnings. It's a simple math problem. Figure out what the "market" will pay for a particular stock, multiply by the full year EPS and anyone with a calculator can figure out a price target for a stock.

While there are an endless number of macro news stories, rumors, economic readings that can and will move a stock...they are ultimately irrelevant. In fact, almost (and I stress almost as the financial sector, especially the banks, have been obliterated thanks to endless negative press) everything BUT earnings is irrelevant. As a trader, or rather, a value investor who is willing to participate in the markets intraday and refuses to accept a terrible price for what I want to own; the wild swings (especially at the open) give me a chance to buy good merchandise (stocks & options) at great prices...if you're watching.

So, while I think that the wild oscillations of the market are quite overblown over the short term...I would never wish them away for anything.

Take NetFlix for instance. The stock ran up to $127, only to pull back to $98 because earnings were "bad". Well, I was on that conference call when they reported in July and we doubled down on our short put spread trade...should have added calls to it, and the stock rallied from $98 to the current level of $171. The endless negative stories on the stock were vastly overblown & the stock is up near 100% from that recent low. If you didn't do your homework on the stock, you probably were one of the sellers when the stock broke $100 to the downside & you are still kicking yourself.

How about Salesforce.com. The company reported and the stock went from $123.77 to $97.92. Again, the cloud had burst, all these stocks were going to zero, and you were supposed to hit the sell button (according to the "talking heads"). The stock is now back up above $110 and you could be up over 10% from those recent lows...or at least sold 85/75 put spreads when the stock broke $100 to take advantage of the elevated volatility in the stock.

I can go on. The Wells Fargo Conference Call was terrific because it told us that the formula is really 8 to 1; meaning that for every $8 Billion in mortgages someone tries to make a bank take back, only $1 Billion in actual real losses results. This told you that Bank of America, Citigroup, and all sorts of other banks had a MUCH lower liability than the news media has stated.

Bottom line, there is no substitute for doing the homework. Knowing your stocks, listening to the conference calls, and watching the markets often means that you are much less likely to fall prey to the endless negative news that executive producers believes is why people tune in to watch one trainwreck after another.

If you want to watch endless trainwrecks, watch the first few weeks of American Idol or go pick up an issue of US Weekly. There should be plenty of "news" that no one needs to know that "everyone" will be talking about the next day at work. But as for stocks, ultimately, the only thing that matters is what they earn & what multiple the market will let them trade with.

Anyone remember Goldman Sachs at $133 when the Government was going to erase them? Probably not because you never went long down there and missed it. Well, consider Bank of America your 2nd shot at glory...but keep in mind, time-frame is everything ('cause this story wont turn around overnight). The book value of the stock is closer to $13 and they have about $70/share of cash on hand and do business with about 50% of America's Households. I'm not saying that I'll be right tomorrow, or next week. But eventually, earnings are all that matter and BAC will have them.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

How the Apple iPhone brought Verizon & AT&T to their knees

Who is happy about Verizon FINALLY getting an iPhone? The answer may just surprise you...

Years ago, Apple approached Verizon about this crazy idea that they use the success of the iPod to launch their own phone. Apple wanted Verizon to carry it exclusively on their network and they said: "Sounds good...so lets see it, first." Apple told Verizon that unless they had an exclusive deal with a carrier...they weren't going to make the phone in the first place...so no upfront view of the phone...just had to trust that it would be appleriffic.

Verizon said no, they moved on to AT&T...and clearly the answer was a yes. Here we are, 4 generations into the iPhone and it has been RUMORED that Verizon would get an iPhone for YEARS now. In fact, ever since the iPhone came to AT&T it has been rumored that Verizon would get one. Today, we finally found out that Verizon is finally getting their own iPhone.

So, who is excited about this new release? It's not Verizon, it's not AT&T, and it's sure as heck not Research in Motion (the maker of the Blackberry). It's Apple. They really don't care who carries the phone...now that it's the most amazing phone in the universe. I don't think they will ever give back their choke hold on the mobile phone industry. I wouldn't be surprised if they made an iPhone nano to compete in the dumb phone market...just to steal the lunch money of the "other guys".

Ever since Apple has came into it's own in 2001 when it destroyed the diskman (remember those from Sony...wait...if you're under 20 years old you've never heard of Sony)...Apple has been destroying the market cap of companies the world over with new product introductions. You don't believe me? The market cap of Microsoft (MSFT) in June of 2001 was $392 Billion...now it's $213 Billion (down 45% since the iPod release). Let look at Dell. It was $70 Billion in 2001...enter the new iMAC...and now it's worth $25.9 Billion (down 63% from 2001).

