MorningWord 3/7/13: Could $INTC Be The Classic Second Half Story? But Second Half Of What?

by Dan March 7, 2013 9:24 am • Commentary

MorningWord 3/7/13:  Tuesday night on Fast Money two of the panelists were engaged in a bull/bear debate on the merits of owning INTC at current levels.  When asked for my opinion on the matter I weighed in with the bear, well because that’s just what I do.  For all intents and purposes, INTC appears to be a classic value trap.  Despite a strong balance sheet, ample cash flow to pay a dividend that yields 4.1% and fund a massive share repurchase, the company is facing a massive crisis as they have been caught off sides on the secular trend towards mobile computing.  INTC’s guidance and analysts estimates for 2013 reflect the company’s weak positioning in this brave new mobile world, with earnings expected to decline 9% and sales to grow a mere 1%.  Despite holding firm on the server side, INTC’s earnings have been under pressure from declining margins from pricing pressure for chips that go in PC’s and laptops which have faced massive cannabilization from tablets where the company’s market share is nearly non-existent.  

INTC’s stock reflects much of the pessimism surrounding their challenges, and until the start of this month, the stock was down on the year and just a few % from the 52 week lows and sitting on 4 year support.

[caption id="attachment_23364" align="aligncenter" width="589"]INTC 4 yr chart from Bloomberg INTC 4 yr chart from Bloomberg[/caption]


All of these challenges come at a time when INTC’s board is searching for a new CEO to replace Paul Otellini who has been at the helm since 2002.  This morning Reuters ran a story (here) describing INTC’s opportunity to make use of its idle factory capacity to manufacture mobile chips for competitors which could help profitability and eventually lead to a deal with AAPL where the company could greatly increase their competency in the mobile space.  The article is a good read, offering a hint of optimism for the potential of a new dynamic hire at the top level to take the once dominant chip maker down a different path.  Ironically, Tim Cook would be the perfect man for the Job (as he is widely regarded as a supply chain specialist), but he is a bit busy being fairly un-creative at AAPL.  I am sure we will start seeing speculation and short lists of CEOs from smaller companies and number twos at other mega-caps.

To help break the tie on the INTC Street Fight on Fast Money, I suggested that the stock below support in the teens on a broad market sell off could be a decent long in front of what could be enthusiasm about new management and a new course for the company that should be revealed starting in the middle part of this year.

For those looking to play for a bounce into what could be a couple second half catalysts, selling a long dated put to buy a call spread could be a low premium way to play (in full disclosure, I am not there yet).   For instance with the stock at 21.75 (as of yesterdays close) you could sell the Jan14 18 Put at ~.70 and buy the Jan14 22/25 call spread for ~.95, the structure would cost you .25.  Your worse case scenario would be that the stock closes at 18 or below and your would be put the stock and lose the .25 premium you paid.  Between 18.25 and 22 you only lose your 0.25 premium and make up to 2.75 btwn 22.25 and 25.   This could be a decent alternative to buying the stock here, but ideally I would look to employ a strategy like this when implied volatility would be elevated on a relative basis, and I would personally look to do this when the stock was back towards $20 and look to sell the Jan14 15 put and Buy a lower call spread.   Stay tuned, we are getting our lists of story stocks that we think may see better days once some change is in place and the shares get washed out.



MorningWord 3/6/13:  IN case you missed it the financial world is rejoicing in its own splendor as the the most mathematically dubious index the world over, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, closed at a new all time high yesterday.   After you are done sweeping up all the confetti, think for a second where you were the last time the Dow closed above 14,160, on Oct, 9th 2007?  With the help of my trusty Palm Pilot, I just looked and it says I was gainfully employed by Merrill Lynch in their equity derivatives group, had drinks at a new Sakatini bar in Soho with 2 guys my trading group was desperate to hire, and then had dinner at Nobu to celebrate the closing of my latest condo investment in a swamp in Florida.  Ok I am kidding about some of that but Merrill no longer exists for all intents and purposes and the combined equity with BAC is some 80% lower than Oct 2007, let’s just say those young traders we hired learned very quickly what LIFO means, tables at Nobu are now easily available on OpenTable, and that Florida condo didn’t work out so well!

Make no mistake about it, its been a hard slog for most since the previous top back in late 2007, and for the most part, I think it is fair to say that very few market participants expected the sort of bloodletting that we saw in 2008/09 in both the world economy and global markets. So we are back, and what’s it mean for you? Well, most investors don’t feel like they are at new highs and most people that I speak with are working more for less with more anxiety about job security, their home values are still below their peak, their 401k are back above highs because of increased investments (not based on returns), and generally feel that the markets are a fairly rigged towards the big dogs.

