Archive for July, 2005

  • Baidu Set to Go Public
    , July 31st, 2005 at 3:58 pm

    Shares of Baidu, the Chinese search engine, are set to go public this Thursday. The company will trade on the NASDAQ under the symbol BIDU.

    As you might expect, Baidu’s IPO is getting a great deal of buzz. The company is being touted as the Chinese version Google. In fact, Google has invested in the company, and some observers think Google will eventually buy the whole thing. Google’s influence is clear as Baidu’s site mimics Google’s minimalist design.

    According to Francis Gaskins, an IPO expert, Baidu will carry a price/earnings ratio of 528. I think I know how this story will end.

  • NYT: Utilities Are Great Investments, Or Possibly Not
    , July 31st, 2005 at 1:40 pm

    Conrad de Aenlle writes on the utilities sector in today’s New York Times. His thesis is that some people like utilities, while others don’t.

  • Listen to Alan
    , July 30th, 2005 at 12:58 pm

    Channel News Asia

    Greenspan warns over oil, housing markets


    Greenspan warns of “speculative fervor” in housing


    Greenspan warns on rising rates


    Greenspan warns on fuel, housing


    Greenspan warns China currency peg causes ‘very serious’ problems

    Globe and Mail

    Greenspan warns good times won’t last forever

    MSN Money

    Greenspan warns of ‘significant uncertainties’

    The Orange County Register

    Greenspan warns of pension pressure

    Conspiracy Planet

    London Bombings: Alan Greenspan Knew 2 Days Before

    Sheesh. He could have told us.

  • The Government Cracks Down on Poor Accounting Standards
    , July 30th, 2005 at 12:30 pm

    This time, it’s the SEC that’s up to no good.

  • Requiem for the Researchers?
    , July 29th, 2005 at 9:57 pm

    The New York Times has an interesting story about layoffs on Wall Street. I was stunned to learn that since 2001, Wall Street has shed 55,000 jobs. Read the whole thing.

  • Report: CNOOC Set to Dump Bid for Unocal
    , July 29th, 2005 at 6:17 am

    It looks like CNOOC is giving up its plans for buying Unocal. The Chinese have said that there’s too much political pressure. That’ll teach the communists to mess with big government.

  • Tomorrow’s GDP Report
    , July 28th, 2005 at 9:35 pm

    Wall Street is waiting tomorrow’s GDP report. This will be the first report on how well the economy did for the second quarter. The government reports each quarter’s GDP growth three times, at the end of the each month following the quarter.

    The initial estimate is usually pretty far off the mark. Three months ago, Wall Street got nervous when the initial estimate for the first quarter was just 3.1%. It was later revised to 3.5%, then again to 3.8%.

    I find this very annoying. Look at this AP story from three months, and bear in mind that the entire “back story” is wrong. The economy wasn’t hitting a “soft patch,” and the economy’s performance actually exceeded expectations. Investors didn’t know the whole story until the GDP report was revised.

    These revisions can be pretty big. I’d prefer to see the government hold off on any economic report until it has a good number. Even if it takes several weeks, the market needs to trust this information.

    My guess is that the economy grew by 3.7% for the second quarter. That’s just a guess of a hunch of a prediction. Even if I’m wrong, it won’t change my investment strategy at all. The only important aspect of a GDP report is its trend. The economy has expanded above its long-term trend of 3% for eight straight quarters. This will probably be the ninth.

    If not, we still need more data to confirm a trend. My advice is to watch tomorrow’s GDP report, but don’t act on it.

  • The Most Underrated Stock on the Market
    , July 28th, 2005 at 2:27 pm

    Without a doubt, UnitedHealth Group (UNH) is the most underrated stock on the market. Not only does it grow, but it grows consistently. The company just posted its 23rd straight quarter of earnings growth over 30%. That’s amazing. I’ll be impressed with Google once it can say the same.

    UnitedHealth’s stock is up 17% this year, and that’s after coming off a great last year when it soared over 50%. The shares were up another 39% in 2003. In fact, the stock almost never goes down. For this entire decade, UNH has gained over 670%. Not bad, considering the bear market.

    The company went public in October 1984. It closed its first day of trading at $4-5/8. Adjusted for five 2-for-1 splits, those shares are now worth about $1,700. Owning the stock is like buying a bond with a 20% coupon.

