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Want to Buy Apple Without Chasing? – Some Possible Entry Points (AAPL, SPY, QQQ)

February 15, 2012 Leave a comment

Since blowing out earnings expectations on January 24, Apple, Inc. (AAPL) has been on a tear, bringing the S&P 500 (SPY) and NASDAQ (QQQ) along for the ride. From the pre-earnings closing price of $420.50 on January 24th, to today’s intra-day high of $526.29, Apple had gained a stunning 25% in just 16 trading days.

Unfortunately, this quick run up has made it hard to begin a long position in the stock because of the complete lack of pullbacks other than the 50% long Fibonacci extension at $445 that traded during the first day after earnings (shown Here on a 90 day, hourly chart). The other issue with Apple’s recent move up past the $500 milestone is that it has attracted an enormous amount of momentum-oriented investors who have seen the move up that has already happened, and are now chasing high’s in hopes of catching some of the move. I can’t predict when the momentum will run out, but I can be reasonably sure that the momentum investors will dump the shares as quickly as they bought them once the upward trend begins to fade. Whether you are a value investor or technically-based trader, Price matters and that is why it is so important to remain calm, disciplined and patient when buying into even the highest quality of stocks.

The charts below show Apple’s 20 Year Weekly chart (logarithmic), 3 Year Daily chart (linear) and 90 Day Hourly chart and I will discuss potential entry points for each time frame. I also want to be clear before beginning that just because the safest entry points are below where Apple is currently trading, I am not at all recommending a short position and I personally would never consider it due to the high quality and debatable undervalued nature of the stock. If Apple is in trouble, the S&P 500 would likely also be in trouble and I’d much rather short SPY or by an inverse ETF.

AAPL 20 Year Weekly Chart (Logarithmic):

(Click for Larger Image)

You can see from this chart that Apple has sold off every time it ran into this resistance line going all the way back to 1994. This time might be different but it certainly warrants caution. So let’s take a look at some potentially safer entry points for longer time frame investors Here which zooms in to a 3 Year Weekly chart.  The safest play would be to wait for Apple to sell off down to the purple 50 week Simple Moving Average (SMA) which is currently at ~$379 and rising at a decent clip. For slightly move aggressive individuals, buying the 50% long at the green horizontal line at $445 or previous highs at $425 could work well and also coincide with the white 10 week SMA.

AAPL 3 Year Daily Chart (Linear):

(Click for Larger Image)

This chart demonstrates Apple’s tendency to have fast run ups, and then periods of prolonged consolidation (highlighted in grey) which offer long term investors the chance to buy on dips. Meanwhile the red declining trend lines have routinely served as a good signal to shorter term technical traders that a breakout was taking place. These breakouts have lasted between 2 and 5 months with the average duration being 2.7 months long. This most recent rally is approaching the average duration right now and has completely broken out of its 3 year rising channel that it had been trading in (shown Here). Given these indications that the stock is possibly overextended, it would be prudent to wait for a retracement into one of the 50% Fibonacci levels shown in the chart above (notice that the $445 support level is visible on both the weekly and daily charts).

AAPL 90 Day Hourly Chart:

(Click for Larger Image)

For short term technical traders, there are only really two other levels to pay attention to aside from the daily support levels (Shown by the red and dotted horizontal lines that start at the beginning of 2012). The first (and most aggressive)  entry is an extension long setup (an extension long is a Fibonacci drawn from a previous high to a new high after a significant thrusting move, as opposed to a traditional Fibonacci which is drawn from lows to high) at $490. This extension originates from the previous high set after the post-earnings gap up to the intra-day high that we hit today at $526. The next long setup is down at $479 and is just a few points away from the daily support level which could give it an extra boost. This second extension has is just the continuation of the original gap up extension long that traded the day after earnings at the $445 level.

In summary, potential buying areas on Apple are as follows (from least to most aggressive):
Weekly Entries:
50 Week SMA, $445, $425

Daily Entries:
$476, $445

Aggressive Entries:
$490, $479

Disclosure:
I am long shares of Apple, however, I did close out 1/3 of my position today to lock in profits at $498.33.