I guess the one piece of advice I would give to those investors who are worried that they missed the rally, DON”T PANIC.  My sense would be that most retail investors make the job of being profitable difficult by making missteps at tops and bottoms.  I am not suggesting that because the Dow is at new highs and the SPX less than 2% away that we are at a top, but if I were a betting man, and I am, I would (and have) bet that we are far closer to a top (meaning that there is 10% sell off in the offing) than some staging area for a parabolic move higher.  Timing is one of the most important aspects of consistent profitable returns in equity investing, and getting TOO long at tops and booking too many losses at bottoms will only compound the already difficult task.

I have been fairly adamant for a few weeks now that I do not see a favorable risk / reward scenario to committing new capital to equities above 1500 in the SPX, despite the fact that all the major indices are breaking out.  I have been wrong, but I’ll stick to my guns for just a bit longer.   If you are a momentum investor, the trade is to lean on support at 1500 and trade from the long-side,  if you are an intermediate to longer term investor and you are long from lower levels I would leave some powder dry with and eye towards adding to longs with the SPX at 1450, a support level that we could most definitely see at some point this Spring, while using the all time high of 1565 to take down some long exposure.  Trying to pick a top here is difficult business, lots of stuff is working the way it should, so the obvious question is why fight it?





MorningWord 3/5/13:  Its fairly hard to miss as the market continues its march onward and upward, AAPL’s slow leak is causing the stock to make fresh 13 month lows.  This has be a fairly interesting phenomenon that has played out over the last few weeks/months, and now that it is becoming the norm it may be close to done. After more than a year and half being a “bizzaro” stock on a relative strength basis both positive and negative.  AAPL’s 40% retreat from its all time highs in September at $705 to yesterday’s close of $420 has not been without its beneficiaries.  AAPL investors who had become accustomed to earnings and sales growth of 25% plus over the last 5 years have been desperately searching for growth at a reasonable price and have found a new tech mega-cap darling, GOOG, which is up ~20% (at all time highs) since the start of November, vs AAPL which is down 30% in that period.

1 yr GOOG vs AAPL from Bloomberg
1 yr GOOG vs AAPL from Bloomberg

Is GOOG entering its own parabolic rally not to0 different from AAPL’s in 2012?    

We’ll save that for another post, but I think it is important to recognize that the money still coming out of AAPL, aside from the couple hundred billion of losses in the stock from the highs that have gone to the equivalent of the stock market graveyard, has been desperately looking for a home.  Aside from GOOG (where it is not hard to make a case to own it at all time highs on its expected growth vs its valuation) , the price action in NFLX (up 95% ytd), LNKD (up 54% ytd), YHOO, (up 14% ytd) PCLN (up 15% ytd) & AMZN (up 8% ytd) suggests that investors are more interested in investing in the a bit of the unknown than the unit & margin driven strategy of past investment in Old Tech like AAPL, MSFT & CSCO.

Trying to pick a top in the likes of NFLX and LNKD seems like a fool’s errand, largely given the simple fact that convicted longs have the shorts by the short hairs so to speak, and the day traders are having their way with them causing massive intra-day volatility, which for the time being is pointing higher (until it doesn’t as was the case with NFLX yesterday).   From where I sit, they are just where I want them, not in my trading book, or a longer term investment portfolio, I prefer to just use them as sentiment indicators.

BACK TO AAPL, a question that I hear a lot is when to step in and buy.  Sentiment is close to washed out, and the stock is nearing another psychological level at $400 (where much more trading has occurred over the past few years than at the previous $500 level).  If there is any type of capitulation move below there, then it’s probably time to step in for a trade.  Enis will have a Chart of the Day post later today detailing what the next rally might look like.




MorningWord 3/4/13:  Just when you thought some of the market ills from 2011/2012 were behind us, then wham, right in the kisser. First Europe last week, and now fears of a slowdown in China (again).  The Shanghai Composite and the Hang Seng nearly hit the lows for 2013 last night (down 3.65% & 1.5% and both basically flat for 2013) on the back of a series of weak economic data coupled with the nation’s attempt at cooling off an overheated housing market.  China has clearly been off the radar of many investors in the U.S. for the last couple months, but it was just a few months ago that many western market participants were more focussed on 2,000 on the downside in Shanghai, rather than 14,165 in the Dow Jones.  Since the Shanghai’s false breakdown in December, the index had more than a 25% rally of the lows.  After failing to get near what looks like significant resistance at 2500, this puppy could be range bound for some time.

5yr Shanghai Comp from Bloomberg
5yr Shanghai Comp from Bloomberg


On the heels of China’s tightening measures, and soon after Asian markets opened, CBS’s 60 Minutes ran a piece on China’s real estate bubble that got a lot of love in the financial Twittersphere in real time.  If you haven’t seen it, you should:

For many market participants, this is not a new story, famed short seller Jim Chanos has been warning of a property bubble ready to burst for at least 3 years; 2010-here, 2011-here & 2012-here, and websites like Business Insider have also been writing about these ghosts towns (here).

Why should U.S. investors worry about the potential for China’s real estate bubble burst and what would most certainly amount to a credit crisis of epic proportion?  For the same reason that international investors should have feared back in 2007/08 about the U.S. real estate bubble burst and the subsequent reverberations across almost all businesses, causing a financial crisis that spread from Wall Street to Main Street, and then quickly overseas.  Some of the actions by Chinese banking officials to cool down the real estate market in the last year or  so and to rein in their massive shadow banking industry, appear reminiscent to the last ditch efforts by U.S. regulators to contain the uncontainable impending subprime credit crisis here.

Ironically, it was demand from China in 2009 that helped the world economy shake off the global recession caused by our crisis, and after years of very strong growth in China, U.S. multinationals in 2012 saw a drop in revenues, earning and operating profits (chart below from, as the country struggles with decelerating GDP that is expected to be flat year over year at 7.4% in 2013, a far cry from some of the 12-23% prints just a few years ago.

US Companies  Profits Continue To Fall In China As GDP Growth Slows

So the easy answer, and to oversimplify it and state the obvious, is that U.S. investors should keep a close eye on investment bubbles while they inflate and eventually deflate because many of our investments in U.S. companies rely a great deal on China for growth, either for manufacturing to sell outside of China or to penetrate and gain market share in a country that has a massive emerging middle class greater than the entire U.S. population.  Maybe 2013 will not be to dis-similar to 2011/2012 with macro risks abound causing volatility in U.S. equities.

Enis:  I have no doubt that the Chinese property bubble is of historic proportions, and its bursting would cause massive economic consequences in all asset classes around the world (and major social consequences in China).  But this bubble has been known for years now, so developing a trading thesis around it is in large part about timing.

My main takeaway from the 60 Minutes piece was not the actual story (which I had already heard and seen many times), but the simple fact that the Chinese government allowed a prominent American program such access to the developments and to the people involved.  The new Chinese administration actually seems resolved to curb property speculation, and using the foreign media to discourage more speculation is just another tool.  The risk going forward is that the Chinese government succeeds too well, and their soft landing becomes a very hard landing indeed.




MorningWord 3/1/13:  Last night CRM reported eps (.51 vs .40 consensus, but .08 of the beat comes from an r&d tax credit) and revenues ($835m vs $831m consensus) that beat expectations, and guided Fy 2014 to inline with consensus.  By all accounts the quarter looked good on most metrics from op margins that came in 1% higher than expectations, and strong bookings that included a very healthy large order closing rate in Q4.  Yesterday afternoon, prior to the results I placed a low risk, potentially high reward bearish trade in Apr expiration, that would benefit from a move in line or greater than the implied 8% move, but, it was not solely predicated on the move happening today.

Most readers know I often look to be a tad contrarian in these situations, and CRM is not the sort of stock that would make it on my Buy list given its current growth profile and valuation. So I would tend to look for structures that offer a good risk reward in front of potential inflection points, and that was the plan with yesterday’s trade (from yesterday’s trade post):

Trying to pick tops is difficult business, but trying to spot inflection points is another thing all together.  On tonight’s call, if results show fiscal 2014 consensus estimates to be a tad optimistic, the stock will likely be re-rated, similar to the revelation that AAPL investors had in the last 5 months that the company was facing deceleration in earnings and margins.  The difference btwn CRM is that the stock is priced as if they will continue to grow sales and earnings at 20% plus a year for the next ten years.

So what did last nights call actually show? As stated above, it showed what I would call their ability to hold on to their first mover advantage for now.  The guidance that they gave for the current quarter was actually a tad light to expectations, and the full year guidance bulls will argue will prove to be conservative.

Wall Street analysts are overwhelmingly positive on the stock with 35 Buys, 3 Holds and 4 Sells, things feel about as good as it gets from a sentiment standpoint.

The stock is up ~4.3% in the pre-market and I have a sneaking suspicion that the quarter and guidance wasn’t the sort of masterpiece that will drive incremental buyers a few % from all time highs, and if I were part of the 10% short interest I might not exactly being scrambling to cover.  Earlier in the week another high valuation, semi-controversial stock, PCLN had a large implied move that it under-performed on its own strong quarter, and has since spent the next 2 trading days filling in the earnings gap, maybe its wishful thinking, but if I saw this sort of price action in CRM today, the stock could set up as a decent press on the short side.

So here is the MAIN ERROR IN MY CRM TRADE,  (as I said I wasn’t trying to pick a top merely an inflection point, but in hindsight),  I SHOULD HAVE JUST WAITED TILL AFTER THE RESULTS WERE OUT AND PLACE MY TRADE WHETHER THE STOCK WAS UP OR DOWN 4%.

I was risking less than 1% of the underlying to catch the inflection over the next month and a half, but now I am stuck with a position where the strikes may be to far out of the money, I will need to dig myself out of a hole.