Earnings Euphoria: Precursor to Bearish Mean Reversion?

Corporate America has never before seen higher profits than now. Are healthy profits a reflection of a healthy economy or have earnings reached a point of unsustainability?

In good old times past it used to be that when complacency reigns on Wall Street, investors get wet. It’s different in a QE world; When complacency reigns, investors get wet eventually. Are investors complacent?

Bloomberg reports: “With 72% of earnings exceeding analysts’ estimates, it may be difficult for U.S. stocks not to reach a record in 2013. The S&P 500 is poised to recover fully from the financial crisis that began almost six years ago.”

According to 11,000 analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg, profits of S&P 500 companies are expected to exceed $1 trillion this year, 31% more than when the gauge peaked. Bloomberg calls this the “biggest expansion in profits since the technology bubble of the 1990s.”

This is a bold statement. There was not only the earnings explosion of the late 1990s, there was also the financial leverage earnings explosion of the mid 2000s. In 2007, earnings of the financial sector (corresponding ETF: Financial Select Sector SPDR – XLF) accounted for over 40% of all U.S. profits.

It’s hard to believe that S&P 500 earnings today are 77.6% higher than at the 2000 peak and 10.3% higher compared to the prior 2007 all-time high.

A voice of reason often tends to get over looked in an unreasonable world, but the chart below reminds us of unpopular past realities. Mean reversion took many by surprise and earnings peaks turned into stock market peaks.

What do earnings tell us about stocks? Corporate earnings aren’t a short-term timing tool and shouldn’t be used as such, but record earnings sow the seeds for subsequent declines.

The S&P is currently trading just above a major long-term support/resistance level. As long is it remains above support, stocks may grind higher, but a trip below may quickly turn into a fast and furious decline.

The Profit Radar Report highlights the support and risk management levels needed to avoid a surprise move.

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S&P 500, Dow Jones and Nasdaq – The Deceptive Intricacies of Popular Stock Market Indexes

On first glance the performance of the Dow Diamonds (DIA), S&P 500 SPDR (SPY) and Nasdaq QQQ (QQQ) seems to be closely correlated. This first glance assessment, however, couldn’t be farther from the truth. Here’s what separates the indexes from each other and why it’s important.

Index investing or ETF index investing is a popular and low-cost way to put your dollars to work, it’s like putting your portfolio on cruise control.

But driving on cruise control isn’t always the best way to get from A to B and doesn’t mean you won’t get into an accident. It merely means that you delegate speed control to your car.

Your level of commitment to your own portfolio ultimately dictates your style of investing: buy and hold via indexes or ETFs, buy and hold via actively managed mutual funds, or a more active approach to buying and selling.

Regardless of what type of investor you are, you need to be familiar with your investment vehicle(s) of choice, just like a driver needs to know the difference between automatic and stick shift.

Look Under the Hood

The S&P 500, Dow Jones, and Nasdaq are the most popular U.S. indexes and if you are an investor, odds are some of your money is invested in one or more of those three indexes.

Equity indexes are often described as a basket of stocks. Retirees or near retirees are familiar with the term nest egg and the comforting picture of many golden eggs nested up to provide a comfortable retirement.

But what if the basket of eggs is made up of one or two giant ostrich eggs that limit the space for other eggs? That wouldn’t be well diversified and one knock against the basket could scramble most of the retirement.

Hidden Ostrich Eggs

Financial ostrich eggs among major U.S. indexes are more common than you think.

IBM accounts for nearly 12% of the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA or Dow Jones). Technically speaking, the DJIA is an average not an index. The DJIA is price weighted, in other words only the price of a stock matters, nothing else.

IBM is the most expensive stock of the DJIA and moves the index (or average) 20x more than Bank of America (BAC) even though IBM has only about twice the market capitalization (the price per share multiplied by the amount of outstanding shares) of BAC.

The ETF that best represents the DJIA is the SPDR Dow Jones Industrial Average ETF. Its ticker is DIA, that’s why it has the nickname Dow Diamonds ETF.

The Nasdaq-100 and the PowerShares Nasdaq QQQ ETF (QQQ) hide another “ostrich egg,” – Apple. Apple accounts for a whopping 20% of the Nasdaq-100 Index. If you already own Apple or don’t believe Apple is the way to play technology, you may not want to own QQQ.

The S&P 500 Index – represented by the S&P 500 SPDR (SPY) – provides more balanced diversification than the DJIA or Nasdaq-100. Apple, still the biggest player of the S&P 500, accounts for less than 5%. IBM has a weight of only 1.8%.