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Q1 2010 Market Overview and Investment Outlook

Overview & Outlook
The first quarter of 2010 was one of extremes and started things out with a bang. The S&P 500 began the year at 1116 and quickly rose to 1150 before undergoing a 9.2% selloff (the steepest since the recovery began in March of 2009) down to 1044. Investors (such as myself) took advantage of the “sale” on stocks during the selloff and used it as an opportunity to add to positions. The ensuing buying pressure caused a 12% rally and the S&P 500 ended the quarter up at 1169.

Optimism abounded during the first quarter as corporate earnings continued to meet or beat expectations; auto sales maintained their upward trend and 4th quarter U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) registered growth at an annual rate of 5.6% (the strongest growth since 2004). The jobs picture also improved in the first quarter with a drop in the unemployment rate down to 9.7% from 10% in December.  March was especially strong as the economy added 162,000 jobs, the biggest monthly gain in over three years. Unfortunately, over 40,000 of those jobs were temporary Government hires for the Census and, after dropping to 9.7% in January, the unemployment rate has not fallen any further.

The signing of the health care reform bill by President Obama eliminated some uncertainty in the markets; influencing performance positively. Although the long term effects of this legislation are not yet clear, companies can now move forward with a solid understanding of what the rules of the game will be. Economists had been arguing that until the bill was either signed (or killed) it would be very difficult for companies to hire new employees because they wouldn’t know the true cost of employment.

Credit markets also continued to improve with the spread between corporate and government bond yields falling back to historically normal levels. Inflation was beginning to be a concern for investors towards the end of 2009 but the Consumer Price Index (CPI) data from the first quarter of 2010 allayed those fears by showing very muted gains. This maintains the foundation that the Federal Reserve needs to maintain its “exceptionally low levels of the federal funds rate for an extended period” while also providing financially strapped consumers with lower prices for their everyday items.

Despite the good news, there continue to be significant caveats and reasons for caution:

  • Unsustainable GDP Growth
    The blistering 5.6% GDP growth rate from the fourth quarter is not likely to be repeated because it was primarily driven by companies stocking up their inventories for the holiday season. Inventory stocking is typical in the fourth quarter but its effects were magnified in this case because companies were being cautious last year and maintained especially low inventories during 2009. To provide some context, we would need three more quarters of 5%+ GDP growth to drive unemployment down just 1%.
  • Weak Jobs Market
    Although the unemployment rate has fallen from its peak, it is still at historically elevated levels. U-6 Unemployment (a broader and more complete picture of unemployment) had been slowly declining but has now been ticking upward since February and registered at 16.9% in March. The picture gets even worse when you look at the details. Out of all the unemployed Americans, 44.1% have been unemployed for more than six months (almost double the worst level seen in our last recession). Also, many people who have been unemployed for more than a year are no longer being counted in the official statistics. This trend has only been getting worse and could mean that a lot of the jobs that have been lost are not coming back (particularly in construction, manufacturing and financial services). Unemployment rose in 24 states, while California, Florida, Nevada and Georgia all set new records for joblessness in March.
  • Rising Oil and Commodities Prices
    Over the past couple of years, oil companies have drastically cut their capital expenditure budgets for building new capacity because global demand had significantly slowed. Following strong stimulus programs from around the world – most notably China’s – demand for commodities and oil has been rising and global demand for oil is expected to set all time records in 2011. This strong demand combined with a diminished supply of oil could cause another sustained run-up in oil prices, which would severely dampen the economic recovery taking place.
  • Interest Rate Policy and Bank Lending
    A key driver of this recovery has been the strength of banks and their ability to keep credit flowing throughout the economy so that consumers can spend (even when they shouldn’t) and companies can expand. The more money banks make, the more credit they can provide. With the Federal Reserve holding their overnight lending rate at effectively zero, it has been extremely easy for banks to make money by borrowing from the Fed (AKA U.S. taxpayers) at a rate of 0% and then lending it out to companies at a rate of 5% or more; essentially providing the banks with windfall profits. Eventually the Fed will need to raise rates to stave off inflation, which will severely crimp the margins of banks, limiting their ability to continue contributing to growth.
  • Continued Uncertainty Around Financial Regulation
    Now that health care legislation has been passed, the administration and congress can turn their attention toward regulating of the financial services industry There is strong political and popular will to ensure that a financial crises of the magnitude that we saw in 2008 does not repeat but it is still unclear whether it will be done in a way that would impair the ability of banks to provide credit. Major banks made themselves easy targets by taking taxpayer money (whether they claimed to need it or not) and then spent lavishly on employee compensation stoking outrage that continues to smolder.
  • The U.S. Budget Deficit and Tax Increases
    In combating the recession and reforming the healthcare industry, the U.S. budget deficit has grown to unprecedented levels. This has been exacerbated by falling tax revenues due to lower corporate profits and consumer income. President Obama has already said that taxes will need to be raised for upper class Americans but it is not unreasonable to assume that lower income levels could also see higher taxes. Of particular concern for the stock market is that taxes on capital gains and dividends may also be raised, which would most likely be perceived negatively by the market.The elephant in the room however is looming social security and Medicare expenses that will continue to balloon as the baby boomers retire. Any reform will most likely require a mixture or higher taxes, reduced benefits and tougher eligibility requirements. Faced with the prospect of higher tax rates and decreased social benefits, investor sentiment is likely to wane.

