CWS Market Review – August 8, 2014

“Far more money has been lost by investors preparing for corrections, or trying to anticipate corrections, than has been lost in corrections themselves.” – Peter Lynch

After a very subdued June and July, the stock market has suddenly gotten a lot more interesting. The S&P 500 had gone 62 trading days in a row without a daily move, up or down, of more than 1%. That was the longest streak of its kind in nearly 20 years. Then we had three such days within two weeks, and we came very close to a fourth on Tuesday.

On Thursday, the S&P 500 fell to a two-month low of 1,909.57. In an apparent homage to Black Monday, the index reached its closing high of 1,987.98 on July 24. We’re now down 3.94% from that mark. Last week, the S&P 500 broke below its 50-day moving average last week, and we’re only 2.6% above the 200-DMA. It’s been 21 months since the S&P 500 last closed below its 200-DMA.


There are lots of reasons for the market’s new-found case of anxiety: Ebola, Putin, Hamas, ISIS. From its July low to its August high, the Volatility Index ($VIX) soared 66%. Gold has been creeping up as well. Despite the increase in worrying, the fundamentals of the economy and stock market are sound.

Last Friday, for example, we had another good jobs report: the U.S. economy created 209,000 net new jobs in July. This is the first time in 17 years that the economy has created more than 200,000 jobs for six months in a row, and I think we can expect a seventh. On Thursday, the Labor Department reported that the four-week moving average of jobless claims fell to an eight-year low. We also learned last week that the ISM Manufacturing Index jumped to 57.1, which is its highest level in more than three years. There are lots of problems in the world, but an imminent recession in the U.S. isn’t one of them.

We’re nearing the end of second-quarter earnings season, and it’s mostly been a good one. Of the S&P 500 companies that have reported so far, 75% have beaten their earnings expectations, while 65% have beaten on sales. For Q2, the S&P 500 is on track to report earnings growth of 9.4% and sales growth of 4.2%. Despite all the loose talk of a new bubble, valuations haven’t changed much in the past year.

Our Buy List nearly made it through earnings season without a dud, but Cognizant Technology ($CTSH) had to ruin it for us. On Wednesday, the IT outsourcer beat estimates by four cents per share, but it lowered its sales guidance. Traders didn’t like that at all, and by the closing bell, CTSH lost 12.6%. I’ll have a complete rundown in just a bit (Spoiler Alert: I’m still a Cognizant fan.) I also want to review some Buy List members who may not make it onto next year’s list. We’re still a few months away from making our selections, but I want to share some thoughts with you. But first, let’s look at this newly volatile market.

What Are the Side Effects of QE?

Despite the big loss from Cognizant, our Buy List has been outperforming the overall stock market lately. Since we focus on high-quality stocks, we usually outperform the market during “worrying” stretches like we’ve seen recently.

Through Thursday, our Buy List is trailing the S&P 500 for the year (3.31% for the S&P 500 to -0.32% for us, not including dividends). Part of our underperformance this year is due to the rally being overfed by a lot of low-quality, crappy stocks. Even Janet Yellen recently said, while defending the overall market’s valuation, that “valuation metrics in some sectors do appear substantially stretched, particularly those for smaller firms in the social media and biotechnology industries.”

She’s absolutely right. Look at a stock like ($AMZN) which is down more than 23% from its high, and it’s still trading at 150 times next year’s earnings (the company will probably lose money this year). Last month, I mentioned the outrageous case of Cynk Technology ($CYNK). The shares are down 97% since then.

This is a paradox of the market. On one hand, we want to see lower-quality names do well so capital can reach marginal businesses (and borrowers). But we don’t want to see the trend go overboard and cause investors to leave the good stuff behind. That’s partly what happened during the Credit Bubble. I remember how our Buy List trailed the market in 2006 and kept slightly ahead in 2007. But once the Financial Crisis took hold and all those garbage stocks got called out, our Buy List fell far less than the market. We recovered much more quickly as well. Why? Because we never bought the junk, so when the House of Cards tumbled over, our relative performance was outstanding.

This leads me to one of the big questions on the minds of professional investors: what are the side effects of the Federal Reserve’s unprecedented policies? The Fed has kept short-term interest rates near 0% for a long time. Naturally, any Fed policy will distort the market. I think, too, that some investors view this phenomenon in overly sinister tones, but I tend to view it rather dispassionately. The central bank is powerful, and it’s trying to entice investors to be more confident. That’s not easy to do, and 0% interest rates is a start.

One side effect is that investors grew too fond of junk bonds. Since the start of July, junk bonds have taken a sharp turn for the worse, and that’s probably a healthy sign. This is an important sector for investors to watch, even if you’re not invested there, because it tells us how the marginal borrower is doing. When junk bonds perform as well as other bonds, or even outperform them, that’s usually an optimistic sign for the economy. It hints that business is going well, and will probably continue to improve. But again, it shouldn’t be used to fund shady operations.

I’m also concerned that low rates have made share repurchases too easy to resist. I have no problem with companies borrowing money to fund their operations. But I’m concerned that easy credit has allowed too many companies to boost their EPS, not by growing their earnings but by reducing their share count.