    Despite these great results, many investors overlook UnitedHealth. I guess it’s not as exciting as Google or Amazon, but I’m worried about UnitedHealth’s future. The company just snagged PacifiCare Health Systems for a cool $8 billion, and it raised guidance for the rest of this year. UNH now expects to earn $2.45 to $2.47 a share this year. That still gives the stock a reasonable P/E ratio. This is a stock to buy and hold for the long-term.

  • The Plunging VIX
    , July 27th, 2005 at 6:15 pm

    Do you realize that it’s been nearly two years since we’ve had a 2% move on the S&P 500? That’s the longest streak since the mid-90s. With so little action out there, the day-traders must be pulling their hair out!

    Volatility is closely watched on Wall Street. Many options investors ignore stocks all together and solely play volatility. The Chicago Board Options Exchange has its own volatility index, which is better known as the VIX. Real estate and oil may be bubbles, but the VIX is in the clutches of a ferocious bear. Today, the VIX closed at 10.36, which is just above an 11-year low.

    We used to have wild moves all the time. There were 41 days of 2% or more moves from July to November of 2002. That’s about two a week. Back then, the VIX soared above 40. But not anymore. We haven’t even had a 1.2% day in nearly three months. There’s just no volatility out there.

    What does it all mean? It’s hard to say. Volatility is often misunderstood. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to have rising volatility. The media loves to wag its finger at an erratic market, but there isn’t a strong correlation between current volatility and future return. There’s a slight—and I mean very slight—relationship between rising volatility and a turn in the market. But it’s too small to be a viable indicator.

    The market started becoming more erratic in mid-1985, but was actually cooling off just before the crash in October 1987. Rising volatility did coincide with bull market of the late-90s. But volatility stayed high through the market crash, and it didn’t start calming down until the market hit rock bottom in October 2002.

    If anything, volatility represents how “content” the market is right now. That’s unlikely to change until events change. As long as volatility is falling, the market is happy to continue doing what it’s doing.

  • Amazon Goes Google
    , July 27th, 2005 at 2:27 pm

    It seems like my local bookstore is about to give up selling books. Whenever I go there, they’ve added a new category of merchandise. You can now get lattes, DVDs, CDs, t-shirts, Winnebagos, you name it. If you want to pick up the latest John Grisham AND a blender, this bookstore’s got you covered.

    That’s why I love Amazon. It’s easy. It’s clean. I don’t have to speak with anyone. That’s about all I ask from a bookstore.

    But for the life of me, I don’t get Amazon’s stock. As a business, the company simply ain’t that great. Amazon just reported earnings, and their profits dropped by 32%. Youch! But Wall Street is partying like it’s 1999 because AMZN beat expectations. Sorry, fells but I’m not impressed. Expectations are already so low, it’s like being surprised by the crisp cinematography of the latest Ben Stiller movie.

    The problem I have with Amazon is that they rely too much on gimmicks. Businesses can use gimmicks, but they can’t live off them. Amazon’s sales were up 26% last quarter. That’s not bad, but a lot of it was due to aggressive discounting. They can’t do that forever.

    Their new Amazon Prime program gives you unlimited two-day delivery for $79 a year. Again, that’s nice, but that’s all that Bezos & Co. want to talk about. I’m suspicious of any company that tries to discount its way to profitability. To win in the long run, a company needs to have something that sets them apart. Something that their competitors can’t do.

    The biggest problem that Amazon faces is that its profit margins are shrinking. In fact, Wall Street is celebrating today because overall margins widened by a tad. But let’s add some perspective, their margins have, for now, briefly stopped falling. That’s not the same thing as growing. Amazon’s margins are still lower than they were one year ago.

    Where are the future sales going to come from? Foreign sales were up 50% last quarter, but in North America, sales were up just 21%. It won’t take long for foreign sales growth to level off. Plus, North American operating profits were only up 9%. Once again, shrinking margins.

    Future revenue could come from “third-party sales.” In essence, Amazon is slowing becoming “Googlized.” Third-party sales are when other companies rent space on Amazon’s site, or Amazon gets a commission of other company’s sales. It’s a fast-growing part of Amazon’s business. This is intriguing and certainly worth paying attention to, but Amazon’s core business is not growing like it should. Either Amazon will prove it can grow without discounting, or its stock will be the one that’s discounted.

    My advice is to enjoy the service, but steer clear of Amazon’s stock.