Despite my caution, I am hopeful and optimistic that economic data will continue to improve. I would like to believe the market cheerleaders on CNBC who say that we are in a new long-term bull market but unfortunately, the facts of the situation do not yet support that assertion. After selling off a large portion of my portfolio in December and early January, I have been gradually increasing my exposure to certain areas of the market with a defensive posturing.

During times like this when hope and optimism outweigh the raw data, it’s important to maintain perspective and discipline. Warren Buffett said it best in a letter he wrote to his investors during the stock market frenzy of 1969:

It is possible for and old, overweight ball player, whose legs and batting eye are gone, to tag a fast ball on the nose for a pinch-hit home run, but you don’t change your line-up because of it.

Market Summary
Although very volatile, the S&P 500 continued its upward march, gaining 5.39% in the first quarter of 2010 and bringing its return for the trailing twelve months to 49.76%. However, it is still down more almost 19% from the October 2007 market highs.

The MSCI EAFE (European, Asian & Far East) index continued to underperform U.S. equity markets with a gain of only 0.94% in the first quarter, bringing its’ total return for the past year to 55.19%, slightly above the S&P 500. We feel that the MSCI EAFE is still being held back by a strengthening U.S. Dollar as well as concerns over sovereign debt in countries such as Greece, Ireland and Portugal. Despite these concerns, we maintain a favorable view on foreign/emerging markets as a whole because of their stronger fundamental growth prospects and lower consumer debt to income ratios.

The Barclays Capital U.S. Aggregate Bond Index underperformed equities during the first quarter of 2010 with a gain of 1.78%. The index is now up 7.70% over the past year and yields approximately 3.8% as of the close on March 31. The recent underperformance of bonds is likely due to investors shifting money from bonds (which are relatively safe) into riskier assets such as stocks (which offer greater returns). Another downward force on the price of bonds is speculation regarding when the Federal Reserve will begin to raise interest rates (higher rates tend to depress the price of bonds) and by how much.

Final Thoughts
We are either at the end of a Great Depression style “fools” rally or entering the second stage of a longer term bull market but it is very difficult to tell which it will be. The market is longer “cheap” by almost any definition with the P/S ratio now solidly over 1.0 and the dividend yield of the S&P 500 back to normal levels below 2%. However, with a forward P/E ratio of  16.95 (as of market close on 4/23/10) the market is not exactly overpriced either. We are now in a valuation limbo of sorts.

The main reason for this is that there is currently an unprecedentedly large divergence in the corporate earnings estimates of top down macroeconomic analysts and bottom up security analysts. Historically, bottom up security analysts have predicted operating earnings 19.25% higher than those predicted by top down macroeconomic analysts. For 2010 and 2011, the difference has widened to over 28%.

It the optimistic bottom up analysts are correct and the S&P 500 has operating earnings of ~$95 in 2011 (up from ~$57 in 2009), then the market is certainly undervalued and could easily run up into the 1,400’s assuming a modest P/E ratio of 16. However, if the top down analysts are closer to the mark and the S&P 500 earns only $70, then using the same P/E of 16 would imply a market correction down into the low 1,100’s.

This being said, I remain long the market and do not see any strong technical resistance other than 1,229 (the 61.8% Fibonacci retracement from 2007 highs to 2009 lows). However, until we break above that line, I am keeping my mind very open to the idea of a deep decline for two reasons. 1.) Selloffs bring lower prices and opportunities to buy great companies that might have been missed earlier during the rally and 2.) The public and political will for strong financial reform (which I feel is absolutely necessary in some areas) has been dwindling with each new month that the market continues to rally. The impetus for reform would be greatly strengthened if the market begins another dramatic selloff and stories continue coming out about issues similar to what went on between Goldman Sachs & Co. (GS) and Paulson & Co.

Bottom Line: Don’t short a market that wants to rally. I’m staying net long until technical long setups start breaking down and if short setups start working before we break above 1,229 then I’ll have to reevaluate and strongly consider going short.

-MJB

How’s the Housing Market Doing? – Depends on What Data You Look At

It’s been over three years since the first signs of trouble began emerging in the U.S. housing and real estate market. Standard & Poor’s just released the latest Case-Shiller Home Price data so where do we stand now? Market pundits have been cheering the percentage price gains in the Case-Shiller Home Price Index for several months and telling bearish investors to forget the past and go right back to the same assumptions that caused the real estate crises in the first place. To support their theory, they simply point to charts like the one below.

Case-Shiller Percentage Year over Year Price Change Index

Unfortunately, the above chart gives a very skewed picture of what is actually happening to U.S. home prices because we are coming off of such a low base. To account for this statistical anomaly, I prefer to look at what actual prices are doing with the chart below.

Case-Shiller Home Price Index

Looking at the first chart would leave you to believe that you’re about to “miss” the next boom in real estate but using the second chart for added context will surely give you pause. The U.S. Government began inflating the housing bubble all the way back in the 1980’s with aggressive home-ownership policies spearheaded by Fannie Mae, Ginnie Mae and Freddie Mac. Wall St. helped the bubble along with financial “engineering” and then the Federal Reserve even stepped in to do its’ part after the dot-com crash by lowering rates dramatically for an unprecedentedly long period of time.

All these factors make it very hard to get a real idea of what housing prices should be because the markets have been manipulated so completely. For a best guess, we can look back to where prices bottomed in the 1990’s or we can look at metrics such as income to home price ratios. Unfortunately, no matter what you look at (aside from the housing bulls’ percentage price change chart), things do not look pretty. The 1990’s levels leave us with a long way to fall and inflation-adjusted median income has fallen.

Let’s just hope that I’m wrong and the housing bulls are right…

-MJB

Palm Continues to Suffer (PALM, AAPL, GOOG, RIMM)

March 18, 2010 Leave a comment

Palm Inc. reported earnings after the close today, and what they reported wasn’t pretty.  Expectations were for a loss of $.42 per share on revenue of $316.19 mm.  Reported numbers were $366 mm, which was actually higher than expectation, and a loss of $.61 per share, which was not.  After being up by about 5% during the day on a lot of short covering, the stock tumbled on the news in after hours by over 13%.

Adding to the woes are increasing inventories at the carriers.  This is an issue because Palm records sales when the products are shipped to the carriers, not when they are actually sold to consumers.  Thus, large stocks of unsold inventory will prevent Palm from recording much in the way of sales until that backlog is cleared.  Thus, Palm issued revenue guidance for the upcoming quarter that is half of the $305.77 mm that analysts were expecting.

My Palm article in September hypothesized that the stock (then at 17.40) would drop as consumer adoption of the new operating system would lag.  Back then, Palm was shipping over 800,000 units per quarter, that number has since increased to over 900,000 but sell through to customers has decreased to 400,000 units.    The stock in after hours dropped to below $5 as the long term survivability of Palm remains in doubt while they try to compete against the mighty Apple, Google and RIMM.

-AH

Disclosure: Long GOOG, no position in any other stock mentioned

As Bullishness Returns to the Market: Can the Rally Continue? (SPY, QQQ, DIA, GOOG)

The S&P 500 is up about 5% since I changed my stance on the stock market from bullish to bearish back on November 19th and all of the fundamental reasons for the change are still intact (although I’m neutral on a technical basis). Recent news has been mixed or negative and not helping the situation is the announcement over the weekend from Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao that the yuan is not overvalued and that there is a chance of a double dip recession in China.

Many of China’s trading partners (including the US) have been upset with China’s handling of their currency during one of the most devastating economic period in recent history (China had been gradually appreciating the yuan but stopped in 2008). Adding to protectionist issues, Google said over the weekend that is 99.9% sure it will be closing it’s China.cn web portal and China made a warning to Google’s Chinese partners that they will be responsible for any search related problems on their own website.

Despite all this negative news flow, investors has been hanging on to hope with the tired lines of “things are getting less worse”. Bulls are still reciting facts about recoveries in past recessions as if the more they repeat them, the more they will apply to the current crises. Unfortunately they do not.

It would seem that people are ignoring fundamentals and the more the stock market rises, the more bullish they will become. The downside to this strategy is that most people who are bullish are already invested. It is almost always short sellers covering their positions that launch the market into it’s final peaks before coming down and this is certainly how it feels to me.

The chart above from Bloomberg gives some good color to the situation. There is no “clear” indication that we are topping out right now but there are definitely more (and better) reasons to be cautious than to be optimistic. The rally over the last month has been strongly moved by short sellers having their stops hit (trust me, I’ve been trying), and I fear that a few months from now we will be looking back at this point in the stock market as a double top and possibly the highs for the year. Be careful everybody.

-MJB

Disclosure: Net-long the stock market with over 35% assets in cash

Where Are We in the Unemployment Trend? – Historical Perspective

February 13, 2010 Leave a comment

“This time it’s different…”

Very often, the people who utter those words end up feeling quite stupid and having less money in their brokerage/IRA accounts than before. Usually it is because that when you go along with conventional wisdom and group think, you wind up in a very crowded trade with little room left to run. Today however, the conventional wisdom is that this time it’s not different and that we will proceed to have a strong jobless recovery. The jobless recovery phenomena may have worked in past recessions but A.) There are only so many times you can have a “jobless recovery” before it’s not an actual recovery as evidenced by the continued drop in real productivity and income per capita and B.) This is by no means a normal recession.

Take a look at the chart below, I hope it offers some valuable perspective and context (note that the data doesn’t even include numbers from 2008 and 2009) . This time, things may very well be different…

-MJB

Google looking to revamp another industry? (GOOG, AAPL, T, CMCSA, MSFT, ADBE, TWX, SNE, VIA, CBS)

February 10, 2010 Leave a comment

MarketWatch is reporting that Google will be testing a new direct-to-home fiber-optic internet connection service that will reach speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second.  The company is currently looking for interested communities, and hopes to test their new system with up to 500,000 people.

This service has the potential to be a game changer.  Google is interested in much faster internet connections because of their belief in “cloud-computing,” where very little information is stored on a user’s local machine because the actual computing is done by a remote server.  They have pushed this technology into the mainstream with services like Docs, Picasa photo editing, Calendar, and hope to take the technology further with the Chrome OS.

The current issue concerns the speed of the user’s connection to these services.  Even with the fastest available connection speeds, which in my area is 50 mbps, these services are not as fast as a desktop client due to latency.  Picasa only offers minimal photo editing due to bandwidth limitations, and video manipulation is impossible.  Thus, desktop programs like Photoshop, Office, iPhoto and iMovie are still necessarily stored on a local machine.

Google knows that companies like Apple (AAPL), Microsoft (MSFT) and Adobe (ADBE) are too entrenched on the desktops of consumers, so they are not trying to fight the battle there.  Instead they are staying on the relatively uninhabited world of web-based applications.  And they are winning, chiefly because they are a high-profile company and that no one else does free, ad-supported products quite as well as Google.

If this service from Google becomes widely available, and at a reasonable cost (admittedly a big ask), it would destroy the business models of many companies.  Software providers like Apple, Microsoft and Adobe would find themselves competing against a free, cloud-based product that acts in the same way that their desktop software does but available anywhere.  Content providers like Time Warner (TWX), Sony (SNE),  Viacom (VIA), CBS (CBS) etc be selling their media via streaming services, as people move their entertainment libraries off their shelves and hard drives and onto remote servers.  And current internet providers like Comcast (CMCSA), AT&T (T) and Verizon (VZ) will be competing against a service which runs at 10x their current maximum bandwidth.  That is why this could very well be a game changing moment for Google.

-AH

Disclosure: Long GOOG, MSFT, T and the market in general.  No positions in any other stocks mentioned.