Why Apple Is a Good Stock for 2013
Meena is a member of The Motley Fool Blog Network -- entries represent the personal opinion of the blogger and are not formally edited.
Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) was the most popular stock among hedge funds for the third quarter of 2012 (see the full rankings), as our database of 13F filings included 146 hedge funds and other notable investors with long positions in Apple. The company’s fiscal year ended in September, with revenue growth coming in at 45% compared to the previous fiscal year. Over the last four fiscal years, sales grew at a CAGR of 43% (though the growth rate was 66% in FY 2011). It’s certainly a bit dampening to see that revenue was up only 27% in the fourth fiscal quarter of the year versus a year earlier, but we think that it’s reasonable to expect at least some revenue growth going forward. A similar line applies to net income: net margins have generally increased over the last few years, with the result being that the four-year CAGR of earnings has been 62% (including a 61% from the last fiscal year).
However, the recent pullback in the stock has left Apple trading at 12 times trailing earnings- a multiple which generally indicates that the market expects just about no growth going forward. We wouldn’t call Apple a trillion dollar stock (which is roughly what sell-side analysts are calling for, with a five-year PEG ratio of 0.5), but the current market cap of about half that figure seems cheap. Of course, the earnings multiples don’t count for Apple’s sizable cash hoard.
Billionaire David Einhorn of Greenlight Capital cut his Apple stake during the third quarter of the year but it was still his largest position by market value at 1.1 million shares (check out Einhorn's favorite stocks). Fisher Asset Management, managed by fellow billionaire Ken Fisher, had owned about 100,000 shares at the beginning of July but increased its holdings to about 960,000 shares by the end of September (find more of Fisher's stock picks). Tiger Cubs such as Rob Citrrone of Discovery Capital Management, Philippe Laffont of Coatue Management, and Andreas Halvorsen of Viking Global also had large positions in Apple.
It’s certainly easy to make the case that Apple is the best buy of the large consumer technology companies. Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) trades at 16 times forward earnings estimates- a large premium to Apple- and that forecast depends on substantial improvements over the company’s trailing performance. It’s of course possible for Google to hit that target, particularly by better integration of the Motorola business unit which has thus far been a drag on margins, but Apple just looks like a more certain value. Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) posts an attractive forward P/E of 9, but that figure is likely skewed higher because of releases of Windows and Office. In addition, it seems quite possible that Windows 8 will disappoint. We wouldn’t short the company at its current valuation either, but would need more confidence in its new releases before considering it as a buy.
Amazon.com (NASDAQ: AMZN), despite good revenue growth and numerous business prospects, remains a very low profits company and analyst consensus for 2013 implies a forward P/E of 148. Buying simply doesn’t make sense at that price, given how large the company is and how much time it has had to convert its sales into net income, and it may even be a short candidate. Then there’s Research in Motion (NASDAQ: BBRY), which has seen a strong rally in its stock price as it appears that its new Blackberry model may actually be a strong offering in the modern smartphone market. That seems like a speculative reason to buy, however, and with net losses expected for the fiscal year ending in February 2014 as well as the current one there just isn’t a value case there yet.
We aren’t as optimistic as the sell-side on Apple’s future earnings; however, the company doesn’t have to even come close to their estimates in order to prove undervalued. Even modest growth- and we feel fairly comfortable counting on that- should carry the stock higher from its current levels.
This article is written by Matt Doiron and edited by Meena Krishnamsetty. Meena has a long position in Apple, Google, and Microsoft. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Amazon.com, Google, and Microsoft. Motley Fool newsletter services recommend Apple, Amazon.com, Google, and Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. Is this post wrong? Click here. Think you can do better? Join us and write your own!