This has also been a lousy year for small-cap stocks, and I can’t help but think it’s related to the Fed’s winding down of QE. Not that smaller companies benefit from the bond buying, but they prosper as the risks have been partly covered by the Fed. Why not, then, go for more aggressive names? But since July 3, the small-cap Russell 2000 is down 7.3%, nearly twice as much as the S&P 500. Investors want more safety, and they’re willing to pay for it.

What does this mean for us? Investors should focus on higher-quality names, especially dividend payers. Some Buy List stocks I like right now include Ford Motor ($F), which is especially good below $17 per share. Oracle ($ORCL) is a bargain below $40 per share. Ross Stores ($ROST) can’t seem to catch a break, but if you’re able to get it under $65, you got a good deal. Earnings are due out soon. Now let’s take a look at our big flop of this earnings season.

Cognizant Technology Plunges after Earnings

On Wednesday, shares of Cognizant Technology Solutions ($CTSH) got nailed for a 12.6% loss. At one point, the shares were down 17% on the day. The interesting part is that their Q2 earnings were quite good. Cognizant earned 66 cents per share, which topped Wall Street’s consensus by four cents per share, and quarterly revenues rose by 16.5% to $2.52 billion.

What caused traders so much grief wasn’t the earnings; it was Cognizant’s guidance. Actually, it wasn’t the earnings guidance—that was the same. It was their sales guidance that caused so much grief.

For Q3, Cognizant now expects earnings of at least 63 cents per share. Wall Street had been expecting 65 cents per share. But the company is keeping their full-year guidance at $2.54 per share, which is the same as it’s been. For Q3 sales, Cognizant now expects a range between $2.55 billion and $2.58 billion. Wall Street had been expecting $2.66 billion. For full-year sales, CTSH lowered their growth rate from 16.5% to 14%.

Cognizant’s CEO Francisco D’Souza said, “Due to weakness at certain clients and longer-than-anticipated sales cycles for certain large integrated deals, we are adopting a more conservative stance for the remainder of the year and revising our 2014 revenue guidance to growth of at least 14% over the prior year, while maintaining our full-year non-GAAP EPS guidance of $2.54.”

I can hardly say that I’m worried about a company that’s beating earnings and growing its top line by 14%. After Wednesday’s damage, CTSH is going for about 17.5 times this year’s estimate, which is a very good price. To reflect the selloff, I’m lowering my Buy Below on Cognizant to $48 per share.

Potential Buy List Deletions

According to the rules of our Buy List, the 20 stocks are locked and sealed for the entire year. No matter how much I want to make a move, I can’t touch any of the stocks until the end of the year. As usual, I only add and delete five stocks.

Now that we’re in the middle of summer, I want to share some of my preliminary thoughts on which stocks may not be around next year. Please understand that these are early indications, and I may change my mind before December. This also doesn’t mean that I don’t like these stocks at the moment. They’re simply on the short list to be cut next year. Ideally, when I make the change at the end of the year, the decisions shouldn’t come as a big surprise to regular readers.

At the top of the list is DirecTV ($DTV). It’s here not because it’s done poorly, but because it’s done very well for us. Thanks to the deal with AT&T, it’s not clear how much longer DTV will go on as an independent company. I can’t make any predictions on the AT&T deal falling though, or when it might be completed, but I’d prefer to congratulate DTV, and move on to a new stock. DTV has been a big winner for us.

Unfortunately, CA Technologies ($CA) has been much weaker than I expected. Quarterly revenues have dropped for nine quarters in a row, and will be probably do so again. We’ve been patient with CA, but the company’s problems run deep. I like the rich dividend, but frankly, not much else.

Moog ($MOG-A) dropped sharply in February, but recovered very nicely this spring. The recent guidance, however, was not what I was expecting.

I haven’t given up on McDonald’s ($MCD). The stock is cheap, but the problems for the burger giant are bigger than I expected. I think management realizes this, but turning around a company of this size won’t be easy. I still like MCD, but I want to see signs of improvement.

Medtronic ($MDT) is a long-time favorite of mine, and the stock has done well for us. My concern is that the Covidien deal is a major undertaking, and the new entity will be quite different from the old Medtronic. I understand why Medtronic wants to do this deal, and it probably makes sense, but it may not be the company we want on our Buy List.

All 16 of the Buy List stocks with quarters ending in June have new reported earnings. There are only two Buy List stocks that have quarters ending in July, Medtronic ($MDT) and Ross Stores ($ROST). Medtronic is due to report on August 19, and Ross Stores will follow two days later. I’ll have more to say about both stocks next week. Before I go, I also want to lower my Buy Below on Qualcomm to $79 per share. The stock has continued to drift lower after the earnings report. I like QCOM a lot and expect it to recover.

That’s all for now. Next week will be a fairly slow week for economic reports. I’ll be curious to see Wednesday’s retail sales report. Consumer spending hasn’t been as strong as I’d like to see. On Friday, we’ll get the report on Industrial Production. The last three reports haven’t been that great. I’d like to see some improvement here. Be sure to keep checking the blog for daily updates. I’ll have more market analysis for you in the next issue of CWS Market Review!

– Eddy

Posted by on August 8th, 2014 at 7:26 am

The information in this blog post represents my own opinions and does not contain a recommendation for any particular security or investment. I or my affiliates may hold positions or other interests in securities mentioned in the Blog, please see my Disclaimer page for my full disclaimer.

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