Saturday, October 17, 2009

GE heading for bankruptcy

Porter Stansberry writes:

GE says it "brings good things to life," but in fact, over the decade, it has mostly been about bringing good debt to life. For many, many years, GE relied on its triple-A credit rating to borrow money cheaply in the 30-day commercial paper market and then lend it out at a much higher rate, via things like credit-card receivables. These kinds of financial strategies worked well during the debt-financed boom of 1995-2008. They don't work anymore. In fact, without a government guarantee backing its debts, GE would have already gone bankrupt.

Here are the core facts: GE owes its creditors $518 billion. That is not a misprint. It owns tangible net assets of only $17 billion. Thus, on a tangible basis, it is currently leveraged by more than 30-to-1. That's unheard of for a major industrial company. A 3.3% decline in the value of its asset base would wipe out all of its tangible equity. But here's the real problem. Last quarter, the company produced $2 million in operating income. Again, that's not a misprint. On $17 billion in assets, the company earned only $2 million. So... what will happen to GE if (or when) the free market sets its borrowing costs?

GE spent $4.3 billion on interest in the last quarter – thanks to the government's guarantee. So on an annualized basis, GE is now spending roughly $17 billion to service its $500 billion in debt. That's an annualized interest rate of 3.3%. This is not sustainable. Sooner or later, GE is going to have to pay a market interest rate.

Currently, the yield on high-yield corporate debt is around 10%. GE is now rated two slots above "junk" by Egan Jones, the only reliable ratings agency. So let's assume GM could still qualify as an investment-grade credit – which is a generous assumption. GM would pay something like 8% on its debt in a free market. That would cost more than $41 billion a year. Last year, GE earned $45 billion before interest and taxes – in total. It spent $33 billion of these profits on capital expenditures and necessary investments – expenses required to keep the business going. That left it with about $12 billion in what we call "owner earnings." That's not nearly enough money to pay the interest on its debts – whether they're backed by the government or not.

Imagine if the interest on your mortgage consumed 91% of your pre-tax earnings. Could you possibly avoid bankruptcy? No way, right? But... there's a big difference between owing the bank a few hundred grand and owing folks more than $500 billion. Last year, even though GE couldn't actually afford its debts and required a government bailout, it spent $12.4 billion on dividends for common stock holders. That's 20% more than it spent on dividends in 2006! (GE finally cut its dividend by 70% in February. It will be eliminated soon, I promise. Its creditors will finally wake up and demand it.)

Today the stock market values GE at $171 billion. In fact, the common stock – every single share – is not worth one penny. Plan accordingly.
Porter Stansberry

What is a Real Earnings Surprise?

By: Michael Vodicka
Zacks Investment Research

Have you ever wondered why some stocks skyrocket on a positive earnings surprise while others fall off a cliff? In this article we are going to tackle this little-understood issue. Better yet, I will share with you two ways to profit from earnings surprises. More on that later.

3 Reasons Stocks Can Drop After an Earnings Surprise

Estimates vs. Whisper Number: The standard definition of an earnings surprise is when actual earnings come in higher than earnings estimates. But those estimates are the “published” numbers from the brokerage analysts. Quite often investors tend to develop their own unique set of expectations based on sentiment, sometimes referred to as a “whisper number”. If there is too much optimism ahead of the release, then actual earnings will need to be a blowout in order to appease the market’s inflated expectations. This is the most common reason why some stocks fall after a supposed earnings beat.

Quality of Earnings: The highest quality earnings come from having robust revenue growth. This means that the company’s products or services are in high demand and should stay that way. However, far too much of the earnings being reported these days are generated from cost cutting and other "accounting gimmickry". The problem is that the benefits of these moves don’t last. When the market gets a whiff that the earnings are unsustainable, no matter how strong the beat, shares will most likely drop.

Forward Guidance: Plain and simple, when you buy a stock you are taking an ownership position. And what owners of companies care about is the stream of future earnings. So if a company beats earnings for the quarter just reported, but warns that future quarters will see lower earnings, then that stock will go down…and go down fast.

2 Ways to Make Money on Earnings Surprises

So now that we have outlined things that can wrong after an earnings surprise, let's shift gears and talk about something even more important: how to turn a profit from earnings surprises. Here are two ways to go about it.

Good Way: Buy shares in any company that had an earnings surprise and then rose the day following the news. These stocks experience what academics call the "Post Earnings Announcement Drift". Studies clearly show that these stocks usually outperform the market over the next 9 months. Conversely, you should sell any stock in your portfolio that misses its earnings number as it is likely to underperform the market for the next few quarters. The downside of this approach is that there are literally thousands of stocks to choose from every quarter.