Research in Motion, the maker of the Blackberry was at $26 Billion in market cap when the iPhone came out in January of 2007. It grew to $78 Billion in May 2008 only to see Apple release the iPhone 3G, 3GS, and iPhone 4. Their market share is now back down to $26 Million and slipping (a loss of 67%). Finally, Sony...remember, the maker of the diskman and the walkman that we all used before the iPod. They were $68 Million in market cap...now down to $31.65 million (a decline of 53%).

Apple destroys market cap wherever it goes. You cannot compete. Their products are better, faster, crash less, are cooler...and are flat out easier to use thanks to the MAC OS.

So, what happens to Verizon when they get the iPhone...Millions of people will dump their "I need a college degree Blackberry to use 25% of what this phone can do" Blackberry Storm, Torch, or whatever the heck they have and get an iPhone. People who left VZ to begin with so they could have an iPhone will flood back. In about 6 months the Verizon network will be as bogged down as AT&T. But I thought Verizon's network was the best? You put that many data hogs on the same network...you're going to weigh down the network. iPhone users are going to find out that it doesn't matter who's network you're on. Millions of people all streaming data to their iPhones constantly will drag any network down.

When Verizon can't draw new iPhone users to their "network"...guess what's the only tool left for Verizon and AT&T to fight each other with? You guessed it...price. I don't want to be around when they start a price war...well...not as a shareholder that is. It will be a race to the bottom like you have never seen before and shareholders of both companies will be in the crossfire. As Jim Cramer always says: "Competition is the enemy of profits".

But, really...all of this is old news if you saw our Lunch @ the Market from 09/02/2010. AT&T sold off on the news today 2.5%...can't say it'll end there so be careful. In case you missed Lunch @ the Market (L@tM) from September, here you go:

So, today Apple, the toast is to you! Good luck to Verizon and AT&T in their upcoming price war...may the lowest price...I mean network...win. :-)

Buybacks DO matter...eventually.

It is a fact, companies often do an amazingly terrible time buying back their own stock. I mean really, shouldn't THEY KNOW when their stock is cheap and when it's expensive?

Did you know Cisco (CSCO)bought back $3.5 BILLION in stock in the January 2008 quarter? Seriously...the stock was at $24...which seems low since it was at $33.13 on 09/28/2007. But when the stock fell to $14.57 on 02/27/2009...how much stock did they buy back in that quarter? $384 Million. Is it just us or is that bad math? It seems like after buying $3.8 Billion $10 higher; they'd want to average down on their cost basis.

Well, it seems as if Cisco (and the rest of the market) are up to their old tricks of buying back large amounts of stock. In the July, 2010 quarter, Cisco managed to buy back $1.93 Billion of stock (at least they finally managed to grab it for under $24). The stock fell off a cliff when they reported earnings, under $20. Hopefully the person or firm in charge of their buybacks had his/her finger on the trigger to Buy! Buy! Buy! When it fell below $20.

JPMorgan Chase went nuts, purchasing back $18.93 BILLION in stock in the June 2009 quarter after barely registering any purchases in December of 2004 and September of 2006. If there is one firm that has done a terrific job buying back stock...it's certainly Jamie Dimon (their CEO) and his band of merry executives. The stock fell below $40...and without being able to pay a dividend, the used the capital they took in to buy back stock to return capital to shareholders.

IBM came in with $3.16 Billion a couple quarters in a row this year. Even Microsoft got into the act with $2.93 Billion in stock repurchases.

Why do you care about all these companies spending billions of dollars on their own stock? Well...the stock market works on supply and demand just like everything else in the free market. When people want the merchandise...if there is less of it...it will demand a higher price. See where I'm going with this? That's right: If companies continue to buy back their stocks & the Feds engineer inflation (which means asset prices will become inflated...they'll go up), then that means that there will be more demand for stocks. This becomes especially true if companies continue to report great earnings and if we finally see the average working American begin to fund their 401(k) again because the markets have gone up so much and they want to be a part of it.

Companies have taken so much supply out of the market that eventually, when demand returns...all these stock buybacks really will matter. That time is coming. It may even be close. But so far...it hasn't happened yet.

Below is a link to YCharts.com for you to take a look at the Stock Buyback Metrics of different companies. This site works just like finance.yahoo.com or CNBC.com except it gives you charts of the fundamental stock statistics over time like P/E, Revenue, EPS, Cash on Hand, and yes, even Stock Buybacks.

Cisco Systems (CSCO) Stock Quote and Charts