And I could tell the wise men from the fools

June 26, 2017 – DJIA = 21,394 – S&P 500 = 2,428 – Nasdaq = 6,265
“And I could tell the wise men from the fools”[i]
Going into the Memorial Day weekend, the S&P 500 was up 7.89% YTD.  A nice 5-month stretch.  But for those keeping score at home, there’s more to this story as not all stocks deserved a long weekend.
The 5 largest stocks in the index (Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, and Google/Alphabet) were responsible for about 40% of this number.  In other words, without these “Fab Five”, the S&P 500 would have advanced a more modest 4.6%.  As a result of their stock prices’ success, our five horsemen have grown to become 14% of the index’s value which exceeds $20 trillion.
That these are premier companies is indisputable.  That their collective financial results should drive such a disproportionate stock market gain is a bull market.  Regardless of the level of logic involved, the fact is that the FAAMG stocks are leading this bull run.  And we must remember that perception is reality in the stock market – it may not make sense but market’s price is the market’s price.  (As a point of clarification, the more commonly used stock market acronym is FANG which includes Netflix at Microsoft’s expense and the “A” accounting for both Apple and Amazon).
Stock market trends eventually end and it may be happening to this one.  On June 9th, a day like most, these investor favorites were leading the indexes to new record levels.  Then suddenly, out of nowhere, the favorites fell.  Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google all fell over 3% that day.  Netflix dropped 4.7% and Nvidia dove 6.5%.
The Nasdaq Composite retreated 1.8% from the previous close and 2.1% from the morning highs.  The Nasdaq 100 (the 100 largest of the Composite) fell 2.44%.  The weakness was primarily in technology as the Russell and Dow Jones Industrial Average (both less technology weighted) advanced that day while the S&P 500 was flat.
Interestingly, there was no definable event or cause for this tech wreck.  Some attributed the reason to a Goldman Sachs report that was released that morning which suggested these stocks had increased “mean-reversion risk”[ii]  In other words, these stocks had gotten extended from the rest of the markets in both performance and valuation.  In addition to this Goldman Sachs news, there were rumors that short sellers were targeting some of the names.
Despite this sell off, technology remains the best performing sector for 2017 by a wide margin.  One of the main reasons is that these companies are showing the most growth in an economy struggling to find a higher gear.  Here are the year-to-date returns for the major averages through last Friday.
                                                                                     2017 YTD
Dow Jones Industrial Average                                       +8.3%
S&P 500                                                                         +8.9%
Nasdaq Composite                                                         +16.4%
Russell 2000                                                                  +4.2%
Indices are unmanaged, do not incur fees or expenses, and cannot be invested into directly. These returns do not include dividend.
It is noteworthy that many of the targets of the June 9th carnage remain below the levels from that day.  For some of these stocks it may have been an “emperor’s new clothes” moment and marked a longer-term inflection point.
Companies like Apple, Amazon and Google are transformative.  They have developed products that changed consumers lives, and as a result, have a high level of customer loyal.  However, all tech stocks are not equal especially when it comes to valuation.
For example, Apple trades at a price-to-earnings ratio of 16.8 and 11.4 times its enterprise value-to-EBITDA.  (The enterprise value to EBITDA ratio compares the value of the company’s stock and net debt to cash flows from operations).  Both numbers are reasonable for a premier organization like Apple.
Google and Microsoft trade at slightly higher valuations.  Google’s P/E is 31 and its EV-EBITDA is 18.  Mr. Softy’s P/E is 22 while its EV-EBITDA is 14.
Turning to the other high-profile market leaders, Amazon’s valuation is rich.  It trades 183 times trailing twelve months earnings and 36 times EV-EBITDA.  In addition to this nosebleed price, the retailing powerhouse is getting into the grocery business by buying Whole Foods.  While grocery industry has a notorious reputation as being a miserable business, Jeff Bezos has proved many doubters wrong as he changed the retail industry.  Maybe he can do it again in this low-margin, cut throat business.  It will be interesting to see what happens.
Netflix’s credit rating is junk (single B) and its stock carries a 197 P/E and a EV-EBITDA multiple of 12.  Apparently, Mr. Market is willing to overlook such details as long as they keep growing revenues at 30% per year and the stock price keeps moving up.
The June 9th reversal in the stock market’s technology leaders should be noted.  It might be nothing more than another dip that gets bought with no lasting impact.  Or it could be an important declaration that these stocks are overpriced and a correction is needed.  Just as it took a child to pronounce the obvious in “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, the Goldman Sachs observation might embolden the bears – what few that are left.
Jeffrey J. Kerr, CFA
Kerr Financial Group
Kildare Asset Management
130 Riverside Drive
Binghamton, NY 13905
[i] The Emperor’s New Clothes, Hans Christian Andersen, 1837
[ii] Barron’s, June 10, 2017
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