Best Way: Look for those rare opportunities where investors simply guessed wrong about a company's earnings prospects. Specifically, find companies with shares that were declining for about a week prior to the earnings report, yet amazingly produced a big earnings surprise. Sure, the price will jump at the open following the news, but our research clearly shows that the stock will continue to rise over the next couple weeks as investors play catch up.

Where to Find These Stocks

Most of the information to find these "Best Way" earnings surprisers is publically available and free. But I don't know of anyone that puts it together in an easy-to-use format that will help you consistently find these winners.
Mike focuses on finding the best momentum stocks for customers. He is also the Editor in charge of the Zacks Surprise Trader service. Learn more here:

Friday, October 16, 2009

Market Reflections 10/15/2009

Oil shot higher Thursday in reaction to a steep draw in gasoline inventories, a draw reflecting improving demand but more reflecting lower output from refineries which have been complaining about weak margins. Oil convincingly broke through resistance at $75 to end at $77.50 with traders talking about $80 based on momentum alone. But a move toward $100 will take strong evidence of demand growth outside of China.

Good news for Friday's stock market hit after Thursday's close with IBM, Advanced Micro and especially Google beating expectations. The S&P ended 0.4 percent higher at 1,096, poised to take out 1,100 in what will inflict even greater agony on the bears. Citigroup and Goldman Sachs both released mixed results before the opening, with big credit losses at Citigroup pushing back prospects for the bank's return to profitability. Gold, which many say is overdo for consolidation, moved lower, losing as much as $20 to $1,045 before bouncing back to $1,050 at the close. The dollar for once wasn't center stage Thursday, edging 1 tenth lower on the dollar index to 75.47.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Credit in America

From The Economist out of London. The headline reads "Credit in America: Slim pickings, no appetite". In a nutshell, the story notes that the level of credit is dropping, bank lending is contracting, loan losses are climbing, and people are paying down debt and saving more. They conclude the article thusly... "With loan losses unlikely to peak until well into 2010 and banks likely to keep failing until at least 2011, the real credit crunch may still lie ahead." [And that's a very optimistic time line as well. - Ed] I thank P.S. for sending me this story... which is well worth the read... and the link is here.


“The budget should be balanced, the Treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and the assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed lest Rome become bankrupt. People must again learn to work, instead of living on public assistance.”

Marcus Tullius Cicero

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Market Reflections 10/14/2009

Solid gains for retail sales outside of ex-clunker autos fueled a strong rally on Wall Street with the Dow Jones industrial average rising past 10,000 to end at 10,015 for a 1.5 percent gain. The S&P gained even more, up 1.8 percent to 1,092 and is approaching the 1,100 level that bulls had been hoping to reach by year end, let alone October. The S&P is up an amazing 64 percent from its March low. September's gains along with those so far in October are embarrassing the bears who nevertheless continue to warn that the market is moving too far and way too fast. Strong results from Intel late yesterday and promises of more were also behind today's strength.

Wednesday's overnight session saw strong trade data out of China, data that raised expectations further of a widening interest rate differential between the U.S. and other economies. And investors are seeking yield, pushing the dollar index down a very steep 0.7 percent to 75.46. At $75.10, oil firmed a little more than 50 cents but is only flirting, not breaking through, $75, considered to be hard resistance at the outside of an existing range beginning at $65. Gold may be flirting with another breakout, this time to $1,100. Gold ended steady at just under $1,065.

Market Reflections 10/13/2009

Soft earnings at Johnson & Johnson weighed on stocks Tuesday with the S&P ending 0.3 percent lower at 1,073. But strong results after the close from chip makers Intel and Altera, which both raised sales estimates, point to strength for overnight trading. Strong sales and guidance for yet stronger sales are what the bulls are looking for this quarter.

Talk that U.S. interest rates will remain low continues to hurt the dollar with the dollar index down 0.4 percent at 75.82. Oil got a boost from the dollar's trouble, ending $1-1/2 higher at $74.50. Gold, steady at $1,065, is also benefiting from the dollar's weakness.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Market Reflections 10/12/2009

Stocks extended their winning streak to six straight sessions with the S&P ending up 0.4 percent to 1,076. Volume was light due to observance of Columbus Day at foreign exchange and bond desks. Oil was a feature Monday, rising nearly $1 to $73 as a cold front sweeps the nation. Shares of oil companies rose more than 1 percent.