Considering the different composition of the three indexes, it’s remarkable how closely their day-to-day moves correlate.

The chart below provides a visual of the long-term correlation between the Dow Diamonds (DIA), S&P SPDR (SPY), and QQQs. Illustrated is the percentage change since April 1999 (when the QQQs began trading) to provide an apples to apples comparison of the three indexes.

The SPY and QQQ delivered a near identical return (+38%). The DIA is up 68% since April 1999. Of course the picture looks much different if you start measuring the return from the 2000 highs.

All three indexes and index ETFs share the commonality of having had very sizeable swings ranging from -60% to +60%. The Profit Radar Report advocates an investment approach that capitalizes on larger up moves and turns neutral or short during major down moves.

This approach can significantly enhance your return and reduce your exposure to risk.

Simon Maierhofer shares his market analysis and points out high probability, low risk buy/sell recommendations via the Profit Radar Report. Click here for a free trial to Simon’s Profit Radar Report.

Technology Investing for Beginners – You can’t Lose Money with Apple Math

I got this piece of “Apple Hot News” in my inbox yesterday: “Apple today announced that pre-orders of its iPhone 5 topped two million in just 24 hours, more than double the previous record of one million held by iPhone 4S. Demand for iPhone 5 exceeds the initial supply, and while the majority of pre-orders will be delivered to customers on September 21, many are scheduled to be delivered in October.”

What’s the profit margin on 2 million iPhones? Apple doesn’t reveal profit margins, but Reuters got hold of a document filed in Apple’s patent battle against Samsung.

According to this document, Apple’s gross margin for U.S. iPhone sales between April 2010 and March 2012 ranged from 49 – 58%. The iPhone 5 sells for $199 – $399 (depending on built in storage).

Let’s calculate a 58% profit margin on 2 million iPhones sold for $299. The result is $347 million. Since last Thursday’s unveiling of the new iPhone 5, Apple (AAPL) shares have risen 3.5%. This means that Apple’s market cap increased by some $24 billion.

A $24 billion increase based on the news of 2 million pre-orders worth about $347 in gross profit doesn’t make sense.

In fact, common sense and seasonality suggests that Apple is soon due for a reality check (a. k. a. lower prices). Since Apple is the MVP of the technology sector, it’s likely that the Nasdaq QQQ ETF (QQQ) and SPDR Technology ETF (XLK) will follow Apple’s direction.

Simon Maierhofer shares his market analysis and points out high probability, low risk buy/sell recommendations via the Profit Radar Report. Click here for a free trial to Simon’s Profit Radar Report.

Financials – Is the Most Despised U.S. Sector Getting Ready to Rally?

Investors are shunning the financial sector. Although financials account for more than 14% of the S&P 500 (SPY), investors (by one measure) have only 2% of their money invested in financials. Some contrarians take this as a buy signal, is it?

Knight Capital, MF Global, LIBOR fixing scandal, JP Morgan losses, excessive Wall Street bonuses … there seem to be unlimited reasons to dislike the financial sector (Financial Select Sector SPDR ETF – XLF).

When it comes to financials, investors are not only talking the talk, they are walking the walk. Right now financials are the most despised sector in the United States. Of the $900 million invested in Rydex sector funds, only $18 million are allocated to financials, that’s just 2%.

However, the financial sector accounts for 14.21% of the S&P 500 Index (SPY), which makes it the second biggest sector of the S&P (behind technology).

Extreme pessimism often results in unexpected price spikes. Is the financial sector getting ready to rally?

The Technical Take on Financials

Financials appear to be at an important short-term juncture, but let’s provide some long-term context before looking at the short-term.

From the 2009 low to the 2011 high, the financial sector (XLF) jumped from $5.88 to $17.20. Before that, XLF dropped from 38.15 to 5.88. Today XLF trades 61% below its all time high price tag of 38.15. In comparison, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) is less than 8% away from its all-time high.

Important short-term resistance for XLF last week was at 14.85. This resistance was made up of the July 3 and 27 highs and a trend line that connects the March 27 and May 1 highs.

On August 8, XLF was able to close above 14.85. Such a break out is generally bullish. However, the volume on which XLF broke out was significantly lower than average (see chart below).

Based purely on the chart and sentiment, the bullish message deserves the benefit of the doubt as long as XLF remains above 14.80. But a break below 14.80 would severely ding the immediate up side potential for XLF.

What about the down side risk? Aggressive investors may decide to sell or go short XLF with a break below 14.80. The initial down side target would be around 14.45 – 14.50.