Old Tech is Back!

There is no doubt that old tech is back with a vengeance.

Look at the trifecta of blockbuster earnings reports from Microsoft (MSFT), Amazon (AMZN), and Alphabet (GOOGL) recently, and you can reach no other conclusion.

The Microsoft turnaround in particular has been amazing.

PCs, and the software to run them were so 1990s.

After the Dotcom bust in 2000, Microsoft was dead money for years.

Founder Bill Gates retired in 2008. CEO Steve Ballmer finally got the message in 2013, and retired to pay through the nose, some $2 billion, for the basketball team, the LA Clippers.

Succeeding operating systems offered little that was new, and they fell woefully behind the technology curve.

Even I gave away my own machines years ago to switch to Apple devices. These virus immune machines are perfect for a small business like mine, as they seamlessly integrate and all talk to each other.

When the company brought out the Windows Phone in 2010, three years after Apple, people in Silicon Valley laughed.

Long given up for dead as a trading and investment vehicle, the shares have been on a tear in 2015.

The stock is hitting a new all time high FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 15 YEARS!

Satya Nadella, who took over management of the company in 2014, clearly had other ideas. The challenge for Nadella from day one was to move boldly into new technologies, while preserving its legacy Windows business lines.

So far, so good.

The key to the company?s new found success was it?s dumping of its old ?Wintel? strategy of yore that focused entirely on the growth of the PC market.

The problem was that the PC market stopped growing, as the world moved onto the Cloud and mobile.

The company is now rivaling Apple with $100 billion in cash, almost all held tax-free overseas.

EPS growth will reach 10% next year, beating other big competitors.

Windows and servers, the (MSFT)?s core products, still account for 80% of the firm?s business.

But its cloud presence is being ramped up at a frenetic pace, where the future for the company lies, nearly doubling YOY. Mobile technologies, where it has lagged until now, are also on fire.

Rave reviews from its latest operating system upgrade, Windows 10, also helped.

On top of all of this, Microsoft is paying a generous 3% dividend. It?s earnings multiple at 15X makes it a bargain compared to other big tech companies and the rest of the market.

As I explained in my recent research piece ?Switching From Growth to Value? (click here?), Microsoft makes a perfect investment for a mature bull market.

It is not only at a multiple discount to the rest of the market, now at 18X, it is cheap when compared to the rest of its own sector as well.

This is when investors and traders bail from their high priced stocks to safer, lower multiple companies.

Obviously, I don?t want to pile into Microsoft, or any other of the big tech stocks on top of a furious 10% spike. But it is now safely in the ?buy on the dip? camp, along with the rest of big tech.

The party has only just stated.

To read my interview with Bill Gates? father, click here for ?An Evening With Bill Gates, Sr.?.
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The Bipolar Economy

Corporate earnings are up big! Great!


No wait!

The economy is going down the toilet!

Sell! Buy! Sell! Buy! Sell!


Anyone would be forgiven for thinking that the stock market has become bipolar.

According to the Commerce Department?s Bureau of Economic Analysis, the answer is that corporate profits accounts for only a small part of the economy.

Using the income method of calculating GDP, corporate profits account for only 15% of the reported GDP figure. The remaining components are doing poorly, or are too small to have much of an impact.

Wages and salaries are in a three decade long decline. Interest and investment income is falling, because of the ultra low level of interest rates. Farm incomes are up, but are a tiny proportion of the total. Income from non-farm unincorporated business, mostly small business, is unimpressive.

It gets more complicated than that.

A disproportionate share of corporate profits is being earned overseas. So multinationals with a big foreign presence, like Apple (AAPL), Intel (INTC), Oracle (ORCL), Caterpillar (CAT), and IBM (IBM), have the most rapidly growing profits and pay the least amount in taxes.

They really get to have their cake, and eat it too. Many of their business activities are contributing to foreign GDP?s, like China?s, more than they are here. Those with large domestic businesses, like retailers, earn less, but pay more in tax, as they lack the offshore entities in which to park them.

The message here is to not put all your faith in the headlines, but to look at the numbers behind the numbers. Those who bought in anticipation of good corporate profits last month, got those earnings, and then got slaughtered in the marketplace.

Caveat emptor. Buyer beware.


What?s In the S&P 500?

Index Sector Allocation


index topbipolar masksHas the Market Become Bipolar?

Ten Reasons Why Stocks Are Still Going Up

While driving back from Lake Tahoe last weekend, I received a call from a dear friend who was in a very foul mood. He had bailed on all his equity holdings at the end of last year, fully expecting a market crash in the New Year.

Despite market volatility doubling, multinationals getting crushed by the weak euro and the Federal Reserve now signaling its first interest rate rise in a decade, here we are with the major stock indexes sitting at all time highs.

Why the hell are stocks still going up?

I paused for a moment as a kid driving a souped up Honda weaved into my lane of Interstate 80, cutting me off. Then I gave him my response, which I summarize below:

1) There is nothing else to buy. Complain all you want, but US equities are now one of the world?s highest yielding securities, with a lofty 2% dividend. That compares to one third of European debt offering negative rates and US Treasuries at 1.90%.

2) Oil prices have yet to bottom and the windfall cost savings are only just being felt around the world.

3) While the weak euro is definitely eating into large multinational earnings, we are probably approaching the end of the move. The cure for a weak euro is a weak euro. The worst may be behind for US exporters.

4) What follows a collapse in European economic growth? A European recovery, powered by a weak currency. This is why China has been on fire, which exports more to Europe than anywhere else.

5) What follows a Japanese economic collapse? A recovery there too, as hyper accelerating QE feeds into the main economy. Japanese stocks are now among the worlds cheapest. This is why the Nikkei Average hit a new 15-year high over the weekend, giving me yet another winning Trade Alert.

6) While the next move in interest rates will certainly be up, it is not going to move the needle on corporate P&L?s for a long time. We might see a ?% hike and then done, and that probably won?t happen until 2016. In a deflationary world, there is no room for more. At least, that?s what Janet tells me.

This will make absolutely no difference to the large number of corporates, like Apple (AAPL), that don?t borrow at all.

7) Technology everywhere is accelerating at an immeasurable pace, causing profits to do likewise. You see this in biotech, where blockbuster new drugs are being announced almost weekly.

See the new Alzheimer?s cure announced last week? It involves extracting the cells from the brains of alert 95 year olds, cloning them and then injecting them into early stage Alzheimer?s patients. The success rate has been 70%. That one alone could be worth $5 billion.

8) US companies are still massive buyers of their own stock, over $170 billion worth in 2014. This has created a free put option for investors for the most aggressive companies, like Apple (AAPL), IBM (IBM), Exxon (XOM), Wells Fargo (WFC), and Intel (INTC), the top five repurchasers. They have nothing else to buy either.

They are jacking up dividend payouts at a frenetic pace as well and are expected to return more than $430 billion in payouts this year (see chart below).

9) Oil will bottom in the coming quarter, if it hasn?t done so already. This will make the entire energy sector the ?BUY? of the century, dragging the indexes up as well. Have you noticed that Conoco Phillips (COP), Warren Buffets favorite oil company, now sports a stunning 4.70% dividend?

10) Ditto for the banks, which were dragged down by falling interest for most of 2015. Reverse that trade this year, and you have another major impetus to drive stock indexes higher.

My friend was somewhat set back, dazzled, and non-plussed by my long-term overt bullishness. He asked me if I could think on anything that might trigger a new bear market, or at least a major correction.

I told him to forget anything international. There is no foreign development that could damage the US economy in any meaningful way. No one cares.

On he other hand, I could think of a lot of possible scenarios that could be hugely beneficial for US stocks, like a peace deal with Iran, which would chop oil prices by another half.

The traditional causes of recessions, oil price and interest rate spikes, are nowhere on the horizon. In fact, the prices for these two commodities, energy and money, are headed lower and not higher, another deflationary symptom.

Then something occurred to me. Share prices have been going up for too long and need some kind of rest, weeks or possibly months. At a 17 multiple American stocks are not the bargain they were 6 years ago when they sold for 10X earnings. Those were the only thing I could think of.

But then those are the arguments for shifting money out of the US and into Europe, Japan, and China, which is what the entire world seems to be doing right now.

I have joined them as well, which is why my Trade Alert followers are long the Wisdom Tree Japan Hedged Equity ETF (DXJ) (click here for ?The Bull Case for Japanese Stocks?).

With that, I told my friend I had to hang up, as another kid driving a souped up Shelby Cobra GT 500, obviously stolen, was weaving back an forth in front of me requiring my attention.

Whatever happened to driver?s ed?

Dividend Trends

Share Buy Backs

Unemployment Rate

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DXJ 3-23-15


Old Tech?s Big Comeback

Apple blew away the bears today with the issuance of $17 billion in bonds, the largest such corporate debt issue in history. Spread over two, five, ten, and 30 years, the deal was oversubscribed by more than 3:1, with $40 billion in demand left unfilled.

Foreign investors took down a major part of the deal, which explains Deutsche Bank?s senior role in the syndicate. The yield on the ten-year bonds came in at 2.40%, a mere 70 basis points over equivalent US Treasury paper.

The mega deal, dubbed ?iBonds? by traders, underlies the tremendous shortage of high-grade fixed income securities worldwide. Since 2007, the amount of double ?A? or better rated paper has declined by 60%, thanks to widespread downgrades inspired by the newfound religion of the ratings agencies.

As I never tire of pointing out at my strategy luncheons and lectures, the principal sin of governments is not that they are borrowing too much money, but not enough. This has given us a global bond shortage that has taken returns to insanely low levels. Look no further than the ten-year yield of 1.68% in the US, 1.20 % in Germany, and a pitiful 0.60% in Japan.

The issue also highlights the sudden fascination of all things Apple since its better than expected calendar Q1 earnings report last week, with $43 billion in revenues spinning off $9.5 billion in profits. Since then, we learned that the richest man in Russia, Alisher Usmanov, soaked up some $100 million of stock close to the $392 bottom. This is a man who?s proven track record of market timing is uncanny.

It doesn?t require a lot of imagination to figure out what this deal is all about. With $145 billion in cash on the balance sheet, why borrow another $17 billion? The reality is that this is a way of repatriating, through the back door and tax-free, some of the estimated $100 billion in cash the company has parked in offshore bank accounts.

What will it do with the money? How about buying back $17 billion worth of stock? Buy borrowing at 2.4% and retiring 3.2% dividend stock, the yield pick up on the transaction comes to $136 million a year. That goes straight to the bottom line. The deal reminds me of the kind of financial engineering that dominated Japanese finance during the late 1980?s. When I was a director of Morgan Stanley, I signed many of these multi billion dollar deals as a co-manager.

It wasn?t just Apple that has returned from the grave, which saw its stock rise by 14% since last week?s two year low. Look at many of the old tech warhorses, like Microsoft (MSFT), Applied Materials (AMAT), Hewlett Packard (HPQ), and Intel (INTC), which have blasted forth from long moribund levels in recent weeks.

Which raises an interesting possibility. What if the long predicted selloff in May does a no show? What if, instead of the usual 10%-25% swan dive, we only get the 2.5% that has been the pattern for 2013? The possibilities boggle the mind.

In that case where will the money flood into next? Stocks that have been going up like a rocket for the past eight months, or shares that have either fallen like a stone during this time, or barely budged? Stocks that are trading at double the market multiple, or at half the market multiple? Hmmmm. Let me think about this one.

There are two major categories of the latter, commodity related shares and technology ones. China is still slowing, placing a monkey on the back of most commodities related companies. So I vote for technology, which by the way, is the cheapest it has ever been on an earnings multiple basis.

In that case, the strength in old tech will develop into far more than a one-week wonder. It could provide the rocket fuel that will power the major indexes for the rest of the year. That would take the S&P 500 up to 1,700 where it can flaunt a glitzy earnings multiple of 17.

Don?t get too giddy. This is definitely a best-case scenario. But then lately, the best-case scenarios have been happening, thanks to the reflationary efforts of our friend, Ben Bernanke.

That would be fantastic news for Apple?s long-suffering shareholders. Now that its stock has clearly broken through the 50-day moving average on the upside, the eventual target of this leg could be as high as the 200-day moving average at $541. One can only hope.

AAPL 4-30-13

XLK 4-30-13

INTC 4-30-13

AMAT 4-30-13

Dracula Old Tech is Rising From